September 27, 2013

The Magruder Road

The Magruder Road is a 100 mile dirt road that slices between the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness to the north, and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness to the south. It is the only such road in the country that allows you access deep into designated wilderness by vehicle. I was especially excited about this trip because of the possibility of catching my first bull trout.
I made the five hour drive to Boise to pick up my brother, and from there we made our way another four hours to our first camp site. Along the way, we made our way through the mountain passes following the Payette and Salmon Rivers. We made a few stops along the way to see some of what Idaho has to offer including a full Mammoth in it's own protective house in Grangeville. they found a bunch of mammoths in the valley several years ago, around Tolo Lake. As we made our way up the canyon to start the Maguder road, we past a few fish traps on the way set by Idaho fish and game. One was to catch adults heading up river, the the others were to catch the smolt heading down river.
Mammoth in Grangeville.
Chinook salmon fish trap along the Red River.

one of several spruce grouse we saw on the trip.
As we headed across the Maguder road, I was expecting a rough bumpy ride, but the road was in great shape. Except for the roads leading to some of the lookout points, a car would be able to make this trip. We reached our first campsite at Poet Creek Campground with enough time to setup with daylight to spare. That night as we sat around the campfire, we talked about how neat it would be to hear wolves howling since we had not experienced this before. Well, the next morning, we awoke to the sound of a wolf's howl cutting through the still morning air. Hearing that made the trip, and it was only the first morning.

We packed up and continued on, hitting the Burnt Knob Lookout Station along the way. You definitely four wheel drive to get to it, unless you want to hike. The views at the top were spectacular, and worth the stop.

setting up at Poet Creek campground.

looking over the map for tomorrows journey.
We ate better on this trip. I like truck camping.
low hanging clouds rolling over the landscape.

Looking toward Burnt Knob Lookout.

Burnt Knob Lookout Station.

A view from the lookout.

How the Maguder Road got it's name.

Great views at Observation Point.
We made it to the 12 mile Paradise Campground turnoff that heads down the Selway. We quickly set camp and made our way down the river to get some fishing in. The Selway is easily one of the best rivers we have fished. Jason was casting dry's, and had a hookup on his third cast. The fish gave him a great fight, but Jason was able to get him to the net. He caught cutthroat after cutthroat with the biggest ones going 16 inches. We also landed a few rainbow trout, and some steelhead smolt.
I chose to use a rapala with pinched barbs to get deep in the hopes of getting a bull trout. I didn't have to wait long, because my second fish landed was the first of seven bull trout I landed on the trip. They have such a different build than other trout I've caught. they almost feel rectangular, like a northern pike.  We fished for the next several hours, and as we were ready to go, I felt I needed one more cast at a hole that a fish broke me off earlier that day. A few casts later, I had a big hit, and a fish that did not want to come in. It gave a valiant fight, but as I got him to the net I noticed something that shocked me. The 17 inch bull trout I just landed had the rapala that had broke off on the other side of his mouth! I got my lure back and a fishing story I'll tell for years to come.

A new river, and wilderness for Jason and I.

Above: Fish on!  Below: First fish landed on the trip.

16 inch westslope beauty.

A look at the upper Selway.

My biggest bull trout of the trip at 17 inches.

We fished a few miles down the trail the following day with similar results. Jason broke his fly rod, but was able to use mine the rest of the trip. We were two weeks late on getting the see the king salmon run this river. We were told by a fish and game officer that there is a spot 7 miles down the trail where a bunch of bears congregate to feast on salmon. We plan on making the trip back up to see this in the next few years.
Along the trail, there was bear sign everywhere. From bear scat, to broken branches on the berry bushes and smashed grass where the bears had sat to eat berries. It's surprising that we didn't see one on this trip.
An elk antler we found along the river.
Caddis fly casings on the antler.
The powerful water made for some interesting rock formations along the river.

