Tuesday, May 24, 2016
When my wife asked if we should go to a hot springs near Hagerman for our one year anniversary, I excitedly said yes. All I could think about was all the fishing opportunities that abounded in that area. I also realized that if I didn't want to be in the dog house, I better come up with some non-fishing ideas of things to do and see. The Hagerman area has no shortage of sights to see; a hike into Box Canyon, a trek across the Malad Gorge, a trip to the alligator farm and a visit to Shoshone Falls would occupy enough of our time so I wasn't tempted to fish the entire time. With the perfect plan in place, we headed off to Hagerman!
We checked into the Billingsley Creek Lodge and headed off to our first destination: Box Canyon.
"Honey, you don't mind if I pack my fly rod and make a couple casts when we get to the water, do you?" I said, with an innocent look on my face.
"No, that's fine!" Katie replied lovingly.
Crystal clear spring water, flowing into the Snake River, how could one not at least try to fish a little!
Box Canyon was definitely a pretty place. The water was gorgeous and the trail was easy; minus the botanical hazards of course!
Poison Ivy and Stinging Nettle reminded us the importance of staying on the trail.
We reached the famed waterfall, took a moment to enjoy it's beauty and then it was time to find out what lurked in the cold, blue waters.
Immediately I found small trout chasing my flies and I picked up a few in a short amount of time. The water looked like it might hold some monster trout, and I'm sure it did, but the "doinks" were all that were willing to play.
I fished for 15 minutes or so and decided that was enough. It was time to move onto our next destination: the Malad Gorge.
The Malad River Gorge was a neat sight to see. Crossing the high bridge and staring down into Devil's Washbowl could make even a roller coaster repairman queazy. We hiked a ways downstream on the canyon edge before turning around and heading to the car. No fishing to be done here! We had planned to go to the hot springs that night, but found out they were closed. Thus concluded our 'touristy' first day in Hagerman.
The following day we decided to begin with a trip to see the alligators. Fourteen and seven foot long gators are a strange sight to see in Idaho, but only in Hagerman!
The alligators were close to one of my favorite carp fishing spots and Katie was eager to try to catch one. She had fished for carp with me before but had never gotten one. I had high hopes for this spot and this day, so we rigged up the fly rods and snuck our way down to the river. We walked along an overgrown trail following a small creek.
We emerged from the "jungle" next to the Snake River, and basking in the sun was a pod of nearly 50 carp. All ranging in size from 2 to 20 pounds. We took great care to be stealthy as Katie got into position. Carp are spooky fish and all it takes is one fish to see you and they all blow out of the area.
Carp will eat nearly anything in their aquatic environment with the exception of MOST rocks and sticks (I really wouldn't put it past them). However, fly selection and presentation is still very important. The carp in this particular location tend to be suspended in the top 2 feet of the water column. There are also bass, trout and bluegill spawning in the area. Thus I chose to suspend under an indicator; a small yellow bead above a small halloween leech.
Katie made a short roll cast and we intently watched the indicator drift very slowly through the carp filled water. It only took a few casts before the indicator slowly sunk and Katie raised the rod.
"Does it feel big?" I asked with high hopes.
"Yes, it feels very heavy!"
"I think you've got a carp! I think you've got a carp!"
My excitement was probably greater than hers as I fought the urge to jump up and down.
The 5 weight Helios rod was working overtime, and I like to think it was enjoying every minute of it (my Helios does not discriminate amongst fish species).
After a great battle and probably too much coaching on my end, we scooped the large goldfish into my tiny net.
The fish had fought so long and hard that it actually cooperated while we humiliated it with photographs.
Katie was very excited to land her first carp, or "Big Nasty" as she calls them, and probably the largest fish thus far in her fly fishing career. She handed me the rod and told me to get another one. Yes ma'm!
I casted the fly to a different area on the stream where I had seen a few rise earlier. Several casts later, I was into a nice scrapper of a carp.
This fish tried to wrap me around every rock in the area and in the end, the animal on top of the food chain won (although the gators a few blocks away would probably disagree with that statement).
After releasing the medium sized carp, I asked Katie if she wanted to try for another one. She wasn't ready yet so I rolled a cast right back out there. The indicator sunk and I set the hook. I felt the weight of a carp and the battle was on. The carp made a great first run and then came directly towards me. I quickly stripped in my line and leader and was about to see my carp when something extremely unusual breached the surface. Instead of a golden colored fish, my fly was hooked onto a blue, nylon rope. Is that a stringer? The carp continued to battle with all it's might, seemingly un-fazed by the 4 foot hitch-hiker looped through it's mouth and gills. Katie scooped the net under the fish and we took a moment to fathom what had just happened.
