42-55 Snake Handling

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          snake                                                                                      D
                                                                                                            “DO YOU THINK WE CAN GET OVER THERE?” wonders my dad, gesturing toward
                                                                                                     an inviting gravel bar a few hundred feet away.
                                                                                                            Standing up to my knees in the briars along the bank, I stare at the channel separating us
                                                                                                     from the riffle—it is deep, dark, wide and swift, swirling with current and a generous helping of

                                                                                                     potential death—and my first thought is: Why am I wearing flip flops? My feet are bleeding. Followed
                                                                                                     very closely by: I really don’t want to drown on this trip.
                                                                                                            “You still have your float tube in the back of the car?” he asks, looking up the steep
                                                                                                     embankment at the dust-coated windows of my Jeep. After bouncing down eight miles of pock-
                                                   S T O R Y   A N D   P H O T O G R A P H Y   B Y   marked, unpaved road, I sure hope it’s still there, I say, but I can’t make any guarantees.
                                                               J O H N    V A N    V L E E T            He’s thinking, formulating some sort
                                                                                                     of plan—possibly an ill-conceived one.
                                                                                                        “How about this?” he says. “I’ll tie a
                                                                                                     rope to your tube, you kick across the
                               Trying to get the upper hand on the South Fork of the Snake River     channel, throw it back to me, and then
                                                                                                     I’ll do the same thing and meet you
                                        is like trying to wrestle a Burmese python. Blindfolded.     over there.”
                                                                                                        Coming from my ultra-conservative,
                               Sooner or later, you’re going to realize you’re in over your head.    highly logical engineer of a father—the
                                                                                                     same man who tells me to “slow down”
                                                                                                     any time we’re riding in the car togeth-
                                                                                                     er, even at red lights—this suggestion is
                                                                                                     pure insanity, not unlike him suddenly
                                                                                                     asking me if I wanted to get a swastika
                                                                                                     tattooed on my forehead or cut designs
                                                                                                     into my arm, you know, just for fun.
                                                                                                        In the pantheon of all-time bad
                                                                                                     ideas, this ranks somewhere in between
                                                                                                     BASE jumping El Capitan without a
                                                                                                     parachute and making a shoe bomb
                                                                                                     joke while going through the security
                                                                                                     line at SeaTac.
                                                                                                        I stand there, silent for a moment,
                                                                                                     listening to the water rush by. Then I
                                                                                                     picture my bloated corpse washing up
                                                                                                     somewhere downstream near a picnic          A wild South Fork cutthroat trout tastes freedom seconds after its release.
                                                                                                     area, scarring a vacationing family for        At best, I surmise, we make it across       river that used to beat up and steal
                                                                                                     life. I’m imagining the horrified looks     after a massive struggle and toss a few        lunch money from smaller rivers in
                                                                                                     on the children’s faces and the tears       flies, maybe catch a fish. At worst, one       middle school.
                                                                                                     streaming down their puffy little           of us ends up calling my mom, telling             There are a lot of reasons why Idaho
                                                                                                     cheeks when I decide this might not be      her that there was an accident and that        ranks in the top 10 nationally in
                                                                                                     in our best interest.                       we won’t need four stockings on the            reported drowning deaths, and the
                                                                                                        “I think it will work,” he continues,    mantle at Christmas ever again.                South Fork is one of them. This really
                                                                                                     nodding slightly.                              After a long pause, he relents.             isn’t the kind of place you want to
                                                                                                        I rip a twig off a streamside bush and      “Want to keep going downstream?”            teach your five-year-old son how to
                                                                                                     toss it into the water, just to see what       “Yes.”                                      wade, because when a river is named
                                                                                                     we’re dealing with. It floats away             We climb back in the car, turn up the       after something that inspires night-
                                                                                                     instantly, disappearing under a frothy      radio and drive on, having learned a           mares and phobias, it’s usually for a
                                                                                                     swirl of foam a few yards away, exactly     fairly vital lesson: The South Fork of         reason.
                                                                                                     the same way I picture my life ending.      the Snake is not a friendly river. It is          But the South Fork is much more
                                                                                                        “Dad, this is a bad idea.”               powerful and strapping, the kind of            than a heartless terror slithering its way
                                                                                                            The South Fork of the Snake is not a friendly river. It is powerful and strapping, the kind of river
                                                                                                                   that used to beat up and steal lunch money from smaller rivers in middle school.

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                                                                                                                                                     FPG AD

         Winding through a daunting canyon, the South Fork harbors both wild trout and calming serenity.

         through southern Idaho. It’s home to a             of Alaska and has downright silly               The impending sense of doom and
         spectacular population of wild trout:              insect hatches that would have been           the rapid heart palpitations? Those are
         from shimmering, gold-laced cut-                   termed “pestilences” or “plagues” by          just fringe benefits.
         throats to chocolate-spotted butter-               ancient Sumerians.
         bellied browns. It flows through some                It might not be the best dry-fly river               Befriending the Serpent
         of the prettiest countryside this conti-           in the world, but it’s at least in the con-      Determined to find a way to do a lit-
         nent has to offer. It also sustains the            versation—which is exactly why we’re          tle fishing from the bank before our
         largest bald eagle nesting site this side          here.                                         scheduled float trips over the next few

