Best fly fishing awaits as Fall creeps closer

By: Slim Pickens

Originally Posted Sept. 13, 2005

As the air gets chilly, there is the sense that summer is all but over and winter is right around the corner. However, I wouldn’t put away the fly rod just yet. Sure, it might take up some space that could be used for hunting equipment, but that is ok.

Here in the North Idaho Panhandle, there is a reason for the term cast-and-blast. It may be hunting season, but it can also be some of the best fishing of the year. Local waters are heating up as the temperature is going down.

Two important hatches are getting underway
. The first is the Mahogany Dun. Try a size #14-18. The second hatch is not quite here yet, but is starting to show itself on the Coeur d’Alene River.

Yes, it is time for the October Caddis! This is a whopper of a Caddis and the fish feast on this large bug. I usually use a size #10, but know a lot of people who go bigger.

If you are into exploring or history, it is a great time to journey to the Lochsa River. While Lewis and Clark made this area famous, it has to be one of the most under appreciated rivers in Idaho.

The Lochsa (meaning “rough water” to the Nez Perce) is no secret to white water enthusiasts. However, it receives little of the fishing pressure that nearby streams such as the St. Joe River or Kelly Creek do.

Of course, this may change with the hordes of people traveling the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway this summer, retracing the route that Lewis and Clark courageously took 200 years ago. It will be a disappointment, because this river is a fishing gem.

Seams offer excellent holding water.

What the Lochsa lacks in big fish, it more then makes up for with quantity. Expect average size to be about 10 inches, but you can find them in just about any hole that looks decent.

As it parallels Highway 12 from its confluence with the Selway River at Lowell, Idaho, to its headwaters at Crooked and Brushy Forks, it offers exceptional access and great campgrounds.

Plenty of wildlife on the Lochsa.

If you want to keep fish for the frying pan, regulations permit two fish per day over 14 inches from Lowell to Wilderness Gateway. From here on up it is catch and release on a single barbless hook.

I spent most of my time fishing from Wendover Campground near Powell, ID. With plenty of runs, riffles and shade, the Westslope Cutthroat (named Salmo Clarki after famed explorer William Clark) were naïve if you spent the time to get a couple hundred yards from major access points.

Cabins for rent at the Lochsa Lodge in Powell, ID.

If you want to bypass the campgrounds, try the Lochsa Lodge in Powell. From rustic cabins for rent to a great meal, it has all the amenities you would expect for a back country lodge in the heart of Idaho’s wilderness. Not that my wife doesn’t like my pan charred cooking, but we did eat there more then once.

If you visit the Lochsa in August, keep your eyes peeled in the deep runs for Chinook salmon. I didn’t see any on my visit, but if you time it right, it can be mighty unnerving to see these huge fish after catching cutties all day.

Deep runs often hold Chinook.

Besides the Lochsa Lodge, if you want a break from the river, stop in the Lochsa Historical Ranger Station near Wilderness Gateway. It offers a glimpse into the mighty past of the region.

While rainbows and cutthroat spawn in the spring, whitefish and brown trout spawn in the fall. There is nothing like catching an aggressive brown as autumn turns our forest into its colorful fall canvas.

The best picks around our region are the tributaries of the Clark Fork River in Montana. While Rock Creek is the most well known, do not overlook a closer option to us here in Idaho.

The St. Regis River can offer some full time action on these moving browns. Streamers such as dark Wooly Buggers or sculpins can often entice these feisty fighters. Check at Joe Cantrell’s fly and tackle shop in St. Regis for updated information.

Once again, I hope you get one in the net. Feel free to contact us and let me know how your fishing has been!

~Slim

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Slim, I enjoyed your article. I’ve fished the Lochsa out of Lochsa Lodge since 1990. There are lots of cutts over 10″. A walk up the trail along White Sands Creek is enjoyable and can be rewarding as far as fishing in solitude. The West Slope Cutthroat is classified as Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisii. The coastal Cutthroat is Onchorynchus clarki clarki “Trouts and Salmon of North America” by Robert J. Behnke p. 145. Good fishin”

Tom Birdwell, MD
June 24, 2007