On our first full day of fishing in Northern Idaho we hiked upstream from our campsite, on the trail that ran along the river and away from the roadside accesses, and into the backcountry. When the itch to fish was too strong to ignore we found a goat trail to descend down to get the day on the water started.
It was hard to see the river through the thick vegetation so when we did pop out of the woods to the riverbank, the setting was pretty idyllic. The fog over the river was beginning to burn off and to the downstream side on the far bank was a big rock wall that looked fishy as hell. It was hard to imagine a better place to start fishing. I didn’t start catching immediately though. I was fishing a dry-dropper setup with a pretty big Chubby Chernobyl up top and a fairly large stonefly imitation below and was getting lots of interest and several bumps on the dry. I downsized my rig and starting getting into fish.
Things were going pretty well, fish were being caught, however we were missing just as many fish as we were catching, if not more. The regulations on this river dictate that we were fishing single, barbless hooked flies and coming from the land of the meathaul, it took a little time to get adjusted to that.
About an hour and a half into fishing I tied into a fish with some size. It ended up being the largest fish I would catch on the trip and one of the main reasons we came to this specific watershed. Catching an above-average Westslope was something I wanted to accomplish on this trip and this fish checked that box for me. This was the first Westslope I had caught with the rose and salmon coloring on it’s belly, something I’d find out later most of the bigger fish were sporting. It made for an absolute beauty of a fish, a special fish, one that was a lot of fun to tangle with.
We just recently got back from a family vacation to North Georgia. I was able to get a little fishing in on the creek behind the cabin while up there and I even snuck away to a blueline one morning to fish for some brook trout. The southernmost native range for the brook trout is found in North Georgia. Don’t mistake that for being fringe habitat, Georgia is a great place to target little wild brookies.
The water was low and clear the entire week we were up there, making fishing on the creek at the cabin a little more technical and a bit tough. I figured I’d be in dry fly heaven on a blueline trip, but waited all week to go and overnight a bunch of rain dumped in this little watershed that’s a tributary to the Toccoa River. I really didn’t know what to expect heading out to fish, but figured at worst I’d have a nice walk in the woods, so I was heading out to fish regardless.
Upon walking up to the creek, it was obvious the water was high and stained, but I could still see bottom in areas so I wasn’t completely disappointed. I just had to change up my dry fly expectations and focus on something subsurface. I tied on a jig bugger and went to work.
I’ve never fished this creek before so this was also a bit of a scouting trip. I knew it had brook trout based on research, but I really wasn’t sure how far up I had to go before I found them. I planned out my access from a topo map and would fish up to a road crossing from there.
The creek was a bit of a mess early on. Lots of downed timber and tight casting windows through rhododendron tunnels. Lots of bow and arrow casts were made. Water that would be perfect for a dry fly had the conditions been there for it. There were spots where it opened up a bit and eventually, maybe an hour into my trip, I even missed a strike. That was the glimmer of hope I was looking for!
A few holes later and I actually had my first fish on. When I got it into the net I could tell it was a brook trout and had validation that this indeed was a good place to access the creek.
It was a little guy, but a native brook trout nonetheless, mission accomplished. Pressure was off now, but I wasn’t done fishing. I kept climbing up the holes and the further I got upstream the better the water started to look. It could have been time since the last rain, passing up a big feeder creek, or a combo of both, but eventually I felt like I may be able to now catch them on a dry-dropper rig, so I re-rigged.
The re-rig wasn’t a failure as soon after I landed another brook trout, this one a little bigger than the last. He ate the dropper nymph, which was a little BHRLHE (beadhead rubber-legged Hare’s Ear). It was a good fight on my 3/4wt TFO Finesse glass rod.
Things were going pretty good, I was continuing to work my way upstream, and I felt like the fishing was picking up. It was about this time that God decided I needed a little excitement in my life. As I moved around a live tree that was downed in the water I went to cast to the next hole and got buzzed by a big fly. Next thing I know this sucker lands on me and I feel a big punch on my eyebrow. It was a big ass hornet! He wasn’t alone either. I threw down my rod, started swatting around my face with my hat, dropping my sunglasses in the process, got stung two more times on my left hand, and tore off upstream a short distance until there was a logjam I’d have to navigate over or around. I was hopeful this was far enough away that they were done chasing and thankfully it was. I swiftly and calmly recollected my things and nursed my wounds as I traversed the logjam now keenly aware of my surroundings. As far as I knew I wasn’t allergic to hornets and when I didn’t see any significant swelling on my hands I figured I could press on.
