Monday, July 26, 2010

Linda's Lower Salmon Birthday Trip

Just the Facts Mam!

Let's start this post with a few stats that might only interest a few of you.

Day 1 - Hammer Creek put-in to a camp just above Killer Goat Beach somewhere Wickiup. Water level 9600 and dropping. (I goofed up the GPS so all my readings were based on the drive down. There is no way we went 67 miles per hour on this stretch!) Weather, clear with winds up to 70 mph. (I am not kidding, more to come on this.)

Day 2 - Wickiup to the hidden beach, river right, below Cottonwood Creek. Maximum speed -12.3 mph, average speed - 4.5 mph, time on the water - 3:49, total miles -17.2 and we stayed at an elevation of 1081 feet above sea level. (GPS was working and doing well.)

Day 3 - Hidden beach to small beach between Sluice Box and Checkerboard. Maximum speed -13.7 mph, average speed - 4.1 mph, time on the water - 3:13, total miles -13.3 and we stayed at an elevation of 977 feet above sea level.

Day 4 - Small beach between Sluice Box and Checkerboard to about river mile 61 (one mile above Geneva Bar.) . Maximum speed -18.2 mph, average speed - 4.4 mph, time on the water - 2:06, total miles - 9.3 and we stayed at an elevation of 917 feet above sea level.

Day 5 - River mile 61 to Heller Bar. We left the beach at exactly 6:10 am (we were shooting for 6 am, not bad.) and arrived a 9:22 am. Maximum speed -11.6 mph, average speed - 5.1 mph, time on the water - 2:22, total miles - 12.1 and we stayed at an elevation of 861 feet above sea level. Discharge, cubic feet per second the most recent instantaneous value: 8,100 07-26-2010 14:45 PDT.

Now for some photos and the trip report!

Hammered down to Wickiup.

Every year for the past twelve years Linda and I have been on a river somewhere celebrating Linda’s Birthday. It started on the Grand Canyon where Garth Brooks serenaded Linda while a host of Wassmuth’s gathered round. This year we solo-ed the Lower Salmon River so that we could keep the tradition going. We have been traveling and entertaining so much the past month that we needed to get away by ourselves and do a little river time.

We left Coeur d’Alene early on Thursday morning and drove down to Whitebird where we dropped off the keys to the truck for the shuttle. Within the hour we were backing the boat in at Hammer Creek launch with an army of other boaters. We know from past experiences that if you are solo, it really does not matter how many groups are on the water, you can always find a good private beach each night.

Our goal was to have no real goals! We were floating and that was all that mattered. So off we went down the Salmon, clear blue skies and cold green water. The past weeks started melting away as I started getting my river senses back. About six miles into the trip we were cruising on down river breezes when there was a noticeable change, our breezes picked up and changed directions, all in about a mile. The wind blew and I rowed.

We made it down to Pine Bar and it started blowing harder. You are probably not familiar with the stretch of water about two and a half miles below Pine Bar, but there is a rapid that sweeps along a rock face located on river left. Just below it is a large eddy that creates a sand beach. We entered this rapid and the wind was howling. It was blowing so hard that we could not get down the river. You are not going to believe this but it actually stopped our boat and blew us up rapid into the big eddy on river right. It was the strangest thing; our boat stopped and then surfed up river and into the slow moving water. I eased up on the oars and we drifted back up and I reentered the rapid after we let the wind die down a bit. When a gust eased up I gave it hell and got past the rapid and the eddy below.

The two groups that were below us had pulled off the river and were setting up camp in the wind and the blowing sand. Our thoughts were to keep going and hope that it died down; we didn’t want to sit on a beach and get our skin sandblasted off.

We made it down to just above Killer Goat Beach and made our first camp. The wind died and we had a wonderful meal of Linda’s Taco Salad. The sun set and we had a feeling that the rest of the trip would be great!

Birthday Runs and Fun!

Friday morning brought a beautiful day. We ate breakfast and packed the boat. The stretch of water on this day was filled with the two biggest rapids and Linda is always glad when we are back in camp that day. As we drifted down river we watched to see how many groups we passed. Most groups had gotten an earlier start that we did, so we could see their tracks on the beaches but nothing to tell us anything about the groups. We spotted something on the beach just below Killer Goat and I pulled into the eddy to check it out. There on the sand was a net bag with about five water bottles in it. RIVER BOOTY! We gathered it up and bounced on down knowing that we would probably pass the owner sometime around lunch, as the groups that left early would probably stop earlier that us for their break.

