We continued fishing our way upstream and catching fish along the way. While in Spokane we stopped at the Silver Bow Fly Shop for a little intel into the area, and the main takeaway, for me at least, was to fish purple flies. Following that advice I was fishing a purple psycho prince nymph as a dropper and having a good bit of success on it.

Blake may have a better shot of the fish above on his phone, but that morning he caught what was likely the best looking Westslope cutthroat I saw on the trip. It came off a downed tree that was lying along the riverbank. The deep, dark colors on that fish were fantastic – a beautiful fish.

We then came across a pond and some old mining equipment just off the river. We’d find out later from our campground neighbor that the trail we hiked in on was actually an old road that followed the river a long way and led to different garnet mining operations. As you waded in the river the purplish colored garnet sand was hard to miss. It was a pretty neat sight mixed in with the various colored river rock. It really made for a colored up streambed.

I think this is a Columbia spotted frog (Rana Luteiventris)

I caught back up to Dad after checking out the old mine equipment and playing with the local frogs and just before I made it to him, behind the rock above, I noticed a little bit of trash tucked under the rock. I found it a bit odd because I had not seen trash anywhere on this river. I went to retrieve it and put it in my pack and noticed that it was a crushed can, but tucked further behind the crushed can was an unopened one. It was a cold beer! The river gods had looked favorably upon me and rewarded me for my efforts! Hopefully it was a pay-it-forward moment and not a stashed-for-later one for whomever left it there. It was definitely the best Blue Moon I’ve ever had though.

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.

Westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi)
That telltale cutthroat slash

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.

I love planning a fishing trip almost as much as I love going on one. I have trips planned that I may not get to for years. There are probably trips planned that I’ll never get to. It’s just the way I’m wired. If something I read, or see online, peaks my interest I start doing some general research and in short time have the makings of a trip. So when someone brings up an area or a species I usually have an idea of where that is and what I’ll be targeting. I was caught a little off guard when my friend Marcus mentioned going to a specific river system (I’ll refrain from naming it – you can do the research and figure it out) in Northern Idaho, that I wasn’t familiar with, to target Westslope cutthroat and potentially bull trout. Westslope are one of the subspecies of cutthroat that I had yet to catch and bull trout are an obvious draw, so I was immediately interested in the trip. After a little research on the location it was pretty obvious this was a place I needed to check out and I was all in. It took a little to get the wheels in motion on this one, but in time, I was able to get Blake, and then my dad, on board too, and a crew of four of us were headed to Northern Idaho from the deep South.

The Tetons
I love a window seat

After securing our rental vehicles and purchasing supplies that we’d need to get us through a few days of remote camping and fishing we made the trek to the campground. It was a beautiful drive and one thing that stood out to me about Northern Idaho that was different than any other western trout trip I’ve done was how lush the forest was we were driving through. Sure it was a bit arid around Spokane, but the forest was very thick the closer we got to our destination. Thick stands of evergreen forest with a diverse base of undergrowth where the light did reach the ground. It was a healthy ecosystem and one that obviously didn’t suffer from a lack of rainfall.

We got pretty lucky when we arrived at the campground that we wanted to stay at, as someone had just left what was, arguably, the best site there, and it was ours for the taking. Right next to the river and with enough space to fit all of our set ups, it was perfect. After setting up tents and hammocks, the call of the river was too strong to resist, and we were able to wet our lines before it got too dark.