Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Teton River


Day 3 of our Eastern Idaho trip began just outside of Rexburg. Today we would float the Teton River. I followed Camron to where we would drop off his car for the shuttle. Camron hopped in my truck and we headed upstream to the put in. On the way, we drove past this historical sign. 
I was very excited to float through the aftermath of such a devastating catastrophe and see the power of water. 
The road began to deteriorate fast as we left the pavement and began to near the edge of the old reservoir. We came around the corner and our route took us down the old boat ramp.
We reached the bottom of the old reservoir and began to set up the raft. By now, Camron and I had developed an efficient system for inflating the boat; as efficient as possible, considering we had to do it all by hand. The electric pump was nearly useless, so we took turns pumping with the dual action hand pump, 50 pumps at a time. The pump began to heat up so much that we had to take a couple breaks, letting it cool so the internal parts didn't melt. 40 minutes later we were ready for our adventure down the Teton River. Camron had never floated this before either so it would be a first for both of us. 

Camron jumped on the oars first and I began fishing with double streamers. I quickly tied into a feisty cutthroat. 

We rounded the corner and discovered our first obstacle; a formidable rapid. I am fairly experienced at navigating whitewater, but the river was very low and 'bony'. We pulled the boat over to scout out the rapid. There were too many exposed large rocks in the tongue, so we choose to walk the boat along the edge on river right. We had to push the boat over a few shallow spots, but we were soon back to fishing. 

The river continued on through the deep canyon. The water was gorgeous and almost every cast produced at least one follow on the streamers.

Camron pounded the rocky banks and steep cliffs with his streamers and managed to tie into a hefty Teton cutty.

We had already boated a half dozen fish and had only gone half a mile. The Teton river was giving me a smile that was painful to shake as we floated in isolation through gorgeous water. Camron's next fish was another 'cookie cutter' 15 incher. 

We floated through the location of the old dam and spillway. It was eerie to see the waters destruction and man's feeble attempts to contain it.  

In front of the spillway was a very deep run. Camron bombed a cast upstream, threw a mend in the line and brought his streamers through the deep, dark water. BOOM! Camron set the hook and was into a very large Teton Cutthroat. 

We continued down the river and proceeded to hammer the cutthroat.


The Teton slowly began to morph from a deep canyon to a wooded meandering stream, similar to the Boise River through the town of Boise.

The fishing slowed a little bit as the day neared its end and we approached the takeout. I was on the oars with Camron in the gunners seat when the ambush happened. Camron shot his cast toward a beaver lodge. He made a couple strips and the water exploded!
"OH! Hawg Johnson!" Camron yelled as the large fish thrashed on the surface before making a good run. "Dude, it's a big brown."
"OHHH nice! There's browns in here?" I asked as I tried to control the boat.
"Yeah a few. There's more down here in the lower river."
We slipped a net under the hefty brown.   

Camron hoisted the fish for a hero shot and set her loose in the cold, productive waters of the Teton River.


"How close are we to the take out?" I asked.
"It's right there." Camron pointed to the small steep gravel slot amongst the tall grass.
"Oh perfect! And what a fish to finish on!"
We pulled the boat out of the river and hopped in Camron's car for the shuttle. When we returned, the sun was setting, painting a gorgeous picture that summed up the day and really, the whole trip. Eastern Idaho had treated us well and a return trip can not come soon enough! 


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Henry's Fork of the Snake

Day 2 of our Eastern Idaho trip started early. Camron wanted to hit a diversion dam on the Henry's Fork early in the morning when the browns are most active. The sun was just reaching the horizon by the time we were rigged up and wading into the river.

Camron had built up the hype; brown trout with massive size potential, pre-spawn aggressive nature, gorgeous yellow-orange colors and all congregated below the diversion dam with nowhere else to go. I was focused and in the zone as I stripped my streamers through the fast, oxygenated water. I was quickly rewarded with a small brown that fought like a 24 incher.   

