Tag Archives: Payette River

WEST TO WATER

 

Midway from Chicago to LA it still hasn’t hit me. Sprawling canyon, salt flat, scrub brown and mountains crawl below. I carried on three fly rods and a book of Jim Harrison’s poetry. Our platinum blond, plump-lipped stewardess calls me Skippy. She won’t take cash for a beer.

**
Here, I am slow motion. Layers of break-neck life peeling away. I know it’s the wide-open expanse of frontier plainsong. Forever rolling and howling as the speedometer pushes 85 and The Grateful Dead wander their highway through Althea in Nassau. I am small here.

**
Gas station coffee, grain elevators, rail cars, Friday night lights, onions, grapes, magpies, llamas, cottonwood groves, sunflowers, sage, corn, wheat, cattle, chukar, grouse, desert quail, winding roads, canyon, famous potatoes. One lone strip club hiding over the county line.

**
Hot copper-white and sage canyon floor. We sit in camp chairs with beers, grilling meat for lunch in the weak shade of a nearby tree. Driftwood and brush flood-woven eight feet up in its branches. On the other side of the willows the desert river pretends to mind its own business.

**
4 a.m. Roadside sage and gravel shoulder chase the curving road, a cold ghost-gray in our headlights. We make the Sawtooth Basin by sunup. Eggs, sausage, homemade white toast and coffee in Stanley. Outside, thin smoke from a small late summer campfire, quiet talk, mountains. It’s 27o.

**
To get here, switchbacks had us coming and going. We park on the shoulder outside Lowman, pull on waders and step-skid-step to the water. This seventy yard stretch runs twelve feet deep and gin clear right from the edge. Sun finds us at 10:38. Smoke from last season’s fire a thin film in the air.

**
We spot a moose as we haul the jet boat down Highway 26. Big black body in full stride a half-mile out into Swan Valley’s amber waves of grain. Her pine and brush foothills another quarter-mile off. A combine leads a yellow dust cloud across the next immense field. The sky looks like rain.

**
Mack truck river hauling the ass-end of mammoth runoff. There’s no thinking at this pace. We drift, I sling. Wail full-on gun-shots into slack eddies, under thick brush, against cliff wall undercuts and grass-sand banks. Swings and short-strikes. Dusk drops on our run back to Conant.

**
I know he’s going to take before he does. Everything’s right. Cast, distance, depth, slower- than-river-speed drift, Folsom Prison Blues playing in my head. The fly touches bottom a couple times, tumbles from the riffle into the pale green. I look him in the face, good one he says. Good one.

**
An hour-and-a-half drive north. The sun burns off the morning haze and the Tetons get to their feet. Riverside parking and talk of big fish. Forty minutes downstream from the truck, we scramble from a game trail into the river. At thigh deep, I’m the knife at a gunfight.

**
From where I stand, frontiersmen once contemplated their purpose in this landscape, the panorama of destiny. Motionless, forty yards into the river, a small whirling eddy in my shadow. Perspective. The wide arc of a distant osprey. Big fish rise carelessly, thinking the coast is clear.

**
Mesa Falls, Ashton, Rexburg, Rigby fill our rearview mirror. Windows down, simmering late-afternoon sun, we’re on the other end of the gauntlet and there’s nothing pressing to say. The last eight days packed tight in my tired, calloused hands, ready to throw like a sneaky left in the final round.

**
Snake, Payette, Salmon, Henry’s Fork, Owyhee—forever in my blood. These days and miles and fish and landscapes are forever in my blood. Tomorrow is 9/11 and our flight back east. Tonight we drink bucket-beers at the stock car races. I feel like a good fight or some Howlin’ Wolf but I’m hungry and still have to pack.

**
12:20 a.m. Wheels-down in Rochester. Shuttle ride to the car, Army duffel, pack and rods at my feet, two frowning wives cluck about Yellowstone’s rustic amenities. One husband nods, Good fishing? I nod back. Montana? he asks. Idaho. My voice is 10-day gravel and far from being home.