Someone had caught a carp and placed it on their stringer with the intention of keeping and eating it. Somehow the stringer did not remain attached to the bank and the carp swam off with the stringer. My fly had snagged the stringer and here we were with the results.
I unthreaded the stringer and released the carp. I felt a bit strange as the carp swam off, thinking about many of my fellow anglers who don't believe in releasing these non-native, often destructive fish. I've killed plenty of carp in my life, but I just have a hard time killing things I'm not going to eat.
As we gathered our things and prepared to leave, I asked Katie,"Want to try to catch some of those bright yellow golden trout? I know a place nearby."
"What?! There's goldens around here? All you had to do is tell me there's goldens and I would have gone to Hagerman just for that!" Katie replied, with the kind of excitement she knew I would want to hear.
Katie had also fished for goldens with me before and not gotten one so she was eager to get a hero shot with one.
Before we left though, we picked up some of the garbage that other "anglers" had left.
We hopped in the car and headed to the next fishing spot: Riley Creek.
Riley Creek is a spring creek that flows right through one of the major fish hatcheries in Hagerman. It's easy to access and gets planted frequently with fish ranging in size from 8 inch doinks to 2 foot brood stock. We pulled up and I put Katie into position to intercept both the rainbows and the albino rainbow hybrids, or goldens as most people call them. With a small tungsten bugger under an indicator, Katie was into a fish in no time.
"DANG IT! It's the wrong color!" Katie said in snobby disgust, that a 'normal' rainbow had taken her fly. "I wanted one of the yellow ones!"
"It's a 15 inch trout. You should be happy with that!" I said, while laughing.
Katie practically skated the fish in and then released it. I sat on a log above her and continued to observe as she tried to catch one of the golden trout. Katie was very determined and after a half dozen rainbows, she finally had a golden chase and take her fly, only to miss the hook set. Her next cast placed the fly next to one of the monster rainbows that had been laying next to a golden. From my vantage point I had a great view of this fish and I knew it was over 20 inches. It tipped it's head down as the fly sunk and tried to eat it, but right before it did, Katie stripped the fly. This drove the fish nuts and the chase was on! The fish spun around and began charging after the fly. It was all I could do to remain calm as I watched the massive trout grab her fly. Katie set the hook and the fight was on!
Like the carp earlier in the morning, my net was a little small for this caliber of fish. Nonetheless, after a great battle, I was able to apprehend and hand Katie her giant fish.
This rainbow was not the prettiest trout in Idaho, but she measured out at 23 inches.
"Hey, she might be the wrong color, but that's a dandy rainbow!" I told Katie as we released the fish.
"Yeah I'm happy with that one," Katie said with a big smile. "Why don't you try for bit?"
"Ok, I'll make a few casts." I said, grabbing the rod and rolling a cast out to the fish. "Oh shoot! It's a golden!"
"What?! That is stupid! I can't believe you just caught a golden like that! I'm so mad at you!" Katie said with a disgusted look on her face.
"Sorry," I said, laughing.
I released the strange looking trout and handed the rod back over. Katie fished a while longer and never did end up catching one of the goldens, but she landed another half dozen rainbows before we decided to move on.
One of the locals told us that Shoshone Falls was not worth viewing this time of year because of the low flows caused by irrigation. Since Katie was still eager to fish, we decided to try one last spot for smallmouth bass on the Snake River on our way home.
We parked near some railroad tracks and made our way down to the river. Katie made a quick cast and her line went tight on her 4th strip. A 12 inch smallie came thrashing to the surface and quickly into Katie's hand.
The one smallie seemed to be an anomaly, but a short walk downstream revealed a healthy pod of carp milling around in a shallow bay. I switched flies quickly and asked Katie if she wanted to try. She seemed content with her angling adventures for the day, so I gave it a go. Sight fishing for cruising carp can be a challenge, but there were so many carp cruising in so many directions, eventually a fish decided my fly was food and ate it. The fish raced for the main river, grabbing extra strength from the current and doubling my 5 weight over. However, the fish was not a monster, so eventually I won him over.
After releasing that fish, I decided I'd put Katie through enough fishing for a couple days and it was time to head home. Even though we had plans to view a few sights, this day had turned into a fishing day. Katie had landed her first carp and brought in a dandy rainbow trout. She may not have landed a golden, but that may be just the right motivation to bring us back down to Hagerman another time.