By: Slim Pickens

A trout river is like a book: some parts are dull and some are lively.
H.G. Tapply

It is all about dry flies and leaky waders.
Patrick P. Pickens

Hope you have had a chance to wet your line and fill your net this summer.

It has been nice to talk with some of the readers of Rural Northwest News and particularly some young readers.

Fighting his first trout
on a fly rod.

Fighting his first trout on a fly rod. There is nothing like the chance to teach somebody to fish. I had the opportunity this month to show a young man of ten years how to throw a line. With still some work to do on speed and line control, he hooked and landed his first trout on a fly rod the first outing. On our second, it was six.

My only problem now is how to keep up with him. From morning till evening we can fish and he still wants to keep going! It has been a real tug on my heartstrings and has allowed me to learn so much more about the angling experience.

It’s funny how history repeats itself. Throughout the day, I showed him as much as I could without trying to overwhelm him. Like how to get line out, knots, different types of insects and their importance.

However, like my father with me, I showed him enough to catch a fish, but neglected to tell him what to do when he did hook one! Nothing like learning with baptism by fire. He lost that first one, but not the next one.

Sorry K.S. It was still a great adventure, right?

Our North Idaho Panhandle and surrounding rivers are still giving up some nice fish. Hatches are normal but a little sparser. Hopper imitations, a favorite for many fly fishermen, could be your ticket with the hotter weather.

Fishing early in the morning or in the evening time is what is probably going to be the time to pick off most of your fish. In between, enjoy your favorite brew or check with the forest service for some great hiking.

Early, late, and deep
is your best bet.

Of course, with the current weather pattern, expect to have our famous tubers and rafters competing with you on the Coeur d’Alene River. If you try the Clark Fork, you better go early, real early. My friends are leaving town at three a.m. and returning in the early afternoon.

It has seemed to me over the years that the St. Joe River seems to fish the best here in North Idaho when the sun has heated everything else up. Referred to as the Shadowy St. Joe, it offers numerous stretches that receive little light throughout the day.

By now, I am not using any tippet lighter than 5X when fishing dry flies. With the shallow water and summer pressure, fish are spooky.

When fishing the deep pools with a nymph, lose your indicator fly or bobber. You want to get down deeper then they will allow.

Have a weighted fly and even add some weight. Use split shot or a variety of other materials available at your local tackle or fly shop.

My point is, most successful fisherman late in the summer, will fish at the bottom of these pools. Having recently snorkeled some local rivers, I can attest that places I thought had been fished out were in fact not.

Trout of all sizes and species, including some large bull trout, were lazily and happily foraging on the bottom. These lunkers were not going to come up through that much water for any dry flies or nymphs being trailed your typical 18 inches behind an indicator.

Standard fare may include the following:

St. Joe River: Pale Morning Duns (pmd’s) hook size #14-16, Adams/Parachute #12-16, Stimulators #6-12, St. Joe Special #12-16. Always try a Renegade on this river if nothing else.

Clark Fork River: Variety of Caddis #12-16, Blue Winged Olives (bwo’s) #18-20, Golden Stones #6-10, Nymphs such as a Prince Nymph or Hare’s Ear, and Black Wooly Buggers #6-10.

Coeur d’Alene River: A good suggestion right now is a #12 Yellow Stimulator with a #16 black ant as a trailer, 18 inches back. (A reminder when fishing this rig–you can foul hook a lot of fish this way.) #16 Pale Morning Dun/Parachute. Variety of nymphs.

Not only are we home to some great river and lake fishing, we are also within a comfortable days drive to some world-renowned fly fishing.

If you have never been to the Madison River in Southwestern Montana, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit. It can be busy, hard to fish, and extremely hot. The wind can almost blow you over at times.

However, this area is the cradle of western fly-fishing and many of our modern day gurus began their careers here. You could put a dozen large fish in your boat, or none. But you will be in some of the most gorgeous country that Montana has to offer.

By most accounts, if you are in the area and are not a cowboy, you’re a fly fisherman. (And yes, sometimes they are both.)

Throw in the fact that the Henry’s Fork, Big Hole, Beaverhead, and the Yellowstone are all within striking distance and you have one heck of a trip on your hands.

My friend Mick I. invited me on a trip to the Madison, scheduled for mid July. It would be our first time navigating this big water by boat, and as it turned out, it was quite a challenge.

I had heard that the section of the river we were to fish is known as the fifty-mile riffle. Until you see this, it is hard to picture. At times a football field across, all the same depth, it can make even veteran fisherman wonder where the hell to cast to next. It all looks the same!

The fifty mile riffle.

While neither one of us slayed the mighty rainbows or browns known to inhabit it, this was by far one of my best experiences with a fly rod in my hand. The following are my condensed fishing journal entries. You won’t find any secrets here. We never found them ourselves. But that is what makes fishing so alluring to the many that try.

Sunday, July 17: Met Mick in Hamilton and headed south towards the Big Hole Battlefield. Got waved over by two cowboys heading down the road. Our tailgate had bounced open and my rod case had fallen out. They figured it was us, because of the drift boat. Whew, what a way to start off the trip. I love the honest people out there.

Met some guys south of Ennis that suggested we camp on the West Fork of the Madison near Lyons Bridge. They steered us right. Trees, shade, outhouse, and free.

Wade fished south of Lyons Bridge and we both caught a few brown trout.

Monday, July 18: On the river early to float seven miles (4-6 hours) from Lyons Bridge to the Upper Madison take-out at Palisades. I can’t believe how many comments Mick gets on his custom made wood drift boat. It is a beauty.

A boat runs through it.

We both caught several small browns and rainbows. (I guess I should mention my 16 inch whitefish, there are those, too.) Lots of other boats, but not nearly as crowded as we had anticipated.

At the take-out, I rode Mick’s scooter back to Lyons Bridge to get the truck. I barely made it with a rear flat tire. We spent the rest of the day in Ennis, trying to get it fixed. We were told it would be done first thing in the morning,

Tuesday, July 19: Not having it done first thing in the morning (it was our only shuttle and we didn’t want to pay for a service), we went to wade fish the Madison below Quake Lake. Different kind of river here. Much more like what I am use to with classic pocket water and runs. Caught some cutthroats and brookies.

Great wade fishing
below Quake Lake.

After getting the scooter, we decided to float from the Upper Madison at Palisades to Varney Bridge. An almost identical float as far as mileage, we both agreed we liked this section better. Less people, better looking water, and more fish.

I finished my grand slam for the day bringing in rainbows and browns, to add to the brookies and cutthroats from the morning.

I caught most of my fish with a Prince Nymph and Mick caught most of his with a Yellow Sally.

Wednesday, July 20: Said good-by to the Madison and headed out. We did stop and fish the Big Hole on the way out. We didn’t catch anything, but Mick got me worried about rattlesnakes. When a garter snake slithered away from me, I nearly jumped out of my waders.

So ended my trip to the Madison River. I sure hope I go back someday. There are some fish I missed that I owe another cast to. (If you visit, make sure you pick up a current copy of the regulations. Too tricky to list here, they change all the time.)

I’ll be heading to the Lochsa River in North Central Idaho later this week. I have been to the river before, but for a whitewater raft trip. I hope I can report some nice fishing to you.

Keep your rod tip high and your flies dry.

Slim