Monday, July 28, 2014

Adventures With Hawk Bait

It was only a month ago when Mike McLean and Wes Atkinson walked up to Josephine Lake, and found that it was still frozen. Today, small sheets of snow tucked in shadows created by the mountain is the only sign that this path was once covered with snow and ice.  The warm weather has now made this path up to the lake a fantastic one, even for my little dog, Kiwi, who led the way on her first alpine lake experience. 

Blooming bear grass blanketed the hillside as Mike, Kerri, Gracy, Sam, and I made our way up.  
“Sam, I hope you can catch a fish on a fly today!” I said, as we made our way. 
“That would be cool.” Sam said, still bringing along his spinning gear just in case.  We were almost to the lake, but not before we had to squeeze underneath another fallen tree that laid over the path. 

Sooner than I expected, we were at the lake.  Fallen timber crowded the shoreline, which is bad for fishing, but great for a picture.

Being that it was Kiwi’s, aka Hawk Bait's first alpine lake, Mike was kind enough to snap a picture of us.

By the time I had strung up my fly rod Sam had already hiked around the lake where there were no fallen trees in the way, hopped on a large rock, and started making casts. Gracy and Kerry were nearby watching as Sam made cast after cast.  I had rigged up his spinning rod with a clear bobber that could be filled with water so he could fish with a fly. 

“Anything, Sam?” I called out. 
“Nope.” He replied, keeping his eye on his fly.  Sam kept his fly still on the water, and the large hopper that was tied on was easy to spot. 
“Give it a little twitch.” I suggested, and Sam did.  Twitching your fly on an alpine lake can sometimes be the ticket to attracting a fish to come up and eat it, but today it was not working.  I launched my fly near any structure I could find with no success.  Together, Sam and I walked the banks of the lake in search for a fish, leaving Gracy, Kerri, Kerri’s dog, Sadie, and Hawk Bait behind.  The only thing we found was Mike out in his float tube casting away. 

“Anything, Mike?” I yelled out to him. 
“I have had two takes, but only brought one in.” He yelled back, adding, “It sure is fishing slow.” 
With nothing happening for either of us, I decided it was time to switch Sam’s fly rig to a fast sinking jig.  It was, after all, more important for Sam to catch a fish, no matter how dirty we had to rig up.  

With no fish being caught, we decided to head back to where the ladies were sitting to eat our sandwiches.  Mine looked especially delicious; I had snuck some extra pesto on my bread when no one was looking and had been looking forward to it all morning.  My excitement was short lived.  Something had gone terribly wrong in Sam’s pack.  His water bottle must not have been tighten down enough, because when he brought his sandwich out, it was completely soaked in water.  
“Oh noooo!” Gracy said, checking out what went wrong in Sam’s pack. The ziplock bag had not been completely sealed and the leaking water had seeped in.  
“It’s okay!” Sam said happily, “I can still eat the meat.” 
Gracy’s eyes met mine, and I could tell she felt terrible. I felt bad too, but the only one who didn’t was Kiwi, who sat by waiting for scraps. 

“Take half of mine, Sam.” I said, handing half my sandwich to him. 
“No, I’m ok.” Sam insisted, but I wasn't buying it. Gracy offered her half as well, but Sam still refused.  
“Take some Sam, it has lots of pesto!” I said, hoping that would inspire his decision. 
“I don’t like pesto.” Sam said, making me now feel bad that I had caked my sandwich with it. 
“Well then you are in charge of the peanut M&Ms!” I said, holding up the bag. 
“I’ll take those!” Sam said with excitement, and I tossed over the bag.

Despite Sam’s drenched sandwich, there was plenty of other food to eat.  Jerky, cheese, crackers, M&Ms and more were packed in our bags, and Sam had his fill. 

After lunch, Sam and I hiked around the other half of the lake and fishing along the way. 

I did see a few fish rise, but they were too far out in the lake for me to cast to.  The wind had really started to blow, and Mike started to make his way back.  Gracy and Kerri hiked over to join us, and Sadie and Kiwi followed. 

We geared-down earlier than expected for the day.  The fish were not rising, and the wind had really started blowing.  We all sat and ate a few more snacks before heading back to the truck.

