Saturday, January 6, 2018

High Country Cuttys.

Driving up to Idaho City is always refreshing. So close to Boise, once you make the climb past Lucky Peak Reservoir, into the trees, it feels as if your half a state away. The drive alone is soul enriching during the late summer months. We drove the winding mountain roads past places where I chase bear and deer in other seasons to chase another quarry native to our state. We pull into the parking lot of the trailhead, crowded with like minded folk looking to escape into the woods. Even in July at an elevation of just a touch above 5,900 feet, mornings are cold and crisp. We shoulder light packs loaded with lunch, Chaco sandals and fly fishing gear. The forecast called for perfect conditions; perfect for the 3 hour hike into Jennie Lake. The well worn trail follows Bear Creek for most of its length. As we walked the trail, littered with deer and elk tracks, we stop to admire the small falls of the creek, meadows bursting with colorful flora and breath deeply the fragrance of faint campfire and abundant wildflowers. We stopped frequently to drink it all in. As we climbed higher in the drainage, gaining almost 1,940 feet in elevation, I half expected to see elf grazing in the ever expanding meadows. Maybe that was wishful thinking. Surprisingly we didn't see any elk or deer.

As we neared the lake, we encounter a train load of people exiting the lake. I read that the lake is popular and with easy access I expected a few people but not near as many as we passed. I was a little concerned it would turn out like some other destinations I've been to that were crowded and trashed. To our relief there was very little trace of such heavy use. With really only two campsites, one of which was ravaged by the Pioneer Fire, the other directly across on the opposite side on a rocky flat. One single family camped and fished across the lake. We circled and settled for the afternoon. This is a pretty little lake. Clean and clear. Like most high mountain lakes, the shallows were near the outlet creek where the family camped and deep emerald green on the side where a trickle of an inlet creek entered. This was more of a wide spring rather than a creek.

Jennifer and I circled this picturesque gem, we see what we are after. Cutthroat trout, presumably Westslope Cutthroat trout. After dropping our packs under the shade of a small stand of tall pines, we eat a well deserved lunch. Rods are hastily rigged and we start to see rises everywhere. Casting was tough as there isn't much room for a back cast against the rocky walls that shield the lake. Roll casts as far as we could muster was going to be the plan of the day. Small drys. Caddis, adams, midges. Small emergers and nymphs worked well too. Quickly we were into trout gleaming with red throat slashes and golden flanks; adorned with deep, perfect, concentrated, black spots near the tail. Fishing wasn't fast and furious. Remember the herd of people that proceeded us days before? Yeah, I imagine that had taken a toll on a number of fish. However we were rewarded with rods bend frequently. A couple times with doubles. Jennifer caught her first trout on a fly rod this day. A native catching a native. I was extremely happy for her. She learned to roll cast with accuracy, play fish quickly and confidently and of course rejoice bringing them to hand to adore and set free. On her own.... without me to screw it up for her. I'm sure that was ultra rewarding.

As we fished, we were accompanied by a companion of the rare furry variety. A rather large river otter, who appeared to be the only one that occupied the lake. He also made it very clear that we were fishing in his honey hole. That little guy was adorable. Rolling, swimming and sunning on a large fallen tree literally a decent roll cast away from us. He was fun to watch. A creature I don't get to see very often. No to mention the fact, his presence made for lousy fishing. Very cool nonetheless.

As the day lingered, we dreaded the hike back. We should have either gotten a much earlier start or planned for an overnighter at least. Margaret Fuller describes the hike as an 8 hours round trip in her book, Trails of Western Idaho. We hiked up in 3 with frequent stops and hoped to get back down the hill in less than that. That had to wait as we were not finished fishing and there was plenty of daylight left. More importantly Jennifer was in a zone. She now was onto one of the bigger trout in the deep, rock filled holes of the lake. A trout approaching 20 inches was coaxed into taking her fly a time or two. She was determined to hook this beast. He was huge for a high mountain lake.  Cast after cast. Refusal after refusal. Then it happen.....he ate......hook set was solid and he was on! Jennifer shrieked with great joy, more so than earlier in the day. This was truly a magnificent specimen. Best trout of the day by far and perhaps the biggest trout she'd caught ever and certainly an amazing catch on a fly rod fresh from the day's steep learning curve. I caught glimpses of him flashing streaks of gold and red in the gin clear water. Splashes reminiscent of a "Big Boy" echoed across the lake as if that was the only sounds being made.