I continued downstream after releasing the little brown, while Camron worked his way closer to the churned up whitewater directly below the diversion. A fish rose within range and I bombed out a cast, hoping to intercept the fish. Strip, strip, strip, BOOM! The rod nearly jolted out of my hands as I tried to freeze up and let the fish set the hook by itself. Once I felt the weight of the fish, I lifted the rod and the battle was on. The fish made a screaming run and I couldn't help but wonder if I had hooked a monster. After taking me within sight of my backing, my 6 weight muscled the bruiser back in. Camron must have noticed how excited I was and came down with the net. I worked the fish within sight and my excitement fell a bit; I had snagged a fatty rainbow with my bottom streamer. This is a fairly common occurrence when fishing tandem streamers. The fish takes the top fly, and if you don't get a good hook-set, the bottom fly snags them. Regardless, I was still happy to have a nice fish on my line. Camron scooped the pig in the net. As I grabbed the fat rainbow and my fingers squished into her soft belly, I couldn't help but conclude that rainbows are the true gluttons of the trout world; they clearly don't know when to stop eating.

I released her and she waddled away into the depths of the river. We fished awhile longer without any success before deciding it was time to go float the Henry's Fork from Warm River to Ashton.
We left Camron's car at the take-out and drove up to the put-in. There were already 4 trucks in front of us, waiting to launch their boats.
"Welcome to the Henry's Fork!" Camron exclaimed with sarcasm.
"Dang. But we have a raft!" I said triumphantly. "And... we still have to pump it up."
"Oh man, I hope we can do it faster than yesterday." Camron replied, with a tone of dread.
As we rigged up the boat, guides and their clients shot us looks and chuckled amongst themselves. I imagine them saying things like, 'I'm sure glad we have this nice comfortable drift boat that floats without all that work' or 'I'm not envious of them'. Camron and I made good time this morning pumping up the raft by hand and the boat was now ready. However, all the boats that were waiting had now launched, and 5 more were in line now.
"Let's sneak in now," Camron said, as we each grabbed a side of the boat and drug it into the water.
I jumped on the oars and Camron was fishing immediately.
"There's usually some pigs right here at the put in that no one fishes for." Camron said, as he stripped his streamers through the dark, deep water.
BAM! Camron set the hook.
"OOOHHHHHH, Hawg Johnson! Dude, I've got a monster here! Did you see it flash down there?" Camron shouted, as he tried to muscle the big fish out of the deep.
"No, I didn't see it. Hawg Johnson?" I chuckled, as I tried to hold the boat in position.
"Yeah dude, he's a monster. Oh no, I think he's stuck now." Camron pulled on the line and it was solid. The fish was clearly wrapped around something. "I can still feel him pulling down there, he must be hung up on a rock or a stick."
I held the boat in position as Camron tried different angles with the rod. I then let us slide downstream and across the river, hoping to back the line around the obstacle and free it. The line was still stuck as Camron pulled.
"Come on! Dang it, I had Hawg Johnson!"
"Sorry man. I'm trying."
I pulled as much upstream as I could but Camron no long felt the fish. I slowly let the boat slide downstream in a last ditch effort. Camron pulled until the fly broke off. Camron sulked as he tied on another large streamer.
"Get another one man!" I said, as I put us back into the main river and Camron got back in the game.
"There's one!" Camron said, setting the hook on a decent brown.
We pulled over and netted the 17 inch male and snapped a picture. 
Camron jumped on the oars and it was my turn. I worked the water and managed to grab a small brown. 

We continued down the river, splashing streamers into every nook and cranny that might hold a meat-eating trout.
We pulled over at a nice run and decided to nymph for awhile. I was quickly rewarded with the most handsome fish species in the Henry's Fork; a Large Scale Sucker fish.  