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                                                                                                                                                           ing his left shoulder.
                                                                                                                                                              “I think we threw away their dinner,”
                                                                                                                                                           Dad whispers as the men approach.
                                                                                                                                                              “You guys seen a fish around here?”
                                                                                                                                                           asks the one holding the stringer, the
                                                                                                                                                           air of Coors Light on his breath. He’s
                                                                                                                                                           wearing a black tank top and has a
                                                                                                                                                           noteworthy mullet flowing out the
                                                                                                                                                           back of his hat.
                                                                                                                                                              “Yeah,” I say. “I tossed it into the
                                                                                                                                                           woods. I saw a dead fish on the trail
                                                                                                                                                           and thought it might have been dis-
                                                                                                                                                           eased or something, so I got rid of it.”
                                                                                                                                                              The two men look at each other for
                                                                                                                                                           a second, then back at me, and I figure
                                                                                                                                                           I’m seconds away from a first-class
                                                                                                                                                           Idaho beat down. I can’t be sure, but I
                                                                                                                                                           think I saw no less than four human
                                                                                                                                                           skulls in the bed of the pickup back in
                                                                                                                                                           the parking lot.
                                                                                                                                                              “That’s awright,” the one holding his
                                                                                                                                                           shoulder says. “We gotta get home and
                                                                                                                                                           get this outta my arm.”
                                                                                                                                                              He drops his hand, revealing a large,
                                                                                                                                                           red and white spinning lure embedded          Small side channels will often out-produce larger sections of the river.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            to drift the fly through every square.
                                                                                                                                                               The two men look at each other for a second, then back at me,                                   “Step up, go out, out, out,” he says.
                                                                                                                                                              and I figure I’m seconds away from a first-class Idaho beat down.                             “Then repeat.”
                                                                                                                                                               I can’t be sure, but I think I saw no less than four human skulls                               There aren’t any risers on this partic-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ular stretch, but that doesn’t mean the
                                                                                                                                                                       in the bed of the pickup back in the parking lot.                                    fish aren’t there. It’s mid-morning and
                                                                                                                                                                                                         flip-up magnifiers clipped to his sun-             the sun is directly overhead, playing
                                                                                                                                                           in his shoulder. The treble hook is           glasses, he looks like Jeremiah                    leapfrog with the swelling cumulus
                                                                                                                                                           lodged deep into his flesh. His tank top      Johnson’s entomologist brother.                    clouds soaring through the open Idaho
                                                                                                                                                           is dotted with the unmistakable crim-            Todd stands next to me, holding the             sky. It’s not the perfect fish-catching
                                                                                                                                                           son of human blood, and a small               net in anticipation, telling me to over-           scenario, but it beats watching re-runs
         Cutthroats are in danger of disappearing due to illegal harvesting and interbreeding with rainbow trout.                                          stream of red trickles down his deltoid.      lay an imaginary grid on the water and             in a hotel room.
                                                                                                                                                              “Jeez,” I say, taking a step back.                                                               Todd is the assistant manager of
         days, Dad and I rumble down the grav-                                                               this size isn’t quite legal. I’m not exact-      “It don’t hurt no more,” he says, his                     TREVALLY POPPER                     South Fork Outfitters and grew up on
                                                                           FORK FLY ONE
         el road a few more miles, loosening fill-                                                           ly overjoyed with the discovery, so I         wispy mustache curling into a semi-                                                              an Idaho farm in nearby Melba. As a
         ings in our teeth and destroying my                         TIED BY HILL’S DISCOUNT FLIES           pick up the fish and toss it into the         smile. “But we gotta get it out.”                       TIED BY THE AUTHOR                       kid, he spent his summers fishing the
         car’s suspension along the way. We find            HOOK:    Stainless or chemically-sharpened       woods.                                           They walk away indifferently, as if        HOOK:     Long-shanked stainless popper            Bitterroot with his uncle, and I’m pick-
         a small, serene side channel that                           saltwater streamer hook, such as           “Who would do something like               this sort of thing happens regularly, and               hook, such as Tiemco TMC
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            ing his brain for information as I try to
                                                                     Tiemco TMC 811S or Owner Aki.                                                                                                                 911S. Sizes 1/0 to 4/0.
         oxbows around an island and we                              Sizes 2/0 to 6/0. Single or tandem.
                                                                                                             that?” I ask my dad.                          at that precise moment, I come to the                                                            get a feel for the softer, gentler side of
                                                                                                                                                                                                         TAIL:     Super Hair 1.5 times the hook
         decide to do a little exploring.                   WING:    White, yellow and green Super
                                                                                                                “Maybe it was sick or already dead         realization that the safest place to be                 length, color to match popper head       the river.
            There is a concrete structure at the                     Hair. Blend the Super Hair with gold    and they just pulled it out of the            around here might actually be in the          FLASH:    Six strands of Flashabou Lateral Scale      It’s all about presentation, he tells
         head of the island that appears to be a                     and pearlescent Flashabou. Tie the      water,” he says, stringing up his rod,        water.                                        COLLAR:   Two to three large, webby saddle         me as I concentrate on the drifts. It’s
                                                                     material in at the mid-point and fold
         diversion dam, a bridge across the                          back over to build a deep profile.      reaching for a silver lining.                                                                         hackles of any color combination         not a matter of if a fish will eat the fly,
         channel and—based on the rust-spot-                OVERWING:Green and rainbow Flashabou or             We each take a few casts in the side                      The Marine                     POPPER HEAD:                                       he says, but when. Stopping at any-
         ted pickup truck parked in the pull-                        Krystal Flash                           channel and end up spending most of              “This is Semper Fi,” our guide Todd
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Straight foam with a cupped face.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            and-all riffles will produce a lot of fish
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Add stick-on eyes and prism tape
         out—someone else wandering around.                 CHEEK:   Red Super Hair                          the time scurrying up and down the            Lanning says, holding up his bright                     (optional), then coat with epoxy         on the South Fork when insects are
         We make our way to the path that                   EYES:    Stick-on eyes                           banks, untangling our lines from the          blue Sage 5-weight. “It’s my favorite                                                            hatching, and having a drag-free drift
         winds toward the head of the island                HEAD:    Epoxy applied thin, just enough to      chest-high weeds, and spooking every          rod for the South Fork. Give it a go.”                                                           with the right timing is paramount.
         when I spot a lovely little brown trout.                    maintain the fly’s profile              fish within a half-mile radius.                  We’re stopped at the first riffle of our                                                         Paying close attention to the fly is
         The only problem is that it’s sitting just                                                             A little while later, a few hundred        float, and I’m drifting a small Yellow                                                           also fairly important, but something
         off the trail, underneath a bush, as                                                                feet toward the head of the island, the       Sally off the edge of the gravel bar. My                                                         some of us have trouble with. And by
         dead and lifeless as my last two rela-                                                              answer to my somewhat rhetorical              dad is scraping stonefly husks off of                                                            some of us, I mean me. One of my
         tionships.                                                                                          question reveals itself: Two men stum-        rocks, inspecting them with the curios-                                                          downfalls as a fly fisher is my horren-
            It can’t be more than a foot long, and                                                           ble up the bank to the trail, one of          ity of an eight-year-old searching for                                                           dous eyesight. Not only am I partially
         I seem to remember part of the regula-                                                              them carrying a pair of spinning rods         salamanders in a backyard stream.                                                                color-blind, but I consistently mistake
         tions mentioning that harvesting a fish                                                             and a stringer of trout, the other hold-      With his trademark beard and a pair of                                                           dark rocks, oddly-shaped buildings,

