By 9:30 we had packed the truck, eaten some breakfast, gassed and coffee’d up and were on the road for our four hour haul to Idaho Falls. When we cleared the 30-some miles of construction east of Boise, I leveled out at 85 mph and and settled into the left lane. Highway 84 through wide prairie, fields of grain and farmsteads set back miles off the road. Past Mountain Home, Twin Falls and Rupert to highway 86 and on through American Falls and Pocatello. Then north on 15 through Blackfoot finally easing into Idaho Falls around 1:00.
About 45 minutes after we checked into the hotel, and a half-dozen phone calls to clarify directions, we met Colby Hackbarth from Kast Extreme Fishing Gear at a church parking lot off the Yellowstone Highway. After a couple handshakes, we threw our gear into the back of his truck and hit the road for the South Fork of the Snake with his jet boat in tow.
Colby was a guide in Alaska for around 10 years and has been fishing the South Fork since he was 8 when he used to drift with his granddad, so when he reported that the water and weather should be stellar and that we should be into some toads on streamers come dusk, I could feel the first twinges of adrenaline tighten my chest and raise the hair on my arms and the back of my neck.
I don’t know whether it was me settling into some sort of 6th-day-on-the-road groove or the aura of a potential X-games-esque afternoon of fishing, but at that moment I was feeling somewhere between Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine. I was ready to take the mic and the mosh pit.
After a stop at South Fork Outfitters to pick up some bite-intel, a half-dozen sex dungeons and a decent hoodie so I wouldn’t freeze after the sun left the river, we drove another ten minutes to the Spring Creek boat launch. Rods rigged, gear stowed, Colby fired up the 90-horse Johnson, eased us out into the current, and lit out down-river for the first of his money spots– a heavy hatch of drift boats coming off in every direction.
It took less than 100 yards of drifting past perfect, trophy trout-holding river bank while I flailed my 8 wt. into half-assed streamer cast after half-assed streamer cast for that whole Beastie/Rage feeling to completely die. Another 200 yards and some brilliant line tangles and I started making up new cuss words, since none of the old ones seemed strong enough. Grant was gracious enough to hold the heckling for another time.
I was gutted. Bleeding out. Wasting world-class water and great drift position. Colby could see it, so he jumped from the oars to the engine and nosed us up onto a gravel bar. We switched to nymphing rigs and fished the riffles for a half hour or so. No bites, but the break got my head back in the game. As some weather began to rumble to the south of us, we piled back into the boat and moved on.
Maybe a half-mile down-river we had pulled up on another gravel bar and I was drifting a heavy point/dropper nymph rig through a deep chute. Two, three, four casts. Near seam, far seam, down the middle. A few steps with the current, another cast. The indicator dropped and I came tight against what I thought was the bottom, until the bottom flexed and took the shape of a strong cutbow–a rainbow/cutthroat hybrid. When Colby netted that fish, I could feel the High Plains Drifter making his way back.
After I let the fish slip back into the current, Colby told us that Idaho Fish and Game put a bounty on the head of several hundred (possibly thousand) hybrids to help promote the reduction of this source of pure cutthroat genetic dilution. They actually embedded tags in the heads of these fish and are offering up to $1,000 for the return of said heads. I’m not always the smartest dude in the room, but it seemed odd that they would spend the time and money to tag that many fish, only to spend more money rewarding other people to decapitate and turn in. Interesting.
Back on the drift, and back on my 8 wt. slinging a tan sex dungeon at the bank, my cast were on. Finally. I was dropping that fly on their front porch. Fish would appear from deep behind boulders, swing and miss, swing and miss again. Big fish. Then a cutty hit the fly and dove for the bottom. It wasn’t a long fight, but it was a damn fine fish.
Colby had a couple stretches back toward where we launched that he wanted to hit before it got too dark, so I got down from the back deck, sat down and we turned into the current for the ride back up-river. Every spot we drifted was money. Giant, hook-jawed browns, football-fat ‘bows and shadow-like cutties appearing from nooks and crannies all along the rock walls and brush-filled banks. But with dozens of swings, strikes, flashes and how’d that fish not get hooked?! I turned only one fish that promptly took my line into the engine and made off with my streamer. It was nuts.
As dusk went from a hint to last-call, we drifted one last stretch above the launch. I laid the streamer into a trough across a gravel bar that was under a couple feet of water. One strip and the water exploded. An immense brown peaked three feet out of the water, came tight in mid-air, crashed back into the water and shook the hook.
It’s all good. We’ll be back tomorrow.
Welcome to the South Fork.