As I hustled over to the source of the commotion, it happened.....Jennifer with straight, not bent, rod in hand. Line loose, in lifeless coils on the water's surface and the sound of something amazingly precious lost. Her shrieks turned into wales of grief. Her great trout came unbuttoned.
Jennifer was elated and heartbroken in the same breath. All I could do was offer condolences. I've been there. As all anglers have been. That one is going to sting a little for quite some time and at the same time fuel a desire to do it all over again. Not the way you want the day to end. Even still we were both were blessed with a great experience. Our cups were full.

Reluctantly we broke down our rods, shouldered our packs and made our way back down the trail. It can't be understate that proper footwear for hiking is essential. Jennifer's feet suffered on the hike up. Feet swollen and blistered, unable to fit back in her hiking boots, she opted to hike back down in Chacos. Chacos are great for short excursions but not for 2 hours of straight gettin' it to beat sun down. Her feet were torched. We didn't stop much or say much just kept to the trail. By the time we got to the trailhead, I'm sure thoughts of dancing trout were far from her mind. It goes without saying, she's tough as hell. Never a word mentioned of pain or grimace on her face. She marched down the trail.

Feet soaking in the creek, I fetched the truck. Sitting in the cool dusk of the afternoon we talked of the day and that amazing trout, the one that got away, over ice cold and tasty beer. Perfect. Her face and eyes light up as she retold to me the blow by blow account of her brief battle. All thoughts of her bruised and battered feet were all gone with every excited word about that cutthroat trout. She, so hopelessly hooked, ironically by the one that became unhooked.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hot Springs and Hopper Droppers!!

It's been a lot of years since I've been to Atlanta, in fact, I think Isaiah was still very small running around in diapers....damn. So keeping with my quest for discovering hot springs this summer, Jennifer and I made the trek over the weekend and took the 3 hour drive to Atlanta. Yes the road up the Middle Fork is still crappy. Always has been, probably always will be. Despite the road conditions the drive and the weekend were just about perfect. Cool crisp  mornings, bright blue sky days, starry nights. Even with the fires burning in the area weather and visibility could not have been better. The worst of it all was near Arrowrock Reservoir. Once past that, on past Twin Springs, then past Confluence and Troutdale Campgrounds, the roads flatten out and become easier traveling as well as signs of campers thin out also. This is where things slow down and nature really starts to take over again. Deer, elk and black bear make an appearance along the roads and if you listen to the night sky you'll hear coyotes and wolves howl in the distance. You are now entering Sawtooth Country.

It wasn't long before we made it to a hot spring we attend to go to in the past but was always full or folks were camping and the word "crowded" described the number of bodies in the pool. But not this time. Loftus Hot Springs was our first stop on the trail o' the springs. We were extremely excited to have this pool all to ourselves with only the company of the pups. This is a great full body soaker pool and its only drawback is it is damn hot. Reported to be 108°F, it was every bit of that. A local fella, who was courteous enough to make sure we weren't naked, visited with us and told use decades ago when the spring was first discovered it was actually a cave in the hillside. The remnants of the overhanging walls certainly suggest something once enclosed. If you're fortunate enough to get there first and perhaps camp over night with a small group, this pool is perfect for a small gathering.
On our way down the road after a hour long soak at Loftus, we stopped and marveled at Pete's Creek. a couple of fly fisher were enjoying a days fishing and were pulled in next to the river. Even though this is one of our favorites, we didn't stop. Chances are they didn't know it was there and I sure wasn't going to give that away. Perhaps that's just wishful thinking. None the less we'll save it for another day.
On to Brown's Creek. I'm gonna say this is going to be in my top 5. Probably #3! This one involves another river crossing, a bit tougher this time. Certainly deeper and swifter. You're not going to reach it until late summer. Far warning! this river is fast, cold and dangerous! The spring however is an oasis of soothing relaxation. Similar to Pete's Creek, it too consists of a cascade of hot water from the rocks above. The pools at the base have been filled in over time with sediment and it would take a bit of work to carve them out again. We plan to pack a shovel next time to help the process along, but for the time being we fashioned a bench underneath the falls with flat stones.

