Saturday, July 31, 2021

North Idaho 2021

 Coeur d'Alene and Orofino area 2021

"Looks like the weather is going to take a turn for the worse." I said, as we packed our things for a week-long adventure chasing pike in the Coeur d'Alene area.

"Of course it is. I wish you wouldn't have said anything and left that a surprise." Katie responded back with a frown. 

It had been unseasonably warm and dry for the entire month of May, so a change in weather was due. Unfortunately, the last time we tried to time the pike bite the same thing happened. Oh well, that's spring for you.

By late afternoon we'd arrived at the campground, set up our tent and ate some dinner. It had rained off and on the entire way there with the temperature hovering in the low 50's. It had now cleared momentarily and the lake was calm. I was getting the itch. We launched the boat at the last hour of the day and headed to an area we'd caught pike before. We casted large streamers with a couple takes of what we assumed were bass. Darkness quickly approached and before we knew it, it was time to head back to camp. 

The next morning we awoke to rain and wind. Hardly the conditions that tempt you to wake up early and conquer the day. Still eager to pursue some fish, I snuck out of the tent by myself and headed toward the boat. I'd try fishing around the docks. Armed with a balanced minnow under an indicator, I quickly started catching bass; both smallmouth and largemouth. One largemouth was nearly 18 inches.

By 9 am I was thoroughly cold and soaked. With the boat inches away from the dock, I threw out a cast in "no mans land" and set the rod down. I was reaching for a rope to secure the boat to the dock when I saw my indicator take a dive. I quickly grabbed the rod and set the hook. Line peeled off the reel immediately. Still assuming it to be a large bass, I was ecstatic when the fish came closer, revealing a pike. I netted the fish as quickly as possible, knowing my tippet was not "pike proof". I took a quick photo and released the small pike to hunt another day. 

A quick look at the forecast told us today would not be a pleasant fishing day so we decided to run into town and accomplish a few things. We finished the day by fishing the same location as the night before. This time, without a single take or follow. Once back in the docks, bass fishing picked up and we landed a few nice fish. 

The following day gave us slightly milder weather. We decided to head up the river and hit the chain lakes. Pike are ambush predators and love to hang out in emerging weed beds in the spring. Katie and I had no trouble finding prime looking pike water. In fact, most of the lakes were full of "pike water". Lily pads of various sizes and colors, cabbages, and numerous other aquatic vegetation was emerging all over each lake. Knowing we had no shortage of pike water to cover, we hoped water temperature could narrow the search. We had to find the warmest water. We checked in the back of coves, areas that had cloudier water and creek mouths; all were reading 58 degrees. We would simply have to cast and cast. 

We tried a few areas we'd caught crappie in the past; nothing. I tried casting chatterbaits and spinner baits hoping the vibration would trigger a strike; nothing. While I continued to try various spinners, lures and flies, Katie continued to cast a large fire tiger flashabou fly with a medium speed strip retrieve. The fly looked dynamite in the water. All we needed were the fish.

We entered a cove that suddenly had a different feel. Several downed logs lay on the bottom and numerous dark, circular areas could be seen mixed about with emerging cabbage weeds. Perhaps the dark spots were fish beds or a different type of weed. It was hard to explain, but my optimism spiked. We slowly drifted through, casting all around. We were almost out of the cove when I heard a startled squeak out of Katie. I looked back to see a huge pike thrash on the end of Katie's line and then dive for the depths. Line peeled off her reel as the fish tried to take shelter in the weeds. 

"I was wondering what that log was doing following my fly." Katie said with wide eyes.

"Honey, that thing is huge!" I exclaimed as I tried to get us to deeper water with the trolling motor. 

The fight went on for quite a while. Each time the fish would surface, it would take another run for the depths, bringing up more cabbage with it. This fish was what we'd come for. All our previous trips we'd caught nothing close to this fish. I looked down at the net I'd chosen to bring; the big one, just in case we encountered a fish like this. I was estatic when I finally scooped the fish into the net.

The fish was as healthy as they come; 33 inches and very fat. If you're going to catch one fish all day, this was the fish. Katie held the beast up for a photo and we sent the gator on it's way. 

We fished a few other spots without success before calling it a day.

With a second turkey tag in my pocket and only a couple days of the season left to go, I was itching to chase some birds. The following morning I tried hunting an area while Katie caught up on some sleep. I didn't find any turkeys, so I returned to camp, ready to hit the water. This time we would try some of the rocky points on the main lake. 

We set off across the lake and hit the first spot. The water looked dynamite for smallies, but the temperature was 52 degrees and there was a healthy chop on the lake. After a couple hours and no fish, we returned to camp to go for a bike ride. 

That evening a thunderstorm rolled through camp. Apparently it was our tent's time to go, because the wind leveled it with the first couple of gusts. Luckily, I brought another.