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         t r av e l t i p s

                                                                                                                                                      drift boats, low-flying aircraft and over-    myself and not catching any fish,
                                                                                                                                                      hanging limbs for fish, mainly because        which is really nothing new.
              SOUTH FORK SIGHTS AND SOUNDS                                     worth visiting. If you’re not fishing, you might as well be admir-     as I’m straining to distinguish one
                                                                               ing some of America’s most breathtaking mountains. From hik-           murky blob from another, they all end                       Striking Gold
            The back seat of my Jeep was folded down, invisible under a        ing through Lupine Meadows into Garnet Canyon or walking               up looking the same. That’s why I typ-           It’s now late morning; we are still
         pile of dusty backpacks, muddy wading boots and scratched up          around Jenny Lake into Cascade Canyon, I’ve spent a lot of time        ically enlist the help of a guide when        fishless and down more than a handful
         rod tubes. Driving south on I-15 through Montana, past Dillon         here, and not one minute of it would I consider wasted.                I’m on the water, to be my eyes.              of flies, thanks to some masterful Van
         and Melrose, I decided that this was the best way to travel. Of
         course, since I wasn’t old enough to rent a car, it was the only                                                                                I’m not exactly Mr. Magoo, but I’m         Vleet family casting. Because the day
                                                                                  South Fork Lodge—Swan Valley, Idaho. We didn’t stay the             not far removed.                              seems to be taken directly from an
         way I could travel—something I realized right before I was            night, but we did eat in the dining room after fishing all day.           “Damn, I keep losing your fly when it      Idaho tourism brochure, none of us
         about to buy a plane ticket to Idaho Falls.                           Located only a few feet off the bank on a scenic stretch of water,     goes over that second riffle,” Todd says,     particularly mind the lack of action—
            Although it’s truly difficult to think about anything other than   the only thing better than the elk chop I ordered was spending         reaching into the chest pocket of his         especially not my dad. He’s sitting in
         catching a 20-inch trout while visiting the South Fork, Idaho’s       time on the patio, listening to the river, watching a storm brew       plaid shirt. “I know what I need: some        the back of the boat, soaking in the
         Swan Valley is rich with an abundance of interesting and enter-       distant and dark on the horizon.                                       Copenhagen.”                                  same untethered spirit that drew him
         taining experiences that have nothing to do with wetting a line.
         Here are a few things to check out if you make the trip:                                                                                        I know what I need, I’m thinking.          to the West in the first place. The sky
                                                                                 Downtown Idaho Falls. This is not a bustling metropolis, but         Lasik eye surgery.                            ranges from an airy light blue to a deep,
                                                                               there is plenty to see. In just my few days there, I saw a fly-fish-      He takes a healthy pinch and stuffs it     full azure, broken only by the immense
            The Victor Emporium—Victor, Idaho. An old-fashioned                ing history exhibit at the Museum of Idaho and a stuffed water         into his lower lip in one smooth              tufts of clouds and forested hilltops
         soda fountain, the Emporium has a little bit of everything. There     buffalo in a sporting goods store parking lot. The downtown            motion. He bears more than a passing          that roll along the horizon. When he
         is a mini fly shop, an assortment of gifts featuring potato-relat-    area is bursting with history, including the original toll bridge      resemblance to a young Gary Busey,            moved to Wyoming in the late 1970s
         ed humor and, most importantly, some of the best huckleberry          across the Snake, built when the town was called Taylor’s              and I half expect him to start reciting       to start a family and a new career, days
         milkshakes ever made. A lot of fishing guides take their clients      Crossing, back in the 1800s.                                           lines from Point Break or singing the         exactly like this were the overwhelm-
         there before float trips, and I can see why—to lull them into a
         false sense of security and calm with delicious huckleberries.
                                                                                                                                                              Fine black spots congregate on its light mahogany body,
            Warbirds café—Driggs, Idaho. Okay, so it’s a restaurant in
         the Teton Aviation Center, but this is a far cry from the T.G.I.                                                                                    starting at the dorsal fin, growing denser toward the tail.
         Friday’s in the Pittsburgh airport. It doesn’t get much better than                                                                             Its cheeks are flaked with burgundy and gold, as if it brushed up
         sipping a glass of Maker’s Mark, finishing a medium-rare steak                                                                                          against a wading King Midas somewhere upstream.
         with your dad and watching the sunset paint the Grand Teton
         subdued hues of pink and orange in the twilight. Just don’t for-
         get your credit card when you leave, like I did.                                                                                             refrain from Buddy Holly’s “Peggy             ing reason.                                  1/3 V AD
                                                                                                                                                      Sue.” Judging from the Marine tattoo             As we float, I somehow manage to