We called it the love seat. Sitting under the rain of hot water with perfectly sized droplets, give you a heavenly massage......I could have stayed there all weekend letting the spring wash over me. Awesome is a poor descriptor of this hot spring.

Dutch Frank Hot Springs or Roaring Fork Hot Springs, whichever you prefer, were a small cluster of pools on the opposite bank from the road. You could get to them form the bridge crossing the Middle Fork or you could cross the river. I'd recommend using the bridge. These springs were nice and hot but a little shallow. We didn't stay too long as biting flies drove us out. Camp cologne with 40% DEET just wasn't enough.

With the sun fading on to the horizon and an urge to find camp we concluded day one with a spring that was near and dear to Jennifer. This was a place that her family frequented in the summers and fall to camp, fish, cut firewood and escape the valley. She was emotional in telling me stories of her mom, who she speaks of glowingly when we are in the mountains. She told tales of her brother and father cutting lumber and the smell of it thick in the air. Of swimming across the deep pool with her sister. All the while reflecting and rejoicing we had found this place. With tears wiped clear we gazed at the hillsides, baring scares of recent fires and peering high into the rocky crags for animals to come to the river's edge to drink.

Dutch Creek to Jennifer, labeled as Granite Creek in literature, this was a beautiful hot spring. At approximately 130° F at its sources, this was one of the hotter ones we visited. Big and board with a large section of the Middle Fork of the Boise racing along its flanks. Several deep pools made up this system of springs consisting of the perfect sandy bottoms, large sitting rocks. You can easily enjoy a full body soak. Excellently positioned roadside access, you would never notice it was there unless you knew it was. We soaked in the deep main pool with others, not many. Not enough to feel crowded, for there was plenty of room and many pools to enjoy. Several hours melted away. What a grand setting. Only dusk and a need to finding good camping drove us away. As appealing as the board turn out near the road was for setting up camp, we decided to head deeper into the canyon for Queens River Campground.

The following morning dawned clear and a bit on the chilly side. Our goal today was to explore the hot springs in Atlanta. After doing some researching, we decide that enjoying these pools would be nice but reports and literature suggested we would have to tolerate red spider mites in some of them. Not really something we wanted to mess with we visited the Atlanta Hot Springs. Very well put together and very tempting. Not a large pool, but very well appointed with concrete side walls and bottom. A large wooded slab bench sat next to the pool also. This one we may have to come back to despite the alleged parasites.

Another spring we located would be an amazing soak, complete with waterfalls, a deep pool with a gravelly bottom and plenty of privacy, is Chattanooga Hot Springs. So much so that as I peered over the ledge towards its perfect location next to a side channel of the Middle Fork, I caught a glimpse of two people already enjoying its inviting waters and solitude sans any clothing. Yep, buck ass naked!! Well we'll just leave this pool for another day.

Lastly, probably the most scenic spring we enjoyed was Greylock Hot Springs on the banks of the Middle Fork. Like all of the stream side springs you'll only get to this one in the early spring or late summer and fall. With Greylock Mountain as the focal point towering high above, this spring was amazingly beautiful. Several well defined pools made up this chain of springs. Its waters warmed to about 100°F, however in the main pool that had to be a little off. It felt much warmer than that. Aside from the hot water pools, there were a couple deep pools of almost lukewarm water that were more inviting on this hot summer day. As we sat in these pools schools of juvenile fish swam around our feet. The water being so crystal clear made for an outstanding viewing window to the world below. I couldn't help but think that this pool would be my kids favorite.