The run only produced another small whitefish, so we continued downstream. Fishing slowed the further downstream we went. We grabbed a fish here and there, but overall, both streamers and nymphs were not producing like we had hoped. After talking to guides as they passed, we discovered they weren't doing very well either.
It wasn't until we approached the take-out that we found a few small fish rising. We switched up flies and quickly hooked into a few. They were indeed small and one of them even slipped through a hole in the net.
We made it to the take-out and rushed to pack things up. Camron had a plan for the evening and we didn't want to waste anymore time. Once the boat was loaded up, we headed downstream to one of Camron's favorite evening streamer spots. Dark clouds began to roll in as we pulled up and grabbed our gear for nighttime "hawg hunting". We waded into the river just as it started to sprinkle rain a little. From my experience, a light rain dramatically improves streamer fishing. BAM! My line stopped as I was retrieving my 3rd cast. A small brown came thrashing to the surface. 

We continued casting and slowly working our way out into the river. Camron missed a few fish as darkness approached. I made a cast towards some cover and began stripping the streamer back towards me. I was stripping the fly as fast as I could to keep up with the current when one took. Immediately I felt the weight and power of the fish. He took off and my fly reel played that sweet song we all love. He fought hard, but in a few minutes we had him in the net.
I was more than thrilled to land a great Henry's Fork brown.

We continued fishing into the rainy night without as much as another sniff from a fish. When we were completely drenched from the rain, we finally called it a night. As happy as I was to have caught a great Henry's Fork brown, I was even more thrilled because we were going to fish the famous Teton River tomorrow. The trip could only get better!     

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The South Fork of the Snake

All year, I'd heard nothing but fantastic reports coming from the South Fork of the Snake River. I had never fished it before but it had been on my list for a long time. These reports inspired me to plan a trip with my best fishing buddy, Camron. Camron had lived in Rexburg for several years and became very familiar with the area. I would provide the boat, and with his expertise of the area, we were sure to reek havoc on some Eastern Idaho fish.

Day one of the trip, we would hit the South Fork of the Snake with Camron's friend Shane. Shane is an avid fly fisherman and blogger. I had followed Shane's blog, The Fish Hunter Chronicles, for a year and couldn't wait to fish with him.

We picked up Shane, arranged our shuttle and were rigging the raft by 9 am.
"How long will it take to get the raft ready? We don't have to pump it up by hand do we?" Camron asked.
"It shouldn't take long at all, I have an electric pump!" I responded, with relief and excitement.
I popped the hood of my truck and hooked up the old electric raft pump to my battery. It roared to life and began pushing air into the raft.
"I'll man this and you guys can get your waders on and rods ready." I said, as the raft began to expand.
The pump was working hard and getting very hot, but I began to notice the progress slowing. I decided to let the pump rest a minute before starting again. I fired it back up and progress was once again being made, but the bladder I was working on was only a quarter full. This was taking a little longer than I hoped. As the pump began to heat up again, I remembered how old it was. I had seen this thing in the garage since I was a little kid. This thing must be over 20 years old, I thought as Camron and Shane came back over.
"Taking it's time, eh?" Shane asked, slightly concerned with the raft still being nearly deflated.
"Maybe you guys could grab the hand pump and we'll speed this up a bit." I said, staring at a half inflated bladder that had taken almost ten minutes to achieve.

We began taking turns with the hand pump and the electric pump. The raft slowly began to take shape. It was clear that the electric pump was nearly worthless and we inflated 3 bladders by hand in the time it took the electric pump to inflate 1 bladder.
By 10 am, we finally had the boat inflated and ready for the river.
"Sorry guys. That took a lot longer than I expected," I said apologetically.
"No worries. I'm glad I could get my work out in today!" Shane said jokingly.

We pushed the boat off and Camron took the oars first. Shane is a stage 4 streamer junky and was not about to test his sobriety today. He was chucking a sink-tip line and double streamers to the bank. I started with one of my bumble butt bee patterns. 
We only made it a couple hundred yards down the river before Shane was hooked up. The fish fought hard, but Shane quickly skated the nice brown trout in.