On our way back, Kiwi took the lead, as Sam, Mike, and Gracy followed.  I stayed behind with Kerri, who was taking the hike back down slow and carefully.  Her recent knee surgery was healing fast, but downhill can still take it's toll on a sore knee. 
“Hey, pine tips!” I said, as we came across a small pine tree. 
“I want one.” Kerri said, as we both plucked ourselves a pine tip and ate it. 
“I wonder if the young bear grass is eatable.” Kerri said, “It looks like small corn on the cob.” 

We found some young bear grass on the side of the trail, and Kerri plucked off a small piece and ate it. 
“Does it taste like corn on the cob?” I asked. 
“No.” She replied, “It taste more like the pine tips, only not as sweet.” 
“Soooo, it tastes like a weed?” I asked. 
Kerri laughed, “Yeah, I guess so."

We made it back to the truck in no time at all.  Kiwi and Sadie were tuckered out, and were both happy to rest.  
“My first skunked alpine lake experience.” I said, as we gathered in the truck. 
“It was bound to happen.” Mike reassured. 
“Sorry we didn’t get any fish, Sam.” I said. 
“It’s ok.” Sam said, “It was just nice to be out here.” 
Mike smiled at Sam’s comment, “With that kind of attitude, it sounds like Erik had a new fishing buddy!” 
I looked back at Sam and said, “Yes I do!”  
Sam smiled, and we made our way back to McCall before heading home.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cousin Sam

When I found out my Cousin Sam was interested in fishing with me, I was quick to make time to take him out as soon as I could.  My ultimate goal for the day was to get Sam into his first fish with a fly rod.   Sam was all smiles when I handed him his new fishing hat to start the day, and he even jumped out of the car to open the gate as we neared the river. 

"That feels weird.” Sam said, walking into the river with waders on for the first time.  “My pants are clinging to me, and it feels like my feet want to float.” 
“It’s also a nice way to stay cool on a hot day like today, huh?” I asked.  Sam nodded his head yes, as he positioned himself to make his first cast. 

“Aim for that shaded spot.” I said, pointing to a tree limb near the other side of the bank.  Sam readied his spinner by opening the face, and made a quick cast.  In a flash, he whipped his pole forward, sending his gear and line way off to the right. 
“What was that?” I asked. 
“I guess I’m a little rusty...” Sam said with a smile.  He organized his rig and made another cast; this time he hit his target.  
“You should have a fish by now.” I said to Sam, after he had made several casts. 
“Well let’s see you cast.” He said, with one eyebrow up. 
“Oh yeah?” I said, pulling out line. “Challenge accepted!”  Sam moved to my left side, and I shot a small popper next to the bank.  It was no more than two pops before a loud suction noise indicated a fish had took.  I set the hook on a nice bass.  With my rod at a bend, I casually looked over at Sam with a smirk. 
“Darn!” Sam said, as I brought in the fish.  Though he was not thrilled that I caught the first fish, he still snapped a picture of me and my fish. 

With my sudden success, I knew Sam would get a fish on the fly.
“Let’s try the fly rod, Sam.” I said as he set the spin outfit down. I quickly showed him how to roll-cast, and it wasn’t too long before he was in control, sending the little popper to the far side of the bank. 
“Now give it a little twitch...” I said, watching intently.  Sam did perfect, but no fish were interested.  We tried and tried, but nothing took the popper.  Deciding it was more important for Sam to catch fish rather than cast a fly rod, I suggested he go back to fishing his spin gear. 

I explained to Sam the best way to approach a spot in the river where fish could be holding.  Sam followed my directions well, and placed his jig in the perfect spot.  
“I got one!” Sam said, as he started reeling in his fish.  His fishing pole danced with every tug of the fish, and I got there quickly to net it. 
“That’s a nice one, Sam!” I said, as Sam picked the fish up by the lip and held it for a picture.

As soon as the fish was back in the water it darted away with a splash, and Sam didn’t waste any time getting back to fishing. 

