By: Slim Pickens

In 1918 I realized that the growing use of the automobile, with its easy transportation, would soon spoil all public trout fishing…

~Edward R. Hewitt


It is all about dry flies and leaky waders.

~Patrick P. Pickens


The above quote by Hewitt is a good one. I don’t know if the automobile spoiled fishing, but it certainly has changed it. I had planned for months to use my automobile for a five-day fishing extravaganza midway through the great month of June.

I had planned to fish for trout on Priest Lake with a group of friends. Then I was to be off to float the Yaak River in Montana, looking for those giant brookies I had heard about. Lastly, I was going to fish some home water on the Little North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.

It was going to be great with lots of fun, fish and new water to explore.

Instead, I found myself in what was more like a chapter out of a Patrick McManus story on the ironies of fishing and camping life.

At Priest Lake, I was going to get to show off my prowess as a fly fisherman to a group of curious colleagues (that usually fish for Mackinaw) who all know that I spend a good majority of my time either fishing, reading about fishing, or writing about fishing.

One of them, local artist and art teacher, John Davis, even ventured out with me. Needless to say, John had a great time catching fish. I, on the other hand, had a good dose of Murphy’s Law.

Priest Lake agreed with John.

On almost every cast I made my line ended up in a spider web of tangles, which was good for John. Seemed like the more tangled I got, the better the fishing was for him. It was tough for him, though. Trying to release fish while laughing so hard…

I did manage to catch a perch. It accidentally impaled itself on my hook as it dangled over the side of John’s canoe.

Surely, I thought, my trip to the Yaak would be redeeming. When I had some pictures of those truly big Brook Trout, the fellows would stop their chuckling in my presence.

Upper Yaak River

It didn’t just rain on my parade when I finally got to the Yaak. It dumped on me! My line got wet, but only from my leaking (new) canopy.

Two days later, tiring of the cab of my pickup, the smell of wet wool, and looking at a great looking stream that I couldn’t fish, I decided to voyage on.

Lower Yaak River.

I promised myself I would return someday. Someday, when all the leaks are fixed, or I at least have a good bucket. Although frying pans do work in a pinch…

I just knew that my last day of the fishing trip would be good one. It couldn’t get any worse. The sun was coming out, and I am fairly intimate with the Coeur d’Alene River system. I was finally going to catch some fish!

I was all rigged up and ready to go. I was even on a hole that my fishing buddy Tony C. refers to as The Sure Thing Hole. That is precisely when a truck needed to get around me, so I reached out and shut my truck’s door.

Tony at the Sure Thing Hole…

I immediately wished I hadn’t. After orally reviewing my repertoire of good cuss words, I looked through the window. My truck’s keys gleamed peacefully at me from the driver’s seat. I believe I saw a small rainbow arcing from my keys to the dashboard, but just briefly. Then it was gone.

I didn’t even have to check the door. I knew it was locked and my wife at home had the only spare. Worse still was my wallet/fishing license was in there. There it sat, all-alone riding shotgun in the passenger seat.

With my luck running at an all time low, I wasn’t about to risk fishing without a license on my person.

However, there are some truly amazing people here in North Idaho.

I happened to meet one on this crazy adventure that I had hoped would end with bountiful stories that I could dazzle you, the reader, with. His name was Terry. (And no, he didn’t have a Slim Jim.)

I had hoofed it four miles back to a campground, hoping that a camp host might be able to help me out of my predicament.

I inquired about the host with a camping couple that was increasingly interested in my story of woes. The husband, whose name turned out to be Terry, did something remarkably close to chivalry.

He offered and did give me a ride all the way to my front door in Hayden Lake. I later returned with keys in hand, and gave him some flies that I had tied, along with a handshake. I didn’t know what else to do.

I will remember it though. Thank you Terry L of Post Falls, ID, next time I find a wayward fisherman in need, I will return the generosity.

With fishermen in mind, the best time to get out and enjoy the fly fishing in North Idaho and surrounding areas is now at hand.

The Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe river systems, as predicted, are giving up some memorable cutthroat trout.

With the overcast days, most action is happening late in the morning to evening time. Look for Pale Morning Duns, yellow sallies, and some caddis hatches. Try a Green Drake cripple if the action is getting slow.

As the days get sunnier, try bouncing nymphs through riffle areas. Riffles provide oxygen, food, and cover from predators. Well-tied and good floating dry flies such as a Humpy or Stimulator can also provide fast action in turbulent flows.

When fishing riffles and their tail-outs, let your fly (whether wet or dry), suspend a few seconds downstream from you before picking up for your next cast. I sometimes raise and lower my rod a couple of times at this point, trying to simulate a nymph rising to the surface. Or a dun (adult) skimming the surface if it is a dry fly.

Once again, do not overlook terrestrials. Several days ago I had one of my best days ever fly fishing in this region. I used a black ant exclusively all day, through a number of hatches, with great success.

I would also like to address some questions by readers of RuralNorthwest. I pretty much fish exclusively with a fly rod. I can try to answer questions on different species and approaches to fishing. However, as Uncle Bud needed to research questions on fly fishing, I would need to do the same.

For instance, bass fishing with tubes, I have some friends that swear by it, but I have never done it myself.

Questions that are specific are the easiest to answer.

The question I am hearing most frequently from people new to fly-fishing is on releasing fish appropriately. I have abbreviated my following recommendation:

Do not overplay the fish. Sure, the fight is part of the fun. I can’t deny it. However, overplaying for our benefit is not the ethical way to fish. Let’s get it in and get it out.

Before netting or touching the fish, make sure your hands and net are both wet. This helps ensure that the outer coating of the fish is left intact. Dry nets or hands can be a tough hindrance for a recovery.

Do not drag it onto the bank so that it flops against hard rocks or other abrasives. The best thing to do is to try and retrieve it in shallow water. In addition, return it to the same shallow water. They will seek the deeper water when they are ready.

A gentle release in shallow water.

When you do return the fish to a river, hold it gently, facing it upstream. Occasionally, it helps to rock it slowly, forward and backward. Sometimes they will dart out of your hands. Sometimes it will surprise you on how long it takes a healthy fish to return to its home.

The fisherman’s friend. You will need a pair of hemostats. They can be purchased at virtually all fly or tackle shops. As you retrieve the fish, look at where the hook is. Sometimes it is so easy to remove you wonder how you were able to catch it!

Other times, the bend in the hemostat offers precisely the angle and leverage you need to remove a toughly hooked fish. Remember, when the hook is down deep, or it is taking you an unusually long time to remove it, clip the leader or tippet. Time is of the essence, and it is better to lose the fly. (Sometimes it is the last fly you have of the only thing working. Trust me!)

This is a great trick that many guides show their clients. When removing the hook, hold the fish upside down. My guess is that it disorientates the fish. It does work most of the time. One thought on this method, it takes them a little more time back in the water to reorient themselves. Be patient. If you have done everything to this step, you have been an active participant in trying to return a fish with minimum stress.

Lastly, if you have any pictures or suggestions, please feel free to contact the editor. We love to hear from you.

See you on the water.

Slim