Idaho Cutthroats.

27 08 2019

This past week I had the opportunity to go fishing in Idaho.  I had some friends out there that needed some help so, after a little research, I booked a guide to fish the Coeur d’Alene river in northern Idaho for West Slope Cutthroat Trout.  Turns out this river has the only population of this species (of which there are 14 different ones) of Cutthroat trout.  There is even a sub species of the West Slope trout called the Black Tail West Slope Cutthroat Trout, but more on that later.

I met my guide, Sage Guerber of Castaway Fly Charters, at their shop in Kingston Wednesday morning.  After a brief introduction we were on our way.  Once we launched the boat, Sage gave me the rundown on what to expect today.  August isn’t usually the best time of the year for this but he was determined to make my trip a memorable one.  He told me fish would be active the first few hours in the morning on the surface.  After that we would concentrate on nymphing with indicators and eventually stripping streamers.  We would use several different set-ups throughout the day, most of them rather foreign to me.  I’m a big fish, big fly, heavy rod, heavy leader kind of person.  Today, it would be mostly 5x, 2 pound tippets and size #18 and #20 flies.  Basically stuff the size of a gnat.  Our first rig was a foam hopper pattern and an 18 inch dropper with a #18 nymph on the end.  Sage told me that the fish would concentrate on the nymph but don’t be surprised if one takes the hopper.  I had to concentrate on the hopper because either a fish would grab it or it would sink because a fish grabbed the nymph below.  There was a fair amount of surface activity so I started casting along the seams and into the areas where we saw fish rising.  It didn’t take long and my hopper disappeared.  Of course I set the hook to hard and I missed the fish.  Sage told me to scale it back and set the hook like I was lifting up to do another cast.  A few minutes later the hopper sank again and this time I hooked up.  Sage netted the fish and much to my dismay it was a little Rainbow.  Not what I came here for.

Once he was released we floated downstream a bit to the next area.  Fish were rising again so I went back to casting in the area.  It didn’t take long and I soon had another fish on.  This time it was what I was after.

Not bad for my first Cutthroat.  A quick pic and he was back in the water.  In an effort to boost the populations and preserve the fishery the whole river is catch & release with barbless hooks.  It appears to be working because I would catch fish all day long and see plenty in the deep holes as we floated by.  A little further downstream we came upon a slower section of the river and there was a lot of feeding activity on midges, teeny, tiny midges, like size #20 midges.  Sage asked if I wanted to try to catch one on the surface and I said “Sure”.  He told me it is difficult to catch them this way.  The small hook makes a good hook set difficult.  Throw in the fact that I could barely see the fly in my hand let alone 60 feet away.  I gave it my best shot and about 10 minutes later I had another nice cutthroat.

This is what they call a Black Tail West Slope Cutthroat.  Some of the fish have this mutant gene that gives them a darker color in the tail section.  Still the same fish, just a bit more of a mutant.  I managed to pic up a few more in the area until we eventually moved on.

The next area was a deeper run so Sage had me switch over to a double nymph rig to get the flies deeper.  We didn’t pick anything up so we moved on and switched back to the Hopper rig.  Sage had switched out the hopper though to a purple foam stone fly imitation to see what might happen.  I started casting and now the fish were hitting both the Stone fly and the nymph below.  Mostly smaller fish but at one point I had an experience I will never forget.  While the purple stone fly was drifting down I saw a dark shadow move up from the depths.  I watched this 20+ plus male rainbow swim straight at the fly in slow motion.  I swear my eyes got bigger as I watched him slowly open his gaping mouth and clamp down on the fly.  Once he turned to go back too where he came I set the hook and the fight was on.  Sage let a “Holy Crap” as I was trying not to put too much pressure on him for fear of breaking the light line.  The fish just stayed in place, shaking his head back and forth, trying to shake the hook.  After about 10 second he did just that.  Sage let out a yell of disgust but I went back to casting.  I’m not keeping them anyways and that slow-mo take will forever be etched in my memory, which is what I am really out here for anyways.

For the rest of the day things were pretty uneventful.  I did bust the line on a bigger cutthroat but I expected that.  I was actually kind of surprised I didn’t do it more often.  We were nearing the end of the trip so Sage tied on a grey rabbit strip streamer and told me to have at it.

Music to my ears.

For the next hour I stripped this streamer through every hole and sunken tree I could see.  I had a few bumps and had a few fish turn on it but no takers.  We were near the end when Sage told me to make my last cast downstream of a sunken tree.  I laid the fly in there, let it sink for a couple of seconds and once I gave it a strip I saw a fish come out from under the tree and T-Bone it head on.  No finesse set here, I drove that hook home and the fight was on.  A few minutes later and he was in the net.  This was the kind of fish I was hoping for.  I wanted to get a pic of him in the water next to the rod and reel but there wasn’t any shore line where we could do that.  I took a few obligatory grip and grin shots and sent him on his way.

