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“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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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
44 F I S H & F LY
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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,
46 F I S H & F LY SEASON OPENER 2007 47
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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
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
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
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-
52 F I S H & F LY SEASON OPENER 2007 53
42-55 Snake Handling 5/8/07 8:48 AM Page 54
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
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
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
54 F I S H & F LY SEASON OPENER 2007 55