Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Highs and Lows of Fly Fishing in Valley County, Idaho.

Little Payette Lake driftwood.

Every year we take at least two trips to McCall, which means two times a year I get a free pass to go find fish under the guise of a family vacation. In a previous post, I rattle on about how difficult it is to find decent fishing and access onto the Payette river between McCall and Cascade. I stand by that, unless you find sickly, stocked rainbows and trespassing a thrill. I can't be all doom and gloom though as I recently heard whispers that the river improves as it nears Cascade reservoir. These same whisperers also told me that there can be great fly fishing opportunities in early spring, if you can find access and timing. For now I have given up flying fishing on both Payette lake and it's tail water, focusing instead on the breweries around McCall which are a great reason to visit even if the fishing isn't. I found the nicest people and the tastiest beer to at Broken Horn Brewing Company near the airport in McCall.

If I were me and I am, I'd stick to fishing the high mountain lakes in the surrounding area, they are a plenty and access ranges from parking onsite to two day hikes in. There are fishing guide books in town that can save you some walking and trial and error or (trail and error),  unless that's your forte.  I also fished some but by no means all of the larger lakes and reservoirs in Valley County and found them beautiful, uncrowded and well stocked. Goose Lake, Brundage and Big Hazard lakes are easy to access and if you check with the IDFG fish stocking reports you can plan accordingly for higher catch odds. Horsethief is stocked with browns and Little Payette lake is rumored to have decent smallmouth bass. That said,
Cruikshank Boulders
I added Little Payette lake to my dud list this year. It slapped me in the face with disappointment and was nearly high and dry by October. I was dying to fish it this fall after finding a little known access point onto the far side of the lake. Days of planning, satellite image searching, and county map reading lead me to an awesome pile of driftwood and mud. Turns out the "far side" of Little Payette is also the shallow side.

Note to self, "check a lakes water level before convincing your wife and in-laws that you have found the perfect fishing spot and its only 30 minutes down a sketchy, narrow, muddy jeep trail." Hey, we all made it out alive and I have a decorative driftwood sign post for my garden to show for it.

Cruikshank Reservoir, also ended up in my dud list and turned out to be just as dry but went for the masculine boulder look instead of driftwood chic.  Maybe learning how to fish is as much about learning where not to.

Oh but I love a happy ending! The North Fork of the Payette River did finally give me a present
for all my hard work and doggedness. On the last day, in the last twilight hours of my family vacation, after mud holes, scratched paint jobs, and jeers from the family, I hooked into my new 5 weight fly fishing record rainbow.  She was tucked into a quiet pool made by a log jam and the beginnings of a beaver dam that jutted out from the bank.  The strike wasn't hard, just a big fish casually gulping down another bait fish that swam too close. I set the hook lightly knowing that at least something was on and then watched my rod arc downward as the fish dropped to the river bed and shook it's head. I've fly fished long enough to know what a big fish feels like when it shakes its head. It's like, "oh no you didn't!" all slow and cobra-like.

"It's gonna be a big one," I yelled to my father-in-law, my heart now starting the quickstep. And there the moment hung for a time, linked by line and rod and muscle. The line hummed through the rod and into my hands. "I am gonna lose this fish," I thought. Then she drug my line toward the log jam on my right and sat again, hum. I waited for my 5x line to pop. It didn't and our tug-of-war continued as she crossed the pool toward the beaver dam on my left, never bolting, just deep and steady. I tried to turn her but my line was pulled into the mangle of sharp green sticks. Again, no thrashing just a steady pull and then I felt my line go slack and saw an arm sized branch float up from the deep pool clutching my line well above the leader. I should have lost the fish here but like I said, this trout was a gift. The rainbow turned again, I glimpsed, as my slack line half encircled the muddy branch then popped off with a weightless whoosh. She was gone or maybe with luck she was swimming toward me. I stripped my line in ready to cry out in disappointment and felt her weight rounding the dam and heading down stream behind me. All of this took three minutes, maybe but I was fully freaking out now, knowing my line had lost all nine of it's lives. And then we danced the delicate drag and reel dance I had done so many times with smaller prizes. In the end, I nearly lost the fish trying to net it but by then my father-in-law had waded over to make sure I wasn't having a heart attack and netted the beautiful fish. Thank you for that!