Not a bad way to end the day.  I wanted to catch a cutthroat and I did, about a dozen or so.  Lost and missed a few and witnessed probably one of the best surface takes by a trout I will ever see.  I had the whole river to myself and never saw another fisherman.  The view wasn’t so bad either.

I did remember to take a close-up of a fish so people could better understand why they are called cutthroat trout.

The reason for the name

Once we pulled the boat, Sage gave me his card and told me to contact him if I ever make my way back out here.  He told me the best fishing is in June and October.  I told him June is a possibility since I may be going back to Alaska in the Fall.  I also told him I want to catch a Bull Trout and he said he can arrange that.

I certainly hope so.

Day 7 – The Locals

24 08 2018

Today was going to be about catching some of the locals.  The Rainbow Trout, Artic Char and Artic Grayling are not migratory and are present year round.  I had never caught an Artic Grayling before or a Giant Alaskan Rainbow so they were on top of the to do list.  I’ve caught Rainbow trout before in Michigan but nothing worth bragging about.  I was hoping I could swing flies for them but the order of business today was going to be beads and indicators.  I also had a different guide today.  Tim was taking another group down to the tidal area so today my guide would be David.  I get the feeling that when guests are trying to catch the resident fish they are handed off to Dave.  It seems to be his specialty and the only way he wants to fish.  After lunch Phil and I changed that.  We got tired of catching lots of little fish and wanted something a little bigger.  That would come later, for now it was lighter rods and beads.

The first stop was on yet another island upstream from the lodge.  I broke out my 6wt TFO BVK rod and let Dave rig it up with a bead and indicator.  He told me to just cast out and drift it through the run about 10 feet from shore.  The bead bite was just starting to kick in since the Chum’s were all spawning.  For the next half hour I proceeded to catch lot’s of rainbows.  Problem was they were anywhere from a couple inches to maybe 12 inches long.  Nothing to get excited about.

Eyes were definitely bigger than his stomach.

I moved further downstream and I finally hooked into and landed a better fish.

That was the only decent fish in the hole so we picked up and moved on to another spot.  This place we would just fish from the boat, kind of like speed jigging.  Drift down quickly, let the indicator drift with the boat for about 200 yards and then motor up and start all over.  Each drift lasted maybe a minute with the fast current.  We hooked fish on every drift but landed very few.  I was able to get my Grayling (3 in total) though.

And another decent Rainbow.

And another Char

Eventually we set up on another island and waded.  No locals but I did pick up a couple of male Chum.  Fortunately they were pretty beat up and didn’t fight much.  I had already broke 2 rods and I didn’t want to make it a third.  A 6wt rod isn’t exactly ideal for a 10+ pound Chum Salmon.

Once we finished up there we told Dave that we wanted to go back to stripping flies for something bigger.  We headed downstream and started fishing for Pinks again.  We hit three places in total.  We would stop, catch a few fish and then nothing after the initial flurry.  The third stop was near the lodge and actually in the same place we saw the bears feeding the night before.  I mentioned it to Phil and then we both got a little nervous.  Dave said not to worry, he had our back.  I looked over at him and his Remington 870 was slung across his shoulder.  After almost a week it still took some getting used to having my guide carrying a shotgun while I fished.

We didn’t stay at the last spot very long.  We could see rain coming down the mountain and neither one of us wanted to get wet so we quit early.  I didn’t mind.  My initial goal was to catch one of every species available and I was able to do just that.  Nothing worth getting a replica mount made for but that was ok.  I had lots of pictures, memories and one more day to go.


I Believe I Can Fly……..

2 10 2017

Anyone reading this might wonder why I led off with this.  I’ll get to that and trust me, it is appropriate.

Earlier this week my friend and fellow handliner Dave, asked me if I want to head up to the Manistee River for one last crack at the trout before the season closed.  Like I need to be asked?  Friday night found us headed up 127 to his own version of the Holy Waters.  We would be fishing an area that is flies only and the legal minimum length for a Brown Trout was 18 inches.  Not that this mattered since neither of us were planning on keeping anything but an 18 inch Brown is an impressive fish.  There were smaller size restrictions for Rainbows and Brookies but in all the years that Dave has fished here he has never caught either.  In other words it was Browns or nothing.  This was fine with me since I have yet to catch a Brown on a fly.  Caught plenty of the lake run version but never a true river Brown.