We cruised down to White House Bar and met a group eating lunch. Linda asked them if they had left anything on the beach that morning and they said no. We moved on entering Cougar Canyon. The rapids were real good at this level, readable and bouncy, a good combination. We charged through Lorna’s Lulu, past the Bunghole rapids and Harms Hole. Down river right I noticed to young men climbing on the rocks and entering the water. I pointed it out to Linda and she said that they didn’t have any life jackets on! As we came closer we confirmed that they were swimming without jackets so we pulled over and offered them a lift. They accepted without hesitation and grabbed on to the front of the boat.

Down river there were two boats about four blocks apart. As we approached we got the whole story from our hitchhikers. They were in the big gear boat when they entered Harms Hole Rapid right down the middle of the hole. It flipped their boat is a second and tossed the boys toward the right bank. They swam right and the boat bobbed left. As we approached the group the two guys hanging on to our boat got a stern teasing about not wearing their life jackets. We dropped them off, told them to get their jackets on and continued on down into Bodacious Bounce rapid.

I enjoy running the river on my own. My concentration is high and I believe I have better runs because I know that we are alone and that I can’t make mistakes. Half and Half rapid was big, but there were more lines through it. We sped on down to Snow Hole and arrived as a group from OARS was doing their scout. At this level experience told me that I needed to be just a tad bit right of center. We approached and glided in to the turbulence. I was right in my judgment and our run was near perfect. I love it when it all comes together and you ace a rapid. Linda loves it too and after Snow Hole I always get a big kiss for my work.

We started looking for a lunch beach and as we moved on down below Snow Hole we spotted a large group on river right having their lunch. I eased on into the eddy and Linda said “Did you leave anything on the beach this morning when you broke camp?” A guy jumped up and said, “Water bottles?” and we all started laughing. They were so grateful and offered to give us something for our kindness, but we just said our usual river karma reply and delivered their goods.

We ate lunch and watched the parade of boats. The river was crowded so we pushed on. At China Rapid I entered at the usual spot, but while I pulled to the middle I missed a stroke on my oar and we ended up dropping our left tube into the rock hole that everyone avoids by going left against the bank. Linda screamed and I looked like a dork, but I came out of it ok, my pride a bit bruised, but I could deal with that by stroking down river away from observers.

Dorkness hit me again about two miles down river when I spotted an eddy line and proceeded to smack Linda on the head with my rod tip as I made a cast to catch a big bass. No excuses for the mishap, but I was a bit excited because I had just pulled in a huge cutthroat trout which I hooked in fast water on one of my rubber worm jigs. So in my excitement I whacked Linda and she jumped which jolted her sun glasses off her head into the river never to be seen again. I felt real bad, but Linda took the loss well. I'll get her a new pair of glasses now that we are back.

We found a camp on river left just below Cottonwood Rapid and set up for the night. Linda got the food out and we put it in the Dutch oven to cook. We set up our little table and played cribbage while our enchiladas heated up. Dinner was served and we put sour cream and guacamole on top with a few chips on the side. I took a bit and something was wrong. I looked at Linda and she had a quizzical look on her face. Our food didn’t look or taste quite Mexican; in fact it tasted a lot like lasagna! In fact it was lasagna. We had grabbed the wrong frozen food package when we packed. It was real good, and really didn’t taste bad with guacamole on it. We wolfed it down and laughed about our enchilasana meal.

Into the Black Canyon

We moved on down the river and entered the Black Canyon where we found a small beach between Sluice Box and Checkerboard rapids. It was a great beach, very small and private, the perfict one boat beach. We set up the para-wing to block the hot sun and spent the afternoon swimming and enjoying the view.

For our meal we had chili haystacks which were easy to put together and quite good. The sun went down and we set up our cots for the night; brushed our teeth and read till dark. As we laid on our beds reading, a cloud of Mayflies formed above Linda's cot. Mayflies are harmless bugs that fish love, but as their hatch went on the numbers of bugs dancing over her bed grew to a dense fog. They didn't touch us, just floated about five inches above us and danced up and down in the air. It was like a huge disco party with out the music or the mirrored ball.

It was a bit claustrophobic to have the party so close to our heads, so I got up and used a towel to whip them in hopes of having them disperse. They would have nothing to do with my flailing and just kept on parting. We got up and moved the cots about 80 feet to the other end of the beach hoping that the bugs would stay put and they would party on where they hatched, but with in seconds they were back hovering over our cots. It was so strange! You could get up and walk two feet in either direction and be out of the mass, but move the bed and the whole thing moved. We decided that they must have been attracted by the white sheets that we sleep in, there was no other explanation. I was going to test this by covering up with one of our blankets, but it was still so hot out that we would not have been comfortable with the extra covering. So we just tried to ignore the party; bugs dancing and the occasional bat swooping through for a party snack.