The next day we hit the chain lakes again. This time we had overcast skies and calm winds; perfect fishing weather. We tried some old water as well as new. All of it looking dynamite. One bay had a creek coming in. The water temperature reached 59 and had a noticeable drop off with weeds right at the edge. I had numerous takes from both bass and pike and I was luckily enough to connect with a couple. 

We left that lake and headed to another. This lake was also covered in "pike water", but it wasn't until we ended up in a cove that had a dark bottom that we saw our first fish. 
Small, red lily pads with spiraling stems emerged from the depths; a weed we hadn't seen yet. The first pike nearly attacked the boat, charging for my fly out of nowhere just as I was lifting the fly to re-cast. The 20 something inch fish missed and disappeared, never to be seen again. Katie connected with the next pike; another low 20 inch fish. Hers came off right at the boat. The next pike hit my fly so hard it broke it off as I was setting the hook. Rats! Katie connected again; another 20 inch pike that launched out of the water throwing her hook. There was a pocket of fish in this small area. We had a couple more hookups before our small pocket exhausted itself and we were forced to go back on the hunt. Unfortunately, that was the last action we'd see on that day.   

The following day we headed to Hayden Lake, hoping to repeat the crappie smack down we'd experienced the first time we fished there. However, as we launched the boat we noticed the cove we'd fished last time was nearly choked out with weeds. Maybe they were tucked into the pockets? We tried fishing the small pockets of weeds with only a tiny pike to hand. 

We moved on to different water, first trying large lily pad patches. I found a nice largemouth eager for a meal. 
From there we moved onto a bank with several downed trees extending into the lake. The water suddenly darkened and took on a stained color. I was throwing a "horny toad", a topwater bass plastic that fishes weedless. The lure had skipped and kicked through the lily pads just like a frog. We neared the first downed tree and I threw a cast near the bank. I kicked the frog to and fro along side the tree. When I was convinced no-one was around, I quickly retrieved the frog along the surface to re-cast. That's when it appeared. The nearly 3 foot pike charged out of the darkness, traveling almost 15 feet in hot pursuit of the frog. The pike slowed as the frog neared the boat. I stopped my retrieve and let the frog fall. The fish showed interest but it knew something was up. The fish slowly sank into the stained water and disappeared. 
"Katie, get your fly over there where the tree enters the water! I think you stand a good chance." I said, knowing a different presentation would likely entice the fish. 
Katie threw a perfect cast. Strip, strip, strip, BOOM! Out of the darkness the fish charged, inhaling her 10 inch fly entirely. Katie calmly continued stripping until her line came tight and she lifted the rod, setting the hook. I was jazzed to see Katie into another great pike. After a nice battle, we had the pike in the boat. 
"I can't believe how calm you were. I probably would have pulled the hook right out the fishes mouth as it charged for my fly." I said shaking my head. 
"Well you have to wait until you feel them. DUH!" Katie replied with words I probably told her when I was teaching her how to streamer fish numerous years ago.

We set the predator loose and continued along the same bank. However, the terrain changed and so did our optimism. It was amazing how much good looking water the fish had to choose from. Even amongst great looking water, there were pockets of better water. 

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to camp. The next day we'd start our journey home. We'd be taking a slight detour, however, to pick a mushroom or two and chase a species of fish neither of us had yet to catch: Tiger Trout!

The following day, and a couple hours south, we set off on some forested hillsides in search of Morel mushrooms. After a brief hunt, we stumbled upon a patch. Another new activity for Katie and I. We gathered a few for a small meal before setting off for the lake we heard had some tigers. 
As we neared the lake, the rain began to sock back in, coming down in buckets by the time we were launching the boat. Good rain gear and relentless pursuit of a new fish overcame common sense as we found ourselves on the water, staring through the rain at our indicators. 
It didn't take long to find the first fish; a rainbow trout. Shortly after, I picked up another fish. Only this time, the color flashing under the water was copper. Could it be? I brought the fish near the surface and giggled in delight. A tiger!
Katie followed up with a rainbow. The rain slowed and before we knew it, the sun was shining. 
We explored around the lake, catching a fish here and there. I connected with another small tiger.
The day was fading, we were tired and hungry and Katie began to get nervous she might not get her tiger. We had worked our way back toward the boat ramp when Katie's bobber disappeared into the darkness. Katie was on it though, setting the hook on a copper flashing fish. A tiger! She had done it, just in time!

Satisfied in checking off a new species, we loaded the boat up, set up camp and ate dinner. 

As we drove home the following day, we reminisced on the highlights of the trip. In spite of less than ideal weather and water temps, we'd tangled with 2 very nice pike. We fished new water and familiar, and caught some nice bass and smaller pike. We also found a few mushrooms, and even caught some tiger trout. Hard to ask for much more!