The skunk was now off the boat, but so far my bee had received no love. The boat was approaching a small island where most of the river flowed to the right, creating a soft side channel on the left. As we came closer, we noticed heads coming up on the scum-line. We anchored the boat in the shallows and re-rigged our rods for rising fish. A blue-winged olive landed on the boat, making my decision easy to tie a suspended BWO on. Camron and I worked the rising fish with only a couple refusals, while Shane worked the main river with his streamers. I switched to a size 22 RS2 and was quickly into a small fish.    
We worked the rising fish awhile longer with only another small rainbow to hand. Our float was a long one and we would need to cover a lot more water. I tied on a large grasshopper and we continued down the river.
We pulled over at the next gravel bar and worked the fast, riffly water. I made a short cast and tried to follow the hopper through the choppy water. I lost track of my fly and saw my line straightening out. I then felt the pull of a fish before I could even set the hook. Line began peeling off the reel as the fish tore across the riffle. I was still in shock when the line went slack.
"Dang! I didn't even see that fish take my fly. I must have been sleeping," I said, casting back to the same spot as if the same fish might grab it again.
Shane picked up another fish on his streamer while Camron set up a nymph rig. I tried another area of the gravel bar before returning to where that fish grabbed my hopper. I made a short cast further downstream and watched as a large cutty slowly rose and ate my fly. After a great battle, I admired the fish and watched him swim off. 
We continued down the river, enjoying the beautiful canyon.
So far the fishing on the South Fork of the Snake had been fair. The weather had called for overcast all day, but the "hatch killing" sun had broken through and we hadn't seen a bug since earlier in the morning.
We floated down a side channel and popped back out onto the main river next to a small gravel island. The soft water next to the island revealed many rising fish and we quickly pulled the boat over. BWO's were hatching sparsely, but every cutthroat was up on them. Camron was into a nice one right away. 
I tied a suspended BWO on and was quickly into a fish as well.
"Dude, I don't think Shane even brought any dry flies. I'm telling you, he's a total streamer junky." Camron said, as Shane worked the outside of the bar with his streamers. "We better give him a suspended BWO."
I offered Shane one of the BWO's.
"Uh, sure, I'll try one of those." Shane said hesitantly as he took the fly, likely questioning if it was worth tying on.
Shane tied on the BWO and was quickly into a decent cutty.
We put the hurt on the rising fish as the BWO's continued to hatch.

After an hour and a half and 10 or so fish, we hopped in the boat and floated down through where all the fish had been rising. Shane was back on the streamer and getting action on every cast. The water was very clear and lots of nice cutthroat could be seen as we drifted by. 
We pounded the banks as we drifted down the river, picking up a fish here and there.

We reached the take out with a few hours of daylight to spare. The South Fork had not disappointed us. The beautiful cutthroats were in a class of their own. Although the BWO's had produced a lot of fish on the one gravel bar, Shane's streamers consistently caught even more. After loading the boat into my pickup, we headed back to Rexburg. Shane had been a pleasure to fish with, and he taught me a couple of tricks while catching all those fish on streamers.
We dropped Shane off with just a few minutes of daylight left. Camron knew a small stream nearby that held a few fish. We decided to spend the remaining light fishing there. Two pools down, I stumbled upon the largest cutthroat I would catch all day. I was stripping my small bugger out of the shadows of an overhanging bush when my line stopped. I set the hook and what came thrashing near the surface shocked me. A gorgeous 19 inch cutthroat tore through the hole, deeply testing the 4 weight rod I was using. After a great battle, we netted him. What a great fish to finish the day on! 

As we walked out in the dark, we talked about where we would fish tomorrow.
"I've got a spot on the Henry's Fork that should be loaded with big browns this time of year. Let's hit that in the morning," Camron said, with a glow in his eyes.
"Sounds good to me!"