Refreshed and content, we wrapped up our hot springs tour. Amassing several more springs we haven't yet visited and made plans to do so. There are a couple we found that were not near the road and require some hiking. Stories of those pools will surely come soon.

 After stopping at the only establishment open on Sunday we purchased a few cold adult beverages, feed and watered the pups and head down the Middle Fork to try out hand at the finned critters that inhabited it's deep emerald pools. It's hopper season. Quite frankly there was no reason to use anything else. Accompanied with a small nymph dropper such as a pheasant tail, zebra midge or small stone fly, we cast to just about every deep pool from the dam to the campground near Queens River. Most of what we caught were smaller rainbows. With a 2 trout limit and nothing under 14", I was sure we would have the opportunity to tangle with some larger specimens. We had our chances. In one memorable deep hole, I had several near hook ups with what I figure to be bull trout. Vicious as they attached the fly, I was either to slow on the take or to quick on the trigger. I had one on only briefly before it broke off on 3x.......3X!!!

Switching up my approach in the same hole, I went to nymphing with a brace of flies and an indicator. The trout didn't like any of my tasty treats. On one drift through the pool the, the large trout, now clearly a bull trout, mouthed my bright pink indicator revealing just how large he was. Oh man, had that only been my hopper. I surely would have caught him. With more water to fish, we hop scotched down the river stopping and each pool and giving it a try. Some we landed several trout in the 6" to 8" range others we found whitefish to 16" all a joy to catch. Hoping for the middle fork slab, we only managed to hand rainbow and cutthroat trout and mountain whitefish. Bull trout remained elusive.

With time ticking away, we had our fill with a few more trout from this gracious river in this ruggedly amazing canyon. Our drive home leisurely and peaceful. A couple of deer made their appearance in the roadway as did a small black bear who ran up from the river bottom after drinking and raced us up the road for a while then made his way rapidly up a crease in the canyon wall. Jennifer hadn't witnessed a black bear that close before so that was a great trip ending treat! I'm constantly in awe at the wildlife and scenic beauty of this place. Blessed are we that take the time enjoy it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

East Fork of the Big Lost River

After last September's memorable Elk hunt, I spent a couple hours fishing on the East Fork of the Big Lost before heading home. What an outstanding couple of hours it was. I vowed I'd come back in the summer and try it again. This time I wanted Marisa and Isaiah to experience this amazing area, that I love so much, with me. Not only for the fishing but for the memories and experiences I've had amongst these canyons and creeks chasing elk.
Low and clear best describes the creek in mid summer. With riffles, runs and pools well defined at every bend, we sought to fish as many river miles in a day as possible. With Lady and the old man Gus in tow that would prove to be a bit challenging, no the less we'd go as long as Gus would go. It just so happens it didn't take long and we were fast into trout. now most were not as large or as numerous as last fall but fast and feisty as I remember them being.

Isaiah, wasting no time after camp was pitched, had his rod strung, waders on and down the creek in an instant and was fixated on casting to two very large, healthy cutthroat holding stations near a beaver pond and a small side channel. This hole would prove to be his lot as he cast to those finicky cutty's for most of the weekend. Throwing all manner of dry and wet fly combinations at them. Dry, dropper, streamers, nymphs, you name it. He would even rifle through my fly boxes to see if I had some magic that might entice those tight lipped trout.

Marisa and I took a much more leisurely approach with equal parts dog wrangling, stick throwing and trout catching. We fished at Gus' pace. Crossing a creek to a likely emerald green pool took its toll on the old boy so if he decided to stop and rest then we fished that hole a bit longer. Lady, however, was eager to see what's around the corner or indulges us in helping land the playful trout with a quick snap as it somersaulted to hand.

In mid summer the long day of trout chasing in this big sky country lead to equally picturesque nights. Clear and cool as sunset neared, we warmed ourselves with a belly full of dinner and an inviting campfire as we waited for dusk to give way to night. Isaiah and Marisa rattled off the names of stars, planets and constellations as the appeared bright in sky. It never ceases to amaze me how brilliant the night sky is. I have to admit I get a little melty when I share moments such as these with them. It's not often we share these moments. Gazing skyward, marveling at the shooting stars until the bright rather large full moon rose and drowned out the brilliance of the stars, we shared memories of star gazing in past camping trips. We shared many moments in silence, with only the wind, the gurgle of the creek and coyotes yipping in the background. Perfect end to the day. Snuffing out the fire, crawling into warm, comfortable bags, we were content and happy to be in this place.