           Grand Teton National Park—Wyoming. A short drive over                                                                                      on his forearm and the tours of duty he       make a rather large knot in my leader
         Teton Pass into Wyoming, the Tetons are awe-inspiring and                                                                                    served in the Persian Gulf and Somalia,       for the second, or possibly even third,
                                                                                                                                                      however, I’m guessing that might be a         time. We pull the boat to the bank on
                                                                                                                                                      bit out of character.                         the inside of a large, sweeping bend
                                                                                                                                                         After a fruitless few minutes on the       and untangle my mess. Todd spots a
                                                                                                                                                      riffle, we get back in the boat and con-      few fish sipping flies in the slower
                                                                                                                                                      tinue downstream, pounding the banks          water, and within seconds of re-tying
                                                                                                                                                      with large terrestrial flies. This is where   my leader, I’ve got a stunning cutthroat
                                                                                                                                                      you can find fish in the South Fork any       bounding through the water at the end
                                                                                                                                                      time of day in the summer—just use            of my line.
                                                                                                                                                      any leggy, ugly foam monstrosity that            Todd hops out of the boat, splashes
                                                                                                                                                      halfway resembles a stonefly. Also,           toward the fish, and nets it swiftly. It’s
                                                                                                                                                      make sure to get it as close to the bank      not a monster, by any means, but it’s a
                                                                                                                                                      as possible, and unlike me, try to keep       healthy trout and plenty beautiful—
                                                                                                                                                      it out of the bushes.                         fine black spots congregate on its light
                                                                                                                                                         “Ninety percent of the anglers can         mahogany body, starting at the dorsal
                                                                                                                                                      hit a foot away from the bank,” Todd          fin, growing denser toward the tail. Its
                                                                                                                                                      says. “The guys that can hit within a         cheeks are flecked with burgundy and
                                                                                                                                                      few inches are the ones catching all the      gold, as if it brushed up against a wad-
                                                                                                                                                      fish. We actually try to bounce it off the    ing King Midas somewhere upstream.
                                                                                                                                                      bank.”                                           My dad admires the fish, using his
                                                                                                                                                         After he says this, I proceed to lose      customary congratulatory phrases such
                                                                                                                                                      two Chernobyl Ants on two casts on            as: “Alright!” “Nice fish!” and “Good
                                                                                                                                                      two different bushes.                         job, sport!” The cheerleading makes
                                                                                                                                                         “Don’t worry about losing flies,”          me smile, because if it were anyone else
                                                                                                                                                      Todd says as I’m muttering expletives         in the boat, I’d probably be hearing,
                                                                                                                                                      to no one in particular. “That means          “The one I caught last year was bigger,”
                                                                                                                                                      that you’re getting it close to the           “You got lucky,” or “You owe me $100.
                                                                                                                                                      bank.”                                        Watch your back, Van Vleet.”
         From huckleberry milkshakes to stuffed water buffaloes, expect the unexpected in the Swan Valley.                                               It also means I’m embarrassing                We release the fish and it swims