 

(Originally published in Volume 4, Issue 2 of the Flyfish Journal)

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THE IDAHO TRIP: PAYETTE AND SALMON RIVERS

Out front of the hotel and across the highway, the geese were up, flying west/southwest at 7 a.m. just as they had the last two mornings. Sharp and black and noisy against the rising yellow-orange-white blaze, gathering their own color the further they flew. By 8 a.m. Jason Lindstrom of Flytooth, Grant and I started east in Jason’s car on Route 21 to Lucky Peak Dam, where the road took a big sweep north toward Idaho City and the Boise National Forest.

We had decided that we were going to drive “the loop” tomorrow, which would ultimately take us north to Stanley, the Sawtooth Mountain Range and the Salmon River. But today we really had no plan, short of heading out in search of flowing water, fish and some scenics for Grant to add to his steadily growing stable of images.

After passing a number of smallish mountain streams and parting ways with a another that followed the road for over twenty minutes, we had climbed to about 6,100 feet, crested the peak and started headlong into one switchback after another, and another, and another. Grant sat greenly in the back seat, window cracked, while the switchbacks, lacking backseat view and peanut butter toast he had for breakfast all battled for his attention.

Jason decided that we should check out a stretch of the South Fork of the Payette River just outside Lowman that he had fished a couple times before. We pulled over and looked at a couple likely spots before landing on a winner. Below us flowed a wide turquoise chute that spilled into a long, deep pool and then ran downstream psyching itself up into some pretty good rapids. Above the chute was a 100 yard section of slick, hip-deep water with braids boiling up from behind big submerged boulders and upswells from the even deeper holes further upstream. And it was gin clear and fast from soup to nuts.

I’d like to report that we had a stellar fish day, but that would require many more and much bigger fish than we caught. Fittingly, Grant’s camera work capturing our arresting environs and presence was the big fish of the day. We bagged it early in preparation for the god-awful 3 a.m. wake-up call that was on deck for tomorrow’s excursion.

There’s still a lot of dark left ahead of you when you’re on the road at 4 a.m. We struck out on Route 55 north armed with McDonalds breakfast sandwiches, hashbrowns and coffee. Our trip was going to take us through Crouch and Garden Valley back to Route 21 at Lowman, where we’d point the car northeast to Stanley.

Around 6:15 the faintest touch of dawn gave up the backbone of the Sawtooth Range. We entered Challis National Forest, rounded the north end of the mountains, and stopped about 15 minutes shy of Stanley to get some shots as the sun started into the valley. Local temps were high 20’s.

After a second breakfast at Sawtooth Luce’s and a stop at McCoy’s Fly shop for some intel and a couple flies, we just stood around for a while soaking in the simple frontier ease of the town and the sheer giant-ness of the mountain backdrop. Then we drove out Route 75 along the Salmon, past Sunbeam to a stretch below Yankee Fork as instructed.

As I picked my way down through the streamside boulders I could see fish holding in a big deep pool. The water was emerald here, and just as clear as the Payette. Smaller rainbows and cutthroat were rising. The larger ones were holding deeper lanes, swinging a foot in either direction to pick up drifting bugs. Fish were rising constantly along the rock wall on the far side of the river. Unreachable, of course. My second drift produced a small cutthroat. My first. A couple small ‘bows and two decent whitefish later, the hole went quiet. We jumped back in the truck and headed downstream another half mile to some wadeable water.

I spent the remains of the afternoon casting dries to risers, while Jason stayed busy with a rubber-leg bugger upstream. I traded Grant for his camera so he could get in on the action as well.

After sitting streamside with a couple beers, soaking up a little more late afternoon sun, we decided that we’d done enough damage for one day and waded back across the river to the truck and a long ride back to Boise–the sun about ready to set on yet another great day.


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I’M HOME. SORT OF.

I miss it already

Ten Days. Five different rivers. A whole lot of new friends. Idaho kicks ass.

Stay tuned for reports from the trip.

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Filed under On the water, The road