After breakfast Saturday morning we drove up to our first spot of the day.  We were the only fishermen there, not surprising since Opening Day of the Archery Deer Season was the next day.  There was lots of Quad traffic on the roads as hunters checked on blinds but for us there wasn’t a sign of anyone on the river.  Once we got our gear in order we made our way down to the river’s edge.  Dave was casting small soft hackles and headed upstream.  As for me I was going big.  I broke out my 6wt, 11-6 Redington Prospector and a 3 inch Olive Sculpin pattern I tied up for this purpose.  I could have scaled down and given myself a better chance of catching any trout but I wanted something to brag about.  The stretch I was fishing had a lot of bends to it so I had to move from one side to the next so that I could swing my fly through the deeper runs and holes. Fortunately for my vertically challenged self, the water levels were down a bit and I could you wade from side to side without much issue.  Trout Unlimited had created a lot of holding habitat in the past and I was concentrating my efforts towards those sunken logs, especially the ones in the shade.  It was chilly morning so the sun felt good but I would have welcomed a little cloud cover.  Nevertheless I went through my usual routine.  Cast, swing, drift, dangle, take two steps, repeat.  Of course while I was doing this I was studying the next run, checking out the scenery, listening to the birds and generally just relaxing.  I’ve had to much unnecessary drama in my life the last week and I really needed to unwind.  It never ceases to amaze me how time on the water can make all my problems just disappear.

How can any self respecting Brown refuse that?

After about an hour of this and no action I was beginning to question my strategy of Go Big or Go Home.  I hadn’t heard from Dave so I had no idea if he was doing any better.  I know there were some decent fish in the area.  When we first started we spooked a 20+ inch fish from under a log near our entry point.  I kept at it though, thinking eventually something would take a swipe at my fly.  During this interlude of me questioning my tactics I noticed two birds hauling ass my way.  I couldn’t tell what they were at first until the trailing bird finally caught the lead bird.  A goshawk had just exploded  a Robin directly in front of me and landed in the tag alders on my right.  I stood there in amazement of what I had just seen and watched the feathers all around me float down to the river.  That was when it happened, my cast was now in the “dangle” mode and an over zealous brown grabbed my sculpin.  Now normally, when I’m swinging streamers, I try to wait until I feel the weight of the fish to set the hook.  That way I know he has turned and once I apply pressure I can usually hook the fish in the corner of the mouth.  This hit was not when I was expecting it so of course I set the hook and let the 11′ – 6″ rod do it’s thing and by that I mean it proceeded to yank that little 7 inch Brown completely out of the water and send him flying upstream and back into the water right next to me.  By then he came unhooked and swam away trying to figure out what the hell just happened to him.  One second he thought he was going to get himself an easy meal and the next he is flying through the air like a bird.   I just stood there for a moment taking it all in and feeling a little ashamed at what I had just done.  I know better than that.

After that the rest of the morning was pretty uneventful.  Dave managed to land a few smaller fish and I managed nothing.  We spent the rest of the day continuing to work our way upstream.  We found one spot that was rather interesting.  When we first got there we could see some fish holding in a pool behind a blow down.  We were trying to figure out how to get to them when we began to question if they were even trout.  Eventually we saw the forked tails and realized they were suckers.  When we turned around to leave I spotted a pair of Adirondack chairs at the edge of the river.  Someone must have brought them down so we took advantage of that person’s hard work and generosity and sat there for a bit to take in the scenery.  After a bit we hit the river or at least Dave did.  I headed downstream but most of the area was too deep for me to wade or to mucky. After about half an hour of trying to find a spot to fish I just gave up and went back to the car.  I grabbed my book and sat in one of the stream side chairs and read while Dave fished.  He managed to hook into a better fish but it got tangled up in some logs (the beavers were really active on this stretch) and lost it.

Dave’s First Manistee Brookie

The suckers

Dave’s Brown

The rest of the day provided very little action.  We made one more stop just before dark.  There were several hatches going on of Ephrons, Blue Wing Olives and something so small I had no idea what it was.  We did see a few fish rise to this but nothing to get to excited about.  I did manage to catch a wood turtle here, I almost stepped on him as I was walking upstream.  He was covered in tan colored leeches, which of course I had nothing resembling that in my fly box.  We fished until dark and then called it a day.  A warm meal and bed sounded pretty good right now.  We planned on trying again in the morning anyways.

He doesn’t look impressed.

Sunday morning found us even farther upstream but on the same river.  The section I was going to work had a long bend in the river, almost 300 yards of sunken logs on the left downstream side and all in the shade.  I figured I had to get something here.  In order to increase my chances I cheated a little.  I tied a 12 inch dropper line onto my sculpin and attached a #12 soft hackle.  If I can’t go big I figured I could at least catch something small.  This time though I vowed to not send anything small flying through the air.  I waded in and started my routine once again.  Unfortunately the only action I had was a small 5 inch brown that grabbed my dropper fly.  As promised I didn’t send him flying, I just merely skipped him along the surface as I lifted my rod.  As I reached down to pick him up he came off and quickly swam for the nearest cover.  I did see a few bigger fish as I worked my way around an island but they wanted nothing to do with what I had to offer, the snobs.  Dave didn’t have much luck either so after we got out of our waders we packed up and headed home.  Not the most successful trip in terms of fish caught but I learned a lot about this section of river, found some new access points and tucked them away in  my memory for future dates.  One of these times I’ll time it right and actually catch a fish worth bragging about.

Not a lot of color for this time of year.