Cutthroat Trout in Idaho’s Panhandle

Having friends in fishy places is a nice luxury. Last year, we visited our friend Will in Jackson, WY; my cousin Andrew in Tampa, FL; and our friend Conner in Seattle, WA. These connections give a good excuse to hop in the truck or board a plane and head somewhere different to fish new water.

This past May, I flew into Spokane, Washington where my buddy Conner, and two of his buddies from Seattle, Kyle and Kory, picked me up. I landed at 8:00pm local time and the 3 of them immediately picked me up in Conner’s truck, which was filled with fishing and camping gear as well as mountain bikes that would serve as our mode of transportation. Just like that I went from my desk in St. Paul to Conner’s truck heading 90 miles east into the Idaho wilderness.

After a short night of sleep on night one, we drove to our drop-in location, loaded our bikes and packs with all the food and gear we would need for the following 3 days, and started the 7-mile bike to the spot we planned to camp.

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The bike was tough but beautiful!

 

Day one was sort-of a grind. It rained on and off all day, not allowing for us or our stuff to ever truly dry out and prevented us from having a campfire; however, the few hours of fishing we had were somewhat productive. I caught a nice cutthroat almost immediately on a small streamer I had tied, but after that, we really had to grind for the handful of fish that we caught. On top of the weather not cooperating, the bike ride in kicked my butt. I pride myself on being a pretty fit guy but this was a different type of workout and skill than I was used too. Thankfully the mountain bike fanatics I was trekking in with were patient with my slower pace.

 

It’s always good to get the toughest day out of the way on day one and that’s exactly what happened. On day two, we packed up camp and heading back towards our drop-in location, choosing to set up camp at a spot right alongside the river. The constant sound of running water made up for the mosquitoes that swarmed the area. Conner, Kory and I fished that evening for about 4 hours and caught a handful of nice fish out of some awesome looking pools. One specific pool had people camping near it that told us as we approached, “we fished this all day and didn’t catch anything… there is nothing in there.” Naturally, we took that as a challenge and Conner ended up catching, at the time, the largest fish of the trip.

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this is the hole that supposedly held no fish…
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this was the super nice fish Conner caught out of it…

Thankfully the mosquitoes all but disappeared that night and we could enjoy a great campfire while we cooked our MREs using a Jetboil and clean river water.

While packing up camp the morning of day 3, we say a cow moose and a calf walk down to the river maybe 75 yards from our camp. I couldn’t get a picture, but it was very cool to see.

 

We biked back to our drop-in spot and fished a few smaller streams in the area. These small streams happened to hold the biggest fish we caught on the trip. It all started at a spot where Conner suggested I toss a small dry through a run he had success on in the past. No more than five casts in, I saw my fly get gently “slurped” off the water’s surface and I set into what is probably the most beautiful trout I have ever caught. Kory had to sprint back to the truck to grab the net, but thankfully Conner helped me land it after a nice fight.

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One of the most beautiful fish I have caught. It took a tiny little dry fly.

Not long after I caught that gem of a trout, Kory and I assisted Kyle in catching his first ever fish on the fly rod and a nice cutty to boot! It was super fun to watch the excitement on his face as he fought and landed his first trout.

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Kyle with his first every fish on a fly rod!

On the evening of day three, we headed to another small stream that Conner had fished in the past. After some bush-whacking, we started fishing some very nice looking runs and the views surrounding us were spectacular. The fishing was tough for the first hour or so, but as dusk approached, the fish seemed to turn on. We had fish dialed in on both dry flies and nymphs and they were ready and willing to eat. In a span of about 30 minutes, our group landed three fish that were at least 17” and multiple others in the 12”- 14” class. As fate would have it, Conner caught the best fish of the trip at the very end of the day. A true trophy mountain cutthroat trout and on a dry fly even. It was one of those fish that I was nervous to net, but was stoked to assist. It was a fitting way to end the final night of our trip.

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Conner and Kory fishing a solid pool under a mountain-cast shadow

 

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Last fish of the trip and best fish of the trip!

Day 4 we fished some spots on the way out and grabbed a BBQ lunch at a local joint where the wilderness started to meet civilization. It felt good to sit down and eat a hot meal and giant plate of tots. At the same time, my phone started buzzing and I was reminded that life went on even while I was completely tuned out for nearly 4 days. The funny thing was, I hadn’t worried about anything while I was out besides making sure we had a place to camp and that my drifts didn’t have any drag. Snap back to reality, but reality isn’t so bad when you can escape it occasionally—it really is therapeutic.

 

As I boarded the plane back to MSP, I scrolled through the pictures I had taken on my camera and replayed yet another awesome trip. Getting outdoors, exploring new areas and meeting new people has always been something I’ve enjoyed and this trip was right up there with the best of them. I look forward to spending time outdoors with these guys again someday. I’d be happy to re-visit the panhandle of Idaho, but who knows, maybe we will find ourselves in some other awesome spot chasing something with fins using feathers.

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The lads

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