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                                                                                                                                                        away.”                                                                                         zero, Mike’s after-lunch goal shifts
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   TREVALLY POPPER
                                                                                                                                                           I reach down, grab the cookies,                                                             from helping him catch one to helping
                                                                                                                                                        shove them in my mouth, and then                      TIED BY THE AUTHOR                       him catch a big one. Fortunately, we
                                                                                                                                                        decide it’s time to fish, quietly telling   HOOK:     Long-shanked stainless popper            are in the perfect spot to do just that.
                                                                                                                                                        myself that I’ll hit the gym when I                   hook, such as Tiemco TMC                    Several yards away from our lunch
                                                                                                                                                                                                              911S. Sizes 1/0 to 4/0.
                                                                                                                                                        make it back to Seattle.                                                                       stop is an excellent riffle that holds a
                                                                                                                                                           Mike is a co-owner of World Cast         TAIL:     Super Hair 1.5 times the hook            few dozen fish. Every couple of sec-
                                                                                                                                                                                                              length, color to match popper head
                                                                                                                                                        Anglers and has fished all over the         FLASH:    Six strands of Flashabou Lateral Scale
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       onds, one nips the surface of the water,
                                                                                                                                                        planet. As we float, he tells me his next   COLLAR:   Two to three large, webby saddle
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       sending a small spout into the air,
                                                                                                                                                        adventure will be Africa to try and take              hackles of any color combination         almost like a tiny, whale. Camouflaged
                                                                                                                                                        on some tigerfish and maybe even a          POPPER HEAD:                                       by the broken surface, either the fish
                                                                                                                                                        Nile perch. He is tall, lanky, and has a              Straight foam with a cupped face.        feel safe in this small side channel—
                                                                                                                                                                                                              Add stick-on eyes and prism tape
                                                                                                                                                        swarming mess of hair that sticks out of              (optional), then coat with epoxy         and apparently don’t notice or care
                                                                                                                                                        his signature visor like a brown patch                                                         that we’re there—or they just can’t see
                                                                                                                                                        of monkey grass. He is as laid-back and                                                        us, which I can fully comprehend.
                                                                                                                                                        amiable as he is focused. Passionate                                                              Mike spots the alpha fish. It’s hold-
                                                                                                                                                        might be the best word to describe him.                                                        ing at the top of the riffle, pushing the
                                                                                                                                                           Earlier in the day, Mike set out on a                                                       smaller ones aside for the first crack at
                                                                                                                                                        personal quest to help my dad catch his                                                        the choice flies. A steady stream of yel-
                                                                                                                                                        first fish of the summer. We’d been in                                                         low sallies and pale morning duns are
                                                                                                                                                        Idaho for a few days already, and my                                                           floating through, despite a gentle
                                                                                                                                                        dad had yet to catch anything, a fact I                                                        breeze, giving the big one a lot to
                                                                                                                                                        spent most of the prior evening merci-                                                         choose from. Even with my bum peep-
                                                                                                                                                        lessly mocking.                             of clouds steamrolled across the hori-             ers, I can make out the size of the fish.
                                                                                                                                                           A pale morning dun hatch on a large      zon, blocking out the sun, and the fish            And it’s big.
                                                                                                                                                        riffle upstream helped break Dad’s          were feeding with reckless abandon on                 “Don,” Mike says to my dad, “start
                                                                                                                                                        slump and left me shaking my head in        the insects dotting the water.                     drifting your fly a few feet in from that
                                                                                                                                                        amazement—not because he finally              Some even fed on my flies, which                 log, okay?”
                                                                                                                                                        caught something, but because the flies     was a nice change of pace.                            My dad casts and drifts. Casts and
                                                                                                                                                        were literally everywhere. A dark front       So with my dad’s tally officially off of         drifts. Casts and drifts.

         Trout congregate near gravel bars, where the broken surface provides cover.

         away in a flash—a splendid way to ease                                                                      Elves: Magical or Evil?
         into the trip.                                                GRANT ’ S BILLFISH FLY
                                                                                                               “Want some cookies?” asks our
            Floating the remainder of this peace-                     TIED BY HILL’S DISCOUNT FLIES         guide, Mike Dawes, as we’re parked for
         ful upper section, I manage to boat a              HOOK:     Stainless or chemically-sharpened     lunch the next afternoon in a side
         few more fish—all cutthroats—and                             saltwater streamer hook, such as      channel just upstream of the canyon
         only hook Todd four or five times.                           Tiemco TMC 811S or Owner Aki.
                                                                      Sizes 2/0 to 6/0. Single or tandem.   section of the river.
         Even though my lost-fly-to-fish ratio is                                                              “Those aren’t just cookies,” I say
                                                            TAIL:     Six to eight white saddle hackles
         hovering somewhere around three-to-                                                                quickly, looking down at the unmistak-
         one, it’s difficult to be frustrated on a          COLLAR: White bucktail                                                                                                                                  1/2 H AD
                                                            WING:     Pearlescent saltwater Flashabou,      able elfin-shaped morsels. “Those are
         day like this. That would require levels                     White Super Hair, Silver Krystal      E.L. Fudges.”
         of cynicism and pessimism I haven’t yet                      Flash, Gold Krystal Flash                “I’ve never had one,” he replies.
         reached. But I’m young, I have time                OVERWING: Peacock herl                          “I’ve heard they’re good, though.”
         and we all have to have goals.                     CHEEK:    Gold Holographic Flash                   Looking down at my not-so-flatter-
            Toward the end of the float, I nab a            HEAD:     Epoxy base coated with gold and       ing waistline, I wade through my
         small trout along the bank with a                            silver glitter
                                                                                                            shame long enough to tell Mike that I
         stonefly pattern. In an amazing display            EYES:     Stick-on prismatic eyes. Coat with
                                                                                                            used to eat entire packages of them in
         of hook-set incompetence and over-                           epoxy.
                                                                                                            one sitting in college. Those evil little
         compensation, I actually yank the fish                                                             delicacies helped me grow out of
         out of the water, hurling it through the                                                           countless pairs of shorts and ended at
         air at my dad, nearly hitting him in the                                                           least one friendship in the process.
         face.                                                                                                 “There are only two left,” he says
            Sadly, that is the closest he comes to                                                          with a smirk. “I know you want ’em. I
         catching anything all day.                                                                         don’t want to have to throw them