I had caught a few fish on the fly along the way, while Sam worked the deeper portions of the river.  I could tell that he was seriously getting into the zone.  Earlier in the day, Sam caught a few small fish, but he wanted another big one like the one he had caught just a moment ago.  I walked around a bend and noticed a tree creating some shade over the water.
“Sam, cast your jig into the shadow.” I said.
“Ok.” Sam replied, and made a cast.  His jig splashed down into the shadow underneath the tree.   
“Nice shot!” I said.
“Thanks.” Sam replied, as he started his retrieve. I could see his white jig wiggling in the water as he pulled it in, and a dark streak race from the shadows and grab it. 
“There it is!” I yelled, but it was not needed. Sam had already set the hook and was in control.  Though it was not as big as the bass he had caught before, it was still nice enough for a picture. 

The day was flying by, and it was nearly time for us to get going.  
“We better make our way back.” I suggested, and Sam agreed.  Together we walked back upstream, and Sam pointed to a deep section in the river. 
“Do you think there could be a fish over there?” He asked. 
“What do you think?” I replied.
“I think it looks good.” He said, keeping his eye on the spot. 
“Try it out.” I encouraged, and he did.  After a few cast, and no fish, Sam was ready to move on. 
“Hold on.” I said, stopping Sam from walking away. 
“Cast back over there, only let your jig sink a little deeper.” I said. 
“Ok.” Sam replied, and made a cast.  Sam went to reel in his line, but I stopped him. 
“Let it sink a little more.” I suggested.  It only took a few seconds longer for his jig to get deeper. 
“Okay, start reeling in.” I said, and Sam started to reel.  SLAM!  His jig got hit, and Sam was all smiles. 
“It’s a nice one.” Sam said, bringing in his fish. Sam brought the fish in fast, and I scooped it up with my net. 
“Nice job, Sam!” I said, as he held it up for a picture.   

Sam let the fish go, and we watched it as it swam back into the deep. 
“Look at my thumb.” Sam said, pointing out the small dimples imprinted and some scratches on his thumb. 
“The fish left teeth marks on it.” He said, smiling. 
“That’s bass-thumb.” I said, with a smile. “That means you caught a lot of bass today.” 
Sam smiled at that comment, and together we walked back to the car.  
“How are you feeling?  Are you tired?” I asked. After all, we had been on the water for seven hours in the heat. 
“I’m good!” Sam said, adding, “I just wish we could stay a little longer.” 
“Sam, you don’t know how happy that makes me... to hear you say that.” I said. 
“And I am interested in fly fishing too. I just need to get better at casting.” Sam added. 
“SAM!!!  Your dad told me that taking you out today was going to make me rethink having a kid, and he was right!” I said, happily.  Sam smiled, saying, “We will have to go again soon.”
“Yes we will, Sam... Yes we will."  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Back in the Mountains

Upon arriving at the road to the day’s alpine lakes, it was clear that the Idaho Forest Service did not want anyone using the roads anymore.  Large tree stumps littered the roads, along with boulders the size of small cars that blocked the way. 

The only way I knew how to find these lakes was to bring along an old tattered GPS unit I call... Mike McLean.

“The Forest Service did a number on these roads.” Mike explained. “For whatever reason, they blocked the newer routes up to the lakes, and if you had new hiking books you would never find them. Luckily, I know the old way.” Mike finished off, turning on a small dirt road with grass growing in the middle. If you asked me, I would have figured the road was meant for ATVs, but Mike drove up, confident as ever.    

“This is it!” Mike said, as he parked and we geared up to start walking.  We were no more than three steps on our adventure when we heard a phone ring.  Hearing a phone ring in the middle of the river, forest, or lake is a no no, and can sour the day for even the kindest angler.  We all stopped and looked back at Kerri, Mike’s wife, who looked as if she had committed the worst crime. 
“Geez, Mike. You'll bring anybody up hiking with us.” I said, looking at Kerri. 
“Tell me about it...” Mike replied.

It was evident that the Forest Service had done work up here, not only on the roads but on the trail up.  An easy-to-follow trail next to a nice runoff stream had all been maintained; it made for an easy walk up.  

“Look, some bear grass.” Kerri said, pointing to a puffy looking flower.  The long stem only blooms in the late spring and early summer, and it was my first time seeing it looking so nice. 

