One of my favorite things about fly fishing is the different places that it takes me. I love exploring new water. Having only lived in Eastern Idaho for three years, I still have a lot of exploring to do. There are so many miles of water here, it would take a life time to explore it all. My buddies and I are always on google earth, sharing screen caps through Face Book messages with comments such as, “Have you ever fished here before?” or “This run looks like it has to hold some serious hogs”. Often times places end up being a total bust, but every once in a while everything comes together and you find that perfect spot. There is something about finding a new run that is chock full of fish eagerly waiting to eat your fly.
Dirty Water Brown
Anyone that knows me knows that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the South Fork of the Snake River. Most of the year the flows are too high to reasonably wade fish. If you know where to look, there are side channels that can be fished without the use of a drift boat, but they are pretty few and far between. Late fall through early spring is prime time on the South Fork for the wade fisherman. Three years ago, fishing was phenomenal on the South Fork. It was not uncommon for me to go out in the afternoon and fish til dark and land 30+ fish, with at least a handful in the 16″-18″ range. The past two years have been a different story. Aside from night fishing, I have had a terribly difficult time catching very many fish. Even my usual spots were not producing the normal numbers of trout they did in years past. I attribute this partially to the fact that we have had terrible winters the last two years. Unusual fluctuations in water flows have messed with insect life and have also reshaped the river, causing fish to hold in different runs than they did previously. Simply put, I was a bit put off with the idea of fishing the South Fork.
Last Light Brownie
Last week, I decided it was time to give the South Fork another chance. I went and fished a couple of my old haunts and quickly caught a couple of small cutthroat trout. I was much more interested in catching brown trout, so I decided to do a little exploring. The South Fork is riddled with side channels and almost every one of them holds a lot of fish. I decided to go fish a new side channel that I had not explored much before. The last time I had attempted to fish it I had been run off by a couple moose and was a bit hesitant to return. The deep cut bank on one side and gravel bar on the other made any route of escape a difficult one. After checking the area and deciding there weren’t any moose near by (at least none that I could see) I decided to jump down into the channel. Within a couple casts I was hooked up on a decent little brownie. I quickly released the fish and slowly worked my way down the channel. At one point in time I was catching fish on every single cast. The fishing continued like this until dark and I ended up with 30 or so fish to hand, most of them between 12″-16″s. I considered staying to night fish but didn’t want to deal with fishing in the rain in the dark. I was content with the day and already planned on returning in the morning.
With my faith somewhat restored in the South Fork, I was excited to return to the newly discovered run the next morning. Unfortunately, conditions were not going to be as prime for streamer fishing. A couple inches of snow had fallen, the wind was blowing, and the temperature had dropped about 20-25 degrees. Water clarity was also beginning to return to normal. I arrived at the river with the air temp somewhere around 15 degrees, and with windchill, it felt somewhere in the single digits. Undeterred, I made my way down to the run and began working my wooly bugger behind some boulders. It didn’t take long to hook up with a healthy 16″ brown. I worked my way down to the tail out, only picking up three fish along the way. I figured the fishing would be slower with the change in weather and decided it was time to move elsewhere.
After deciding where to try next, I made the short drive to one of my favorite spots on the river. It was immediately evident that the fishing was going to be better in this location. After only a couple casts I had hooked up with a fish. I worked my way down river for 1/2 a mile or so, picking up fish the whole way, but most of these fish were smaller. Things eventually started to slow down and I decided to start heading back to my truck. On the way back, I planned to stop and throw to one of the deeper pools one last time. In years past I had seen some very respectable browns in this hole, so I knew there was most likely a nice fish in there. I cast my streamer, this time letting it sink much longer so I could work the deep run more effectively. I began stripping the fly slowly towards me, and on the third or fourth strip felt the take of a noticeably larger fish. When big browns hit, they don’t hold anything back. They attack your fly with a vengeance and there is no mistaking that they are there. After the initial take, they usually dive straight for the bottom or the river. As I fought the fish, I did all that I could to work him up from depths of the river bottom. He did not want to budge at all. I fish with pretty heavy line, so I wasn’t too concerned about breaking him off. Fly fishing for carp really teaches you how much pressure you can put on a fish before your knot will fail. Eventually he came to the surface, throwing a huge wave of water. I finally caught a glimpse of him and let out a shout of excitement. Big browns are not very easy to come by, especially in the light of day, and I was face to face with the biggest one I had ever hooked on the South Fork.
I scooped the fish into my net and sat there for a minute, admiring his monstrous head. His kype was so large that it kept his mouth from closing all the way. I had never seen such a large head on a trout before and was quite impressed. I quickly snapped a couple pictures and sent the big guy on his way. I can’t help but wonder what he might have looked like in October, prior to the spawn. Sometimes after catching a nice fish I decide that it is ok to call it quits for the day. This was one of those days. I looked up, thanked the Lord for the opportunity to catch such a beautiful trout, and made the hike back to my truck.
One of My Biggest Browns To Date
Sometimes you catch a fish and the entire experience runs through your mind over and over again, like a scratched DVD stuck in a loop. While fishing today, I couldn’t help but re-run the experience of catching that brown through my mind. I was already content with the day before I ever stepped out of my truck. Fishing was a little slower today, but I still managed a nice 22″-23″ hen. She was still skinny from the spawn, but a healthy and beautiful fish none the less. Brown trout hold a special place in my heart, and it was nice to take a break from the ‘bows I’ve been more accustomed to this Winter.
Sometimes all it takes is a couple good days of fishing to restore your faith in an old favorite spot. Other times it might take only a single fish. Through a combination of both, my faith in the South Fork of the Snake is once again restored. Snow pack is looking great for this winter, so I am hopeful that brighter days are ahead for the South Fork in the coming year.