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         ta c k l e t i p s

                                                                                                                                                        It’s silent.                              just happened, and—like a group of           of ridiculous rainbows and a wide
                                                                                                                                                        The three of us are in stalking mode.     guys that inexplicably watched an            selection of tasteless jokes mix by the
              S O U T H F O R K S T R AT E G I E S                                Techniques: It’s pretty much as simple as this: if there is a      Think primal hunter-gatherer stalking,       episode of The Gilmore Girls togeth-         fireside in a heated, exuberant conver-
                                                                               mayfly hatch, find the nearest gravel bar and work the riffles.       not spying on your ex-girlfriend stalk-      er—we ignore it, try to pretend it never     sation.
            The main branch of Snake River originates in Yellowstone
                                                                               Grab an extended body PMD, tie on a yellow sally dropper, and         ing.                                         happened and do our best to move on.            “This is the best summer we’ve had
         National Park, flowing through northwestern Wyoming before
                                                                               cast away. Drift the flies as slowly and as drag-free as possible        And then, the line goes tight. The fly                                                 here in years,” Mike says. “It was unbe-
         dumping into the Palisades Reservoir in southeastern Idaho.
                                                                               through the broken surfaces of the riffles, and watch for subtle      is gone. A hefty rainbow porpoises                      Before the Sunrise                lievable out there today.”
         Once the water pours out of the Palisades Dam, the river is
                                                                               surface takes. The fish will be feeding leisurely during the hatch-   from the riffle and takes off down-            The fire crackles and glows, painting         The banter goes on until two of the
         known as the South Fork until it joins the Henry’s Fork some 60
                                                                               es, so don’t yank the fly away from them during the hook set.         stream like a cop in a high-speed chase.     weary faces and cans of Budweiser var-       other guests break out their infamous
         miles away.
                                                                               They will be sipping flies in a rhythmic pattern, and often in                                                     ious shades of orange, red and yellow.       college party trick. Tim and George,
            With anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 fish per mile, the
                                                                               extremely shallow water, so be sure not to stand where the fish          “Did you see those shoulders?” Mike       Chords from an Elton John classic float      two recent Princeton graduates, tell us
         South Fork has no shortage of available targets. It’s widely
                                                                               are feeding, either.                                                  yells. “Nice fish.”                          into the arid night sky, muffled and         that they can read each other’s minds.
         known as one of the best dry-fly fisheries in the country, and cer-
                                                                                  Conversely, if there aren’t any mayflies hatching, pound the          He pulls up the anchor and we drift       dampened by the immensity of the             It’s a game they like to call “Snaps.”
         tainly one of the best places anywhere to catch wild cutthroats.
                                                                               banks with terrestrials. In this case, the closer to the bank, the    down the channel as my dad struggles         canyon walls and thick canopy of trees          George runs off into the woods with
         But, knowing the fish are there and actually catching them are
                                                                               better—and don’t worry about keeping it completely drag-free.         with the fish. Coming from the hills of      surrounding the campsite.                    a witness to make sure he can’t hear
         two separate things completely.
                                                                               Try to land the fly within inches of the bank, not feet, and then     east Tennessee and not having much             “I’m not the man they think I am at        our discussion. Tim asks the rest of us
            Here are some strategies to keep in mind when fishing the
                                                                               twitch it out, imitating a struggling stonefly. The trout hug the     experience playing large trout with a        home,” sings the camp cook, Tim.             to come up with a celebrity name, and
         South Fork.
                                                                               slower water against the banks, shielding themselves from the         fly rod, my dad is a bit overmatched.        “Oh, no, no, no—I’m a rocket man.”           through his telekinetic powers, he says
                                                                               stronger current, and will pound anything that looks like food        It’s not exactly like watching one of          His voice trails off into the stars like   he will relay it to George once he
            Rods: Nine-foot 5-weights are the norm here. Long, stiff, fast-
                                                                               drifting by overhead. These strikes are a bit more forceful, and      your buddies hit on the most attractive      a melodic, plaintive coyote call.            returns.
         action rods are the best, to combat wind and help with mend-
                                                                               don’t require as much finesse to set the hook.                        girl at the bar knowing full well it’s         With the New York strips, glasses of          We decide on Britney Spears. The
         ing. Long casts aren’t necessary, but powerful and accurate ones
         are—sloppy casts will simply crumble in the wind. I fished my                                                                               going to end with a slap in the face or      Merlot, slices of salami and chunks of       pre-overweight and non-bald version,
                                                                                  Guides: There are several guide services running float trips on    a drink down the pants, but it’s close.      cheddar completely consumed, a               of course.
         old Diamondback eight-and-a-half-foot 4-weight for most of the
                                                                               the South Fork, such as Heise Expeditions and Reel Women                 “Keep it out of the deep water,” Mike     makeshift streamside jam session                George returns and Tim begins.
         trip, with decent results; it was for sentimental reasons, though,
                                                                               Adventures, but two of the best are the South Fork Outfitters         says. “Try to turn its head into the cur-    breaks out, with the guitar being               “The name of the game is not
         not intelligent ones. Bring a 5-weight.
                                                                               and WorldCast Anglers. South Fork Outfitters is run by Shaun          rent.”                                       passed around like a bottle of rum on        Snaps,” he says. “Ready? Begin.”
                                                                               Lawson, the son of Mike Lawson, and he knows the river as well
            Flies: At any given time during the summer, there are several
                                                                               as his dad knows the Henry’s Fork. WorldCast has an impressive
         hatches going on simultaneously. Along with the legendary                                                                                   The three of us are in stalking mode. Think primal hunter-gatherer stalking, not spying on your ex-girlfriend