The hike was shorter than I thought it was going to be, and at first sight of the lake I immediately starting rigging up my rod. 

“He wants to be the first one to catch a fish.” Mike told Kerri, as he slowly tied his fly on.  Mike knew me too well, and I was the first one to cast my fly in the lake, but not the first one to catch a fish.  
I hiked my way around the lake with little luck.  The fish I got to take my fly shook me off quickly, and the decent fish I did bring in got away right as I was about to grab it for a picture.  
“Let’s hike up to the second lake. This one usually fishes better around 2 o’clock.” Mike said, and up the hill we went.  The steep hill to the second lake was short lived, and when the lake came into view, it was fantastic.  I stood there for a minute.  The rich smell of pine filled the air, along with the delicate hint of fresh water. Together, they made a fragrance no candle could reproduce.  A fish rose within casting distance, tearing me from my trance.

I roll-casted my little green beetle and it was slammed almost immediately. 
“You already have a fish?!” Mike said to me, as the cutthroat fought to get away. 
“How long did you want me to wait?” I said with a smile. 

The cutthroat were cooperating nicely.  Just about every cast ended up being taken by a colorful fish. Both Mike and I started walking around the lake, stopping at openings to cast.  
“You got another one?” Mike observed, fishing about 50 feet away. 
“They are loving this little green beetle. Do you want one?” I asked. 
“I have a few flies I can try.” Mike said, continuing to cast. 
“Dont be a hero, Mike.  I have more of these beetles if you want one.” I added, then walked over to the fallen tree that separated us, and stuck a green beetle on the stump. 
“There you go, Mike.  You can grab this whenever you decide you want to catch a fish.” I said. And after I caught another fish, Mike found his way to the beetle and tied it on.  

It was past lunchtime, so we headed back to where the ladies were sunning and ate our sandwiches before deciding to head back to the lower lake. 
“How did that beetle work for you, Mike?” I asked, as we started to head back. 
“I ended up losing it in a tree on my second cast.” Mike said, adding, “I did catch a fish though!” 
“That’s good.” I said, and quickly headed down the hill, back to the first lake.  

I found a spot where I could backcast with no interruption, and pulled out some line and began to cast. 

Off in the distance I noticed Gracy had found a nicely shaded spot to read her book.  As I casted, her solitude ended quickly.

“I got a fish!” I yelled over to her.
“What is it?” She asked.  I looked at the fish, and caught a blue sparkle on the fin.
“IT’S A GRAYLING!” I yelled happily.  Gracy rock-hopped over to me quickly as I brought in the fish for a picture. 

“Did you get a grayling?” Mike yelled from across the lake. 
“Yep!” I yelled back, as I snapped a picture of my fish before it kicked away.

The elusive grayling has been on my list of fish-to-catch for a long time.  The large fin on the back makes it unique to any other freshwater fish. In one spectrum of light, the fin reflects a teal color that the camera just can’t do justice to. At another angle, the teal color almost disappears while little red dots appear, lining the fin of this sought-after fish.  

Grayling fishing had turned on!  Mike was making his success known from across the lake and, being the only ones on this lake, I would answer back when I had one on as well. 

Gracy and I started to make our way back to where Mike and Kerri were.  Mike had picked up another grayling, and took this incredible shot with his underwater camera. 

On my next cast, a rainbow took my fly, and I did everything I could to get it to shake itself off.  Finally, after almost having to bring it in, it escaped, and I casted back out in hopes of another grayling.  One took, and I looked back at Gracy with a huge smile.  
“Another grayling?” She asked, just to be nice.
“Yep!” I said, bringing it in and snapping a picture before it took off.

Mike had caught the last grayling of the day before we decided it was time to head back home.  On our way out, Mike stopped us next to a small pine tree. 
“Have you guys ever eaten pine tips?” He asked, pointing at the bright new growth on a little pine tree. He plucked off a pine tip and handed it to Gracy. 
“They are 100% eatable, a great source of vitamin C, and taste great sprinkled on a salad.” Mike said, popping some in his mouth. 
“Pine tips...” I said, plucking a bit of new growth and putting it in my mouth.  I bit down on the soft pine needles and a rush a citrus covered my tongue; not so much of a piney taste, to my surprise. 
“It’s not bad.” I said to Mike, who was chewing up the rest of his.
“Just a survival tip for you guys.” He said, as we walked back to the truck.  