The Beach on the Snake

The next day we moved on down out of the Lower Salmon canyon and on to the Snake River. The jet boat traffic increased quite a bit when we were floating the two rivers that combined to form the Snake. Our water speed remained very good and we made very quick time down to our last camp. We found another great beach just below Cotton Creek and on the left bank of the river. This gave us real good afternoon shade and we took advantage of this until the sun went down. Once again we swam and relaxed, content in the knowledge that this was our last night on the river.

Our plan for the final day was to get up early and pack the boat well before the sun came up. To do this we needed to be awake around 5 am. I had noticed that the GPS had an alarm function so I checked that out. On this GPS you could set an alarm and even though you turned off the unit for the night, it would wake up, sound the alarm and then start recording data about our final leg of the trip. That turned out to be a real cool function. We were up by 5 am packed and on the river at 10 after 6 am. The row out was uneventful, we saw a lot of deer and didn't see anyone else on the river.

We arrived at Heller Bar at about 9 am and the truck arrived about 9:10 am which worked out real nice. We packed up and drove home with out incident. The birthday trip is always one of our best. Solo is the way to go if you can. I can't believe that more of our friends don't join us on these trips, but then again, we would not be solo, would we.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Not quite Flat Creek

We packed up the camper and headed up to the Coeur d'Alene River this last weekend. Man there are a lot of people up there! We didn't get our favorite spot above Flat Creek, but got an OK one just below that area. It was in a grass flat that had been mowed down, so there were quite a few bugs. In the day we avoided flys and in the evening we juiced up for misquotes.

On Saturday Holly, Ryan and Zane Edwards joined us. They set up a tent and got comfortable and then Ryan and I went fishing. We caught a few and returned to camp and found a great hot dinner waiting. We played some baseball with Zane, built a fire and had a great time talking. Everyone was tired early so we hit the sack as soon as the fire died down a bit.

Next morning we all slept in a bit. I made coffee and then realized that I was the only one drinking it, so by the time breakfast was over I was hyped on caffeine. Ryan and I headed up stream and fished. We got to Flat Creek and then started catching fish. It was fun and we kinda lost time. When we returned we found Holly, Zane and Linda siting in the shade of the truck. We hastily packed up and headed out.

Wonderful weekend and great company! We really enjoyed camping with the Edward's, Zane was a crack-up. We have got to do it again this summer.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Best River Trip We Never Had

We were back from our Bahamas trip only two days and we had to gear up for a potential trip down the Lower Salmon River. When I was in the islands I got a message from Jacob Rothrock that the water levels were not good, too high! When we returned I watched the levels recorded at the gage at Whitebird and noted that he was right. The water needed be drop considerably before I would take a group of new bees down. On Tuesday evening of the Thursday put on week, I called the trip a no go and asked everyone what they wanted to do. Of the four couples all but one decided to come over to Coeur d’Alene and ride bikes instead.

Linda and I shifted our focus and laid out a plan that would keep everyone busy and give them an opportunity to ride some of our destination bike trails. Our focus would be on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, and the Hiawatha Trail.

The group arrived on Wednesday night and we went and bought a Nate’s Pizza to eat while we made our plans and packed our gear. Linda and I were a bit behind due to the switch from boats to wheels, but we were able to get it together enough that we didn’t show too much stress.

Our plan hinged upon finding a place to camp that we could use as a base to launch our assaults on the local trails. The best option was getting four spots at Bell Bay Campground and making that our home for the four nights of riding. To make sure we had spots, Larry and I drove our camper down early Thursday morning, hoping to get the spots we needed or to rent the group site if it was available.

Because we were early and it was Thursday, Larry and I snagged three of the best spots at the campground. The fourth spot was available, and there were several choices. At about 11:00 am Linda led the rest of the group in to their weekend retreat.

Larry and Art had campers so they set up in two nice spots. Geo and Zoe were in a tent so they grabbed a nice tent spot that overlooked the lake. We made our favorite spot the gathering place and moved our camper into it.

Once everyone was settled we loaded up and drove into Harrison and rode seven miles upriver on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alene’s. Everyone was amazed at the beauty and how unique the trail was. It was a great start to the four days of riding.

On Friday we got up early and lay siege on the Hiawatha Trail. Everyone was excited because they had heard so much about the ride. Linda elected to stay home, only because she didn’t have a bike with