                                                                               array of personable guides that can entertain as easily as they
         salmonfly hatch in July, there are golden stoneflies, caddisflies,
         yellow sallies and pale morning duns hatching from June
                                                                               inform. Both come highly recommended.                                                    with binoculars from a tree across the street from her house stalking.
         through September. Throw in some grasshoppers, ants and beetles,
         and there really aren’t many patterns that won’t produce. Fill up                                                                              The fish is massive. It is long, broad    board the Queen Anne’s Revenge.                 He starts waving his hands back and
         the fly box with orange and yellow Stimulators, extended body                                                                               and strong—and it’s giving my dad all           We’re camped in the heart of the          forth over his lap.
         PMDs, Chernobyl Ants and anything else ugly, leggy and big.                                                                                 he can handle. It makes the 18-inch          canyon section of the river, a 12-mile          “So are you ready yet?” he asks.
                                                                                                                                                     rainbow I caught earlier in the day look     stretch of water teeming with wild           “Please tell me when you’re ready.”
                                                                                                                                                     like a soggy goldfish cracker.               trout and no road access. It’s a nice           Then he snaps two times. Then
                                                                                                                                                        Diving into the deep part of the cur-     touch of wilderness and easily the best      snaps again once.
                                                                                                                                                     rent and doing its best imitation of a       way to experience the duality of the            “Ready yet? So now are you ready?”
                                                                                                                                                     rock, the fish is basically toying with      South Fork. From the towering rock              George shuts his eyes and rubs his
                                                                                                                                                     my dad. Being the intrepid angler he is,     walls and miles of cottonwood bottoms        temples.
                                                                                                                                                     Mike wants to try something.                 to the surging current and absolute             “Britney Spears,” he answers, to a
                                                                                                                                                        “Point your rod tip down at the fish,     darkness, the canyon is beautiful and        chorus of shocked mumbles.
                                                                                                                                                     keep the line tight and slowly pull,” he     humbling, picturesque and rugged.               They take a few more turns, correct-
                                                                                                                                                     says. “That takes away all the give of          World Cast’s overnight spot, dubbed       ly relaying the names of such luminar-
                                                                                                                                                     the fly rod and puts all the pressure on     the “South Fork Hilton,” has large,          ies as Andy Dick and Michael Jordan.
                                                                                                                                                     the mouth of the fish. He’ll move, if        canvas-walled tents and surprisingly         Halfway through their display, I figure
                                                                                                                                                     the line doesn’t break.”                     soft cots—just enough luxury to make         out the ruse and even correctly read
                                                                                                                                                        My dad does just that, and—just as        you realize how uncomfortable you            George’s mind a time or two myself.
                                                                                                                                                     Mike predicted—the fish moves. It            would be if you were spending the               I’m the only one of the group that
                                                                                                                                                     darts upstream into shallower water,         night tossing and turning on the rocky       deciphers their code, which makes me
                                                                                                                                                     shaking its head along the way. At this      floor of your own tent. Of course, being     feel a lot better about having lost so
                                                                                                                                                     point, I’m starting to think we might        able to ice down our beer in the cold        many fish during the day, but which
                                                                                                                                                     actually have a chance to land it.           spring creek that runs right through         also makes me wonder if I’m wasting
                                                                                                                                                        And then—tink—the tippet snaps.           the camp helps, too.                         my life as a writer. Maybe I should join
                                                                                                                                                        “What happened?” my dad asks with            As is the custom, when a group of         a carnival. Or the National Security
                                                                                                                                                     a nervous laugh.                             anglers, some beer and a roaring camp-       Agency.
                                                                                                                                                        Mike’s head drops.                        fire mix, two things typically happen:          After a few more rounds of Snaps,
                                                                                                                                                        I feel like I want to cry. Or throw-up.   Fishing stories are swapped and dirty        Mike is incredulous. Angry, even. He
                                                                                                                                                     Maybe both.                                  jokes are told.                              can’t figure it out and knows he’s get-
                                                                                                                                                        “That was a big fish,” Mike says sto-        Tonight is no exception.                  ting fleeced. He cries foul, citing witch-
                                                                                                                                                     ically. “A big fish.”                           Heroic yarns about tail-walking           craft and denouncing Ivy League edu-
         Ugly, leggy flies work wonders when tempting mid-summer trout. Watch out for curious moose as well.                                            We all know the magnitude of what         browns (told by yours truly), epic tales     cations. Spouting out a stream of four-

