Tuesday, October 14, 2008

South Fork

Yesterday was Columbus day, a largely meaningless holiday unless you're an attorney and get the day off when the courts are closed. Which is where my friend Eric found himself. I, as his only unemployed friend, was therefore obligated to keep him company while he did something to enjoy himself. We considered a long mountain bike ride, but the stream flows on the South Fork of the Boise River are low enough now that it's very wadeable and the fish have fewer places to hide. Armed with fly rods and leaky waders, we hit the river yesterday afternoon.

We encountered a couple of fisherman coming off the river right as we arrived. They hadn't had much luck, which I assumed meant that they weren't very good at catching fish, and we would do much better. Pessimism and fishing don't go well together. 

What I didn't consider was that this was only the third time I had gone fishing this year and I only fished once last year, so I'm not exactly at the top of my game. Which is why when I first hit the water, I failed to set the hook on the first five or six fish to hit my fly. 

For those not familiar with dry fly fishing, there's a lot more to it than sticking a worm on a hook and waiting for a bite. You have to know where the fish are in the first place (which, if they are rising and feeding off the surface, is the easy part). Then you have to cast accurately enough to put the fly in that location and do it without your line ending up all crumpled on the water. You have to mend the line so that there's as little slack as possible without causing drag. Once a fish strikes you have to set the hook quickly--before the fish spits it back out--but not too aggressively, or you'll yank it out of the fish's mouth. It's something you can spend a lifetime doing and never perfect.

Finally after about a half hour I hooked one then lost it almost immediately. The fish in that hole were now spooked, so I moved upriver a bit and started working a nice seam between fast and slow moving water. After a few more casts, I got one. Not very big, but it was a fighter. Jumped out of the water four or five times before I wore it out and brought it in for a photo.

I realize my thumb is obscuring most of the fish's head, and the perspective causes my thumb to look larger and the fish to look smaller than either really are (I promise!). Sorry, such are the challenges of landing a fish, getting out the camera, and taking a picture of it myself, all while keeping the fish out of the water the minimal possible time so that it lives to be caught again. (For any hook 'em and cook 'em readers out there, the South Fork is trophy trout water, so even if I wanted to keep a fish, I couldn't legally unless it were over 20 inches long.)

After landing that fish, this hole seemed to be worked for the time being and needed a rest, so I moved upriver a little more, where I had this nice view of the canyon. Hard to believe a trophy trout fishery with scenery like this is only about an hour from town, but it is. And we had it almost to ourselves.

Right after I took this picture, I fell in the river. Fortunately I had the camera back in its ziplock bag, but it was still ugly. I stepped on a moss-covered rock and my feet just went out from under me. 

I decided to go back to the spot where I had earlier caught a fish and caught another one, pictured at the top. Eric thought I had gone further upriver and kept moving that direction. I eventually got cold and got out of the water for a while. I figured Eric would be back soon, so I entertained myself by throwing rocks in the river. Which escalated until I was dropping 70 or 80 pound rocks off of the bridge 20 feet or so into the river below. I'm sure someone reading this will find reason to scold me for that, but it was still fun.

Eric was still nowhere to be seen, so I got back in the water and started fishing some more, this time with nymphs (flies that sink down to the bottom). Using a prince nymph, I caught a whitefish that was a little longer and twice as fat as either trout. I didn't take a picture, though, because whitefish are nearly as ugly as carp, and I didn't want to be seen with one.

Eventually Eric made his way back downriver and told me he had landed a nice trout in the 18-20 inch range and a few more smaller ones. I celebrated the success by falling in the river one more time, this time soaking my other arm. I don't drink, but we keep a little beer in the garage for cooking brats. Before we left, my wife jokingly told me not to take it with me. I promise I didn't have any, but judging by my ability to stay upright and out of the water, you'd never know.

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