I was glad I didn’t panic and kept fishing because things were heating up. I caught two in a row shortly thereafter and then my biggest fish of the day. It happened while I was fishing a tight run under some overhanging rhodos. It was a good fish, longer than my hand, which was saying something for a North Georgia native. The sky darkened up on me just as I was landing the fish so the pics don’t really do it justice – it was so dark out that my phone was in night mode taking pics.
It was only a matter of time before the skies would open up, but for some reason that wasn’t much of a concern to mean until they did. I failed to pack a rain jacket or even an extra pair of clothes so it was sure to be a wet ride home. I managed one more little guy before I got to a massive barrier falls. I didn’t even know it was here as it wasn’t labeled on the topo map. It was impressive though. It was here that the rain started falling and it fell hard.
It was raining, it was lunch time, I had reached a surprise waterfall, caught a few brookies and survived a run in with some hornets. It seemed like as good a time as any to head out. It was cool catching brookies below this barrier falls, perhaps there was another one downstream. I know there are plenty of rainbows in the mainstream of this watershed so something has to be preventing them from getting up this far. I’ll have to re-visit this blueline next time I’m in town and see if I can find that point further downstream.
As a native trout nerd, it would be hard to live with myself if while I was on a trip to the White Mountains in Arizona I didn’t sneak off one day to chase Gila trout in New Mexico. We were planning on switching campgrounds anyway, might as well trek into New Mexico in the morning and see if we can chase down some Gilas first. New Mexico is the state I most associate with Gila trout, for Arizona it’s Apache trout.
It was about a two hour drive to get to a trailhead where we could hike along a stream that held Gila trout in it at some point upstream. Much like the Gila trout stream in Arizona, this creek was ephemeral, bone dry at the trailhead, so we’d be hiking until we made it to water that was suitable for trout to live in. The valley we drove into was very unassuming, even as we parked, but it didn’t take long during our hike for it to transform into one with spectacular scenery.
In about a quarter mile we entered into a narrow slot canyon with steep vertical walls composed of volcanic rock of many different colors, colors that I don’t typically associate with the rocks where I find trout, but not at all out of place in the desert southwest. It was an amazing landscape of sandstone and rock spires with a trickle of a creek running through it.
Our day was made just experiencing this canyon on our feet. Having a fly rod in hand was lagniappe. We made it to a point on the creek where small waterfalls cascaded into pools that were several feet deep; it started to look like good trout habitat. The water was crystal clear, some of the clearest water I’ve seen in a stream. Lots of small fish could be seen in each pool, not trout at first, but other smaller species, longfin dace being one of them as I’d come to later find out. It wasn’t long before the trout showed up as well.
We fished the pools we could with pretty good results, no shortage of fish brought to hand. The places that looked like they should hold trout did. We had a good time bouncing from one hole to the next. Eventually though the holes dried up and we had run into a couple of other anglers walking out that said as much. I didn’t realize we’d hit a dry run on the creek and I didn’t know how long it would last so we had to make a decision of whether it was time to hike out or keep going. We hiked up a little ways trying to find water again and all we found was a little pocket, but that pocket had about a dozen trout in it with some being noticeably bigger than what we had caught thus far. It was exciting watching Blake work a small streamer in the hole, dancing it around, especially when a bigger fish darted out from under the rock on the right and smashed it.
I pulled one out too and then we made our way back to the vehicle stopping to fish a few holes we passed on the way up.
You always hear “pictures don’t do it justice” and that line fit the bill here. It truly was an amazing experience hiking and fishing in this canyon and it’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact that these trout continue to persist in this fragile, arid ecosystem. Drought and wildfire will always be a threat to wipe out their existence and that’s just crazy to think about. It was time for Blake and I to head back to Arizona and find a new place to camp, hopefully on the water or at least close to where we’d access the next place I wanted to fish in the morning, which from everything I read promised to be the best wild trout river in the state of Arizona – how could we not fish there?!