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                                                                                                                                                        the interesting thing is that there isn’t
                                                                                                                                                        one overwhelming and universal rea-
                                                                                                                                                        son why. Each of them points out a dif-
                                                                                                                                                        ferent facet of the river, describing a
                                                                                                                                                        different thread within the tapestry
                                                                                                                                                        that makes up the South Fork of the
                                                                                                                                                           It’s not just the monumental hatch-
                                                                                                                                                        es; it’s not just the abundance of wild
                                                                                                                                                        trout; and it’s not just the unbelievably
                                                                                                                                                        striking scenery.
                                                                                                                                                           It’s all of that, blended together in
                                                                                                                                                        one marvelous package.
                                                                                                                                                           Of all the answers and responses
                                                                                                                                                        they give, one sticks out the most. One
                                                                                                                                                        resonates a bit longer and a bit deeper       1/3 SQ AD
                                                                                                                                                        than the rest. Dan Oas, despite being a
                                                                                                                                                        little hung over from the previous
                                                                                                                                                        night, provides a fitting commentary as
                                                                                                                                                        to why he comes back again and again.
                                                                                                                                                           “The thing I love about the South
                                                                                                                                                        Fork,” he says, “is that it really captures
                                                                                                                                                        the spirit of the sport.”
                                                                                                                                                           I couldn’t have said it better myself.
                                                                                                                                                           Now, to do something about this
                                                                                                                                                        newfound fear of snakes.

                                                                                                                                                        Assistant Editor John Van Vleet would
                                                                                                                                                        like the confusion regarding his name to
                                                                                                                                                        end. He is, in fact, not the John Van Vleet
                                                                                                                                                        that used to work for Gander Mountain.
                                                                                                                                                        While a duel to the death isn’t entirely
                                                                                                                                                        out of the question, our John Van Vleet
                                                                                                                                                        would like to be known from here on out
                                                                                                                                                        as “the cute one.”

         Don’t feel guilty about taking rainbows home—it is encouraged by Idaho Fish and Game.

         letter words over a roar of laughter, he                      GRANT ’ S BILLFISH FLY               pulling trout out of a Utah river, hold-
         says the game is over for good.                                                                    ing his own in a fly fishing competition.
            With that, the day is complete.                           TIED BY HILL’S DISCOUNT FLIES            The next morning, over bacon and
            As for how to figure out the game of            HOOK:     Stainless or chemically-sharpened     eggs, I talk to the three guides as the
         Snaps, I’ve already told you too much.                       saltwater streamer hook, such as      campfire’s extinguished ashes swirl
                                                                      Tiemco TMC 811S or Owner Aki.
         Don’t be surprised if I end up “disap-                       Sizes 2/0 to 6/0. Single or tandem.   through the air like dirty snowflakes. I
         pearing” in the Alaskan wilderness                 TAIL:     Six to eight white saddle hackles     listen to their intelligent and lyrical
         someday soon like Timothy Treadwell.               COLLAR: White bucktail                          responses as I ask each of them what
         Those Princeton boys have connec-                  WING:     Pearlescent saltwater Flashabou,      the South Fork means to them, why                                                         1/3 SQ AD
         tions that run deep.                                         White Super Hair, Silver Krystal      they choose to guide here.
                                                                      Flash, Gold Krystal Flash                The answers range from the
                   The Spirit of the Sport                  OVERWING: Peacock herl                          unflinching beauty of the Swan Valley
            Dan Oas and Chas Marsh are                      CHEEK:    Gold Holographic Flash                area to the unparalleled dry-fly fishing
         accomplished guides, to say the least.             HEAD:     Epoxy base coated with gold and       within the region. They talk about the
                                                                      silver glitter
         They are two of the first Americans to                                                             proximity to Yellowstone and the
                                                            EYES:     Stick-on prismatic eyes. Coat with
         ever guide the Seychelles, and they                          epoxy.                                Grand Tetons as well as the endlessly
         have fished all over the world, in fresh                                                           changing face of the river itself.
         water and salt.                                                                                       “You can fish it every day and never
            Mike Dawes guides in Patagonia in                                                               fish the same river twice” they say.
         the winters and grew up in a legendary                                                                These guys could guide any river in
         fly-fishing family, catching his first                                                             the world, they could spend their sum-
         trout on the fly when he was only five.                                                            mers anywhere they please, and they
         Google him and you’ll find a clip of him                                                           choose to fish right here in Idaho. But

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