We took our packs off and laid them in the back of the truck.  
“Did you see the can I fished out?” Mike said, pulling a can out of his pack. 
“I bet you guys are too young to recognize this kind of pull top.” He added, showing us the can. 

We took a back road out, because Mike wanted to show us the view of Little Payette and Payette Lakes.  We drove to an opening on the bumpy road, and witnessed a fantastic view of the land, ending a fun day back in the mountains. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Joyous Day

A few months ago I got a message from local artist, Josh Udesen, about a picture I had taken of a fish.  He asked if he could use it as inspiration for a painting.  Naturally, I was shocked to think that an actual artist was inspired by one of my photos. I obviously said okay to Josh using my photograph, and a few months later his work was completed!  

Seeing my picture come to life in Josh’s painting makes me happy.  I’m not sure what it’s like having a first born child... but I bet it’s something like this. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fishing with the Grajcars

A last minute call from Mark Grajcar usually ends with the inability to tag along on his fishing adventure, but today he was right on the money!  I arrived to discover that Rick Grajcar was coming along as well.  This is going to be a fun day, I thought as I placed the last bit of gear in Mark’s truck. 
“Where is Carolyn? I want to say hi.” I said to Mark, who led me inside to say hi to his wife.   
“Carolyn, Erik wants to say hi.” Mark yelled as he entered the house.  I stood waiting for Carolyn, and when she came out there was definitely not a smile on her face. I don’t know what I had done, but I knew I was about to get a lecture.  Carolyn cocked her head to the right and squinted her eyes... then spoke. 
“Erik...” She said, softly, I didn’t dare interrupt “...Is it true that today is Gracy’s birthday, and you are going fishing?” Before I could reply, Carolyn retorted.  “Because, I could put an end to today's... plans.”  
Mark quickly started to talk, but Carolyn shot him a look that made his voice fade faster than a puff of air blowing out a match. Then she looked back at me and I smiled. 
“Gracy has to work today, and has a meeting at 6 p.m. that will go until 7 p.m.”  I said, but Carolyn didn’t look impressed, so I continued.  
“I woke up early so that I could watch her open her birthday gifts and, when we get back at 6-ish, Gracy and I have plans to go out to dinner.  AND... she said it was okay if I go fishing today.”  For icing on the cake, I also added, “And I wanted to come in and say hi to you, and tell you that I like your garden.” 
Carolyn's face lit up with a kind smile that could warm a Christmas morning, “Well okay then!” She said, and we had a nice conversation before we took off to the Middle Fork of the Boise. 

The long, bumpy road with a cliff on one side is the fun part of driving up to the Middle Fork. Going 10 to 15 miles per hour can make it feel like forever, but we passed the time talking about how we could help our friend, Benny, find a girlfriend.  The road was too short to help Benny, but we found a good place to put in the raft and start our float.

Mark took the oars first, while Rick insisted on giving me the front of the boat.  I had tied on a royal chubby to start the day, and I was into fish in no time.  

The fish were slamming my royal chubby, and Rick was sure taking notice. 
“Erik, what do you say those fish are taking that Royal chubby for?” Rick asked. 
“Hell if I know.” I said, “Do you want to try one?” 
“Sure!” Rick said, as we switched places so he could have the front of the boat.

Rick was sure enjoying the royal chubby, and it got a hit almost immediately. Every time I took out my camera to get a picture, the fish would come unbuttoned or slip away.  While I had my camera out, I noticed both Grajcar brothers looking like they had taken fashion advice from the Island of Dr. Moreau.

Mark parked the boat to do some wade fishing.  He walked downstream while I walked up; Rick stayed in the boat, because he was tying on his royal chubby. 

I switched my fly to a purple chubby, and it was no surprise that the fish hit that too. 

Fish after fish were slamming the purple chubby, I almost felt bad for the fish... Almost!