Another day of trout chasing, mixed in some hiking and shed hunting as well. Isaiah never left the creek. One after another, trout fell for his imitations. Fishing was good. Rainbows, cutthroat and brook trout came easily to the fly. He was in a zone. Marisa, the pups and I went to see what the canyon beyond our camp was like. Hoping to find a deer or elk shed in the process, we hike the narrow, steep and dusty trail in to the rugged canyon. She asked, "you really hunt in this stuff?" "It looks hard." To that I said it was. She also listened intently as I recounted last years hunt near this location and how rewarding all the hard work is.  Hopefully I'll get to chase elk in these very canyons with her soon. For now a shed horn would do. Far below our perch in the rocks we could see the vastness of the landscape and the river valley. This is indeed big country. Isaiah, a tiny, figure in the river far below us. The glint of the sun light on his fly line as he cast to trout. This was a "river runs throught it" kind of scene. Proud papa as I watch my children enjoy this place as I do.

One more night full of star gazing. A carbon copy of the first. As if on cue each star and planet showed itself in almost the same place as the night before and discussion ensued about gravity, the earth's rotation, the orbit of planets and their satellites.....kinda heady stuff for young minds around a campfire. Far too often I forget how wise and mature they have grown in such a short period of time. Makes me smile. I remember the conversations being much more simple.

The morning dawned, crisp and clear. Ice in the dog's water dishes was a testament of how cold it can still be in mid July here in the Pioneer Mountains. After breakfast, we grabbed rods already strung up from the days before, fishing for a couple more hours before heading home. Cooler weather must have put the trout down as we weren't so lucky to catch any this morning. This a sure signal for us to break up camp and make ready for the drive home. The trip ended as it began, questions asked and answered of this place and hunting. This time we had more to add with talk of trout to chase and sheds to find next summer.

Spring Bear

Spring Bear hunting has been more about navigating a steep learning curve than it has been about hunting. Collectively we have been piecing together knowledge about this facet of the sport; from how to set up baits, to what to use and why. Gleaning information from trail cameras has also been invaluable. It became clear, upon trial and error, what works and what doesn't and in turn it is very rewarding to gain such knowledge. This season was very successful. Amid a handful of hunts and after making the needed adjustments to the bait site and our technique, Sean and Jay harvested bears.

It's true,  I did not harvest a bear this year. However I was privileged to enjoy the harvest with them. I also was richly rewarded by sharing time and learning with them. This will only make for better hunts in the future. More importantly I was able to share in the experience with close family and friends. In looking back on this spring and the success and joy it brought, I am so looking forward to next spring.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Snively Hot Springs

As the description in the guide book suggests this is an "all too popular roadside attraction." Uh yeah. I have driven by this spring countless number of times on my way to fish the Owyhee and almost without exception there is a car or two parked in the small dirt lot adjacent to the trail leading to the soaking pool.

Despite its accessibility it is very well kept. Complete with a vault toilet, clean by my standards and picnic tables. The pool itself is an easy walk to the river's edge where you'll find a rather large and deep pool. And boy is it hot!! 135 degrees says the book and I believe it. If not for the Owyhee River mixing its cold water into the pool it would be uncomfortably hot. Deep enough to get a full, up to your ears, body soak. Clear and algae free, this was a comfortable pool. The bottom was smooth and gravelly. A couple of large boulders served as seats or tables amidst the pool. Beyond the spring, the view is very scenic with the gorgeous Owyhee red rock river canyon as the focal point.

Even though you're bound to share the pool with others and perhaps even someone you know as we did, there is more than enough room for everyone. I will think twice about passing this hot spring by next time I fish the beautiful ancient canyon stream.