Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Shadowy St. Joe

Fly fishing the Shadowy St. Joe
The St. Joe River is one of Idaho's prime westslope cutthroat trout fisheries. Located near the Montana border in the northern Bitterroot Mountains of Shoshone County in the Idaho panhandle; a bit off the beaten path, its pristine and uncrowded waters make the freestone stream a fly-angler's paradise.
Check out my recent article in The New Fly Fisher Magazine by clicking on the photo above.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Whiteswan: The prettiest place on earth

Few places match the incredible beauty and magnificence of the western Rockies and Whiteswan Lake. I'd traveled to Whiteswan before to camp and hike, or passed it on my way to fly fish the Middle Fork of the White River, but almost always during the hot summer months, when I believed casting over Whiteswan's expansive marl shoals would be futile. I always vowed to return during the cooler months of May or June.

Well I finally made it.

I enticed my Alberta friends, Gerald and Tony, to the mountain lake in early June. It had rained most of the week leading up to the trip and my first night camping it rained. Fortunately, the following day the weather broke and unseasonably 30-degree weather beat down on us for the remaining of the trip. Which was both good and bad. The fishing was decent the first couple days, and I managed to land a few beautiful trout on chironomids. A size 12 bead head black and red was most productive, but as the week progressed smaller chronies like a 16 chromie seemed to do better, 

Fly-fishing Whiteswan can be a little frustrating, as you can see the trout cruising over the bright shoals, often making an abrupt turn to check out your offering, but after intensive study, invariably rejecting it. The times it did take were incredibly exciting, but those were getting fewer and fewer as the hot weather persisted.

The very first trout I caught, however, was one such time. I spotted two trout cruising over the shoal and sent my cast about a dozen feet in front of their path. As the chironomid sank, the larger of the two fish bolted for it, the indicator dropped - fish on. I eventually, played it to the net, and quickly measured it at just over 22-inches before releasing it back into the pellucid waters.
Whiteswan rainbows are incredibly strong fighters and beautiful chrome bullets. The best fight I had was on my fourth or fifth rainbow that took me into my backing and turned out to be a mere 18-inches.

However, we also caught a few post-spawners, which I suppose is normal for that time of year, but you could certainly tell which trout just came off a spawning bed and the ones that weren't. The spawners were skinny, dark, and slimy, suffering the effects of a month or so of not eating, immersed in the delicate dance of procreation in nearby streams.

The heat made the fishing difficult after a few days, and the winds that kicked up in the afternoon made fishing impractical if not near impossible. The trout weren't biting or even looking as often, although we could see them still cruising the expansive shoals. Perhaps I should have gone deeper, up to 20 feet I suspect, but the presence of trout feeding at 8-12 feet made it seem unnecessary.

So we kept asking ourselves, "Is it better to see the fish, or not?"

Which, begs a more philosophical question regarding reality and perception but I'll leave that for another day.

Sometimes fishing in lakes where you cannot see the trout will cause you to be more diligent and patient. You concentrate on the finer points of technique, depth, and pattern, rather than getting distracted and interrupting your slow retrieve to cast the chironomid at yet another passing rainbow.
But on the other hand, it's just plain cool to see the trout, especially when it does take your fly. And when you actually take time to look up and around, the sight of the majestic Rockies almost takes your breath away.
The fishing could have been better, and Tony, while he had a few hits, he was unable to land a Whiteswan rainbow. But thanks to Tony, the silver bullets were cold and plentiful, the company incomparable, and the scenery spectacular.
I suppose you can't ask for much more than that.