For a good portion of the float, both Mark and Rick insisted they row and I continue fishing.  I was feeling a bit bad about it, so they finally let me get behind the sticks.  As the oarsmen, it’s your job to back-row constantly; that way you provide the anglers with a nice shot at some fishy water. It’s also your job to keep your eyes on the water so you don’t run into any rocks that may cause a problem.  Despite my responsibilities, I couldn’t help but watch Rick’s fly as it floated over some nice water. 
“Come on fish!” I yelled, “Eat that fly!” After nothing came up, Rick casted again. 
We approached a more narrow section on the river, and one side looked particularly fishy.
“Someone hit this bank over here. It looks good!” I yelled, as I oared the boat into position.  Both Rick and Mark turned to cast, and Mark got a hit!

“Yeah baby!” Mark yelled, as his fish fought like crazy.  I oared into a back eddie as Mark’s fish flew out of the water. 
“Whoa!” Mark yelled, as his fish jumped again. 
“Don’t screw this up, Mark!” I yelled, sarcastically as Rick handed him the net.  Mark held his rod high over his head, and with a quick scoop, netted the fish.
“Yeaaaa!” I yelled, as Mark got a hold of the fish, and held it up for the camera. 

Rick had already caught a number of fish, but I had yet to get a shot with my camera.  On a free-flowing stream like the Middle Fork, the best place to cast is off the bank, a few feet where the water turns to a darker shade.  The fish will be holding there because that's where the oxygen is.  With no explanation of this, I saw that Rick was making excellent presentations with his fly, only I felt they were a little too close to the bank.  If Rick were casting on a river like the South Fork of the Boise, his flies would be dead on. A tailwater fishery, like the South Fork, is kept cold and therefore the water that is right up against the bank is well oxygenated. 
“Rick, cast your fly where the water changes color.” I barked, and he did.  A fish took on his second presentation and he brought it in and released it quickly.  We neared another nice spot to do some walking and wading, so I parked the boat and we started fishing the small channel nearby. 

I had moved downstream to cast at a rising fish when I saw that Rick had a fish on!  Judging by the way his rod was bending, I could tell he had a nice fish. By the time I had reeled in my line, Rick had the fish almost in, but not before I snapped a shot of the fight.

The fish was landed and the colors were unmistakable. 
“It’s a cutthroat!” Mark yelled, as I scrambled over to take a picture of it.
“What did it take?” I asked. 
“A royal chubby.” Rick answered, getting the fly out of the fish’s mouth.  Rick quickly placed the fish back in the water. 
“Do you want a picture?” I asked.
“Na, I would rather get it back in the water.” Rick said. 
The cutthroat was slowly making its way back into the main stream, but not before I was able to snap this shot. 

Mark took the oars as we set off to fish the last section of water.  It  had already been an extremely productive day, and Mark was getting more animated as he rowed the raft. 
“Hit this pocket here!  Someone!” Mark yelled out happily, gesturing to his left.  I flicked my line over my head, and landed my fly right in the pocket. 
“Good shot, Erik! WOW!” Mark said. With every moment my fly was on the water, Mark got more excited. “Come on fish! Boom! Boom!” My fly sat in the water calm, untouched. 
“COME ON FISH! HIT THAT!” Mark yelled in the direction of the fly.
“Thanks, Mark. Great suggestion.” I said, as Rick chuckled in the front of the boat. 

In Mark’s defense, fishing had slowed down the further downstream we got from Twin Springs.  Rick was still pulling in fish as we neared the takeout. 
“Why would anyone want to leave this place?” Rick said, coming around the bend to our stopping point. We all felt the same way, but knew we had to return to civilization. 

Mark rode his bike to pick up his truck, and I felt a little bad that I didn’t make the shuttle. 
“It’s ok.” Rick said, “Mark’s a doctor, and needs to lead by example.” 
We finished the day off with some wade fishing, and on our way across the river, Rick took a tumble.  I looked over just in time to see his hat was the only thing out of the water.  
“I was just trying to keep the mosquitos off me.” He said, smiling. “That was on purpose.” 
“It looked like it was on purpose!” I said back.  
Mark made it back in no time at all, and we packed up our gear to head home, ending a beautiful and fantastic day fishing with the Grajcars.