The unique look of the bull trout.
We made our way through the rest of the Maguder Road, stopping only to see the Deep Creek Stone Bridge built in the 1930's by the C.C.C boys (Civilian Conservation Corp.) and the Maguder Ranger Station. Once we made it to pavement, we sped our way through Montana, and back into Idaho to get some fishing in on the Lochsa River. We stopped Devoto Memorial Grove which is a grove of towering Western Red Cedars, and then continued on looking for fishing holes along the Lochsa.  We caught several Cutthroat, but it just didn't compare to the Selway.
The Deep Creek Stone Bridge.

Western red cedars in DeVoto Memorial Grove near the Lochsa River.

A nice cutthroat out of the Lochsa.

Jason working the riffles in the Lachsa.

We finally made it to the Lower Selway, where we mad camp for the final night. The lower Selway was much larger, with really deep holes. It would have been great if the salmon were running, but it wasn't the king of water we like to fish. I managed a few cutthroat, but we decided to head out and get home earlier the next morning. We stopped along the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River to make a few casts, but the abundant blackberry patches that lines the river took us away from fishing. These wild berries tasted so good!

We stopped in McCall for a burger before making it back to Boise. Overall, this was awesome! If you were to do it, I would focus on staying more days fishing the Upper Selway. I don;t know of a more remote place to can get to and not have to hike. I'm looking forward to our return trip to this special place in Idaho.
Bridge crossing the lower Selway.

Last night of the trip.
Making a few casts on the lower Selway.

Now this is how you cross a river...

Blackberry bushes lined the bank of the middle fork of the Clearwater. They took me away from fishing.

September 22, 2013

Seeing Red

Attending Kokanee Day has become somewhat of a tradition over the past few years. We look at it as a way to welcome the changing colors and temperatures of the fall season. Seeing these fish make the transformation from being a silver bullet, to the bulky red brute controlling the river never seems to get old. In just a few short weeks, they spawn, and die, completing their life cycle. Not only do you get to learn about the fish, but there is also fishing games for the kids. Smokey the Bear also makes an appearance which also seems to be a kid favorite.
A great way to know fall has arrived is to see the beautiful kokanee salmon.
A future fisherman in training.
We enjoyed seeing the fish in the river and at the fish trap, where fish biologists answered any questions that were asked about the fish. They catch the fish in the trap to collect eggs. They are able to get better numbers by doing it this way, although their are a lot of fish that still spawn naturally.
Kokanee in the fish trap waiting to be "milked".
The little ones seem to be just as impressed as the adults.
I also asked where one might go to have a good shot at catching some of these beasts of the river, to which they gave me all the information I needed. They told me that kokanee no longer eat once they begin the spawn, so you have to use something that will trigger a strike out of aggression.

With that in mind, I headed to one of the spots the biologist mentioned, and found that their were a good group of them in this location. I used something that I thought would get their attention, and in short order it did. They still had a lot of fight in them, and I landed several nice kokanee, including a new person best that measured 20 inches. My wife took a quick picture, and all the fish were returned to the lake to continue their journey. 

A few nice hens...

The hens keep the shape they had before they spawn, but the males grow a big hump and their jaws curl in. They are also equipped with a nice set of teeth to battle other fish when they find a good spot to spawn in the river.
and a few nice males...

Kokanee Day is a great way to see these fish. It is also a fun way to teach kids about these interesting fish, and get them involved in the outdoors. You have about another two weeks to see them this year before they are gone, so get out and enjoy them while you can.

September 12, 2013

Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Part 2

Now for part two of the Beartooth Wilderness trip. On the way to Dewey Lake , we passed several streams. We stopped to rest at one, and Shawn decided to try some fishing. Before I had even sat down to rest, he had a fish on. There was a log jam between him and the fish, so I went and helped land it. It was one of the bigger cutts landed to this point.
Once we made it to Dewey Lake, we set up camp and had some dinner. The views at this lake were my favorite of the trip! Pictures don't do this place justice. There were some overlooks that were just spectacular. The fishing a Dewey is also great. There was not much size to them unless you hiked to the inlet, but they would take flies and spinners frequently. What was interesting with the cutthroat in this lake is the blue tint they had. I've never seen cutts that had this, but as you reeled them in, they would look turquoise in the water.
Shawn With a nice cutthroat from the stream.

What a relief to get the packs off and relax.

It's tough to beat the beauty of the Beartooths.

Braden with a little cutthroat from Dewey Lake.
The next day our group split up. Shawn and Robert decided to go hit the streams, while Jason, Braden and I did a day hike to Cairn Lake to try our hand at catching some of the big brook trout that are said to reside there. We followed a stream that led the way and caught small cutthroat along the way. We eventually came to a pool fed by a waterfall, where we were greeted by three playful river otters. It was so neat to watch them swim around and dunk each other in the water. We were all very surprised to see them this high up on the mountain.

Fishing the stream on the way to Cairn lake.
Three River Otters having a good time.
We soon had to make steep climbs up and down several passes to get to Cairn. What turned into a what we thought was a small hike, turned into an energy draining ordeal. We passed a few smaller lakes along the way, and the views made the hike worth the effort. We eventually made it to Cairn, sitting at over 10,000 feet. The guide books said that the brook trout in this lake were hard to catch, but that they were footballs. Both turned out to be true. 
I figured the fish would be deep, so I pulled out a Rapala and went to work.  My first cast, I hooked into a fish that really hit hard and felt heavy, but after a few seconds, it was gone. I made several casts trying to find them again, and after a few minutes, I had two good sized brookies follow my Rapala in, and I got to watch  one of them hammer my lure. I seriously wish I would have had it on film, because it was awesome to see. I battled the fish, and soon had him at the bank. It was the biggest we would land at this Lake. This fish had nice girth to it, and reminded me a lot of the brook trout in the Boulder Mountains of Utah. Jason snapped a picture, and the fish was released. Everything we caught after that was 10 inches or less. We couldn't find any big ones the rest of the day. after several hours, we decided to head back to camp and relax the rest of the day.
One of the lakes on the way to Cairn lake.

A 14 inch football from Cairn lake at over 10,000 feet.

Jason picked off several brook trout on dries.
When we arrived back at camp, the sun was out, and the three of us smelled like a turtle cage! With that, we decided to take a dip in the lake to wash off. Being a glacier fed lake, you can imagine how cold the water turned out to be. I'm not a fan of cold waterto begin with, so it took me several minutes to build up the courage to jump in. It only made it worse seeing Jason jump in and come up with a look of shock on his face and having trouble breathing. I soon found out for myself. The second I hit the water, My body tightened up, and it took me a minute to catch my breathe. It was ice water! We both dried off as fast as we could, and feeling came back after a minute or two. When Shawn and Robert came back, they said they caught over 60 fish, with the biggest going 16 inches. All of them were cutthroat.
Jason was brave and jumped in first.

Very cold, but so worth it once I was clean and could feel my body again.

Robert working the stream for good sized cutthroat.

Shawn with a beautiful cutt from the stream.
We got up early so we could make it to our final campsite and set up. It was only a few miles, But for some reason, my ankle decided it was done helping me out. By the time we made it to came, I could hardly walk. While the guys went to fish Lake of the Clouds, I set up shop on Robert's hammock, to rest my ankle, and take a nap. I eventually hobbled down and caught a few small brook trout from Ouzel Lake while I waited for everyone to get back. They arrived back with good sized cutthroat to eat, and pictures of some awesome views. The fish really hit the spot for dinner.

The next morning we packed up and hiked the seven miles back to the truck. We hike past a few lakes, but all of us were ready to get back home so we didn't fish them. I would say this hike is near the top of my list for hikes I've done. The Beartooth Wilderness treated us with nice weather and great fishing, and if this place isn't on your list of places to visit, it should be.

Heading to our final camping sop by Bald Knob Lake.
Camp is set, and ready.

Bear proofing our food.

A view from Lake of the Clouds.

Natures infinity pool.

A view of Bald Knob and Ouzel Lakes from lake of the Clouds.
Almost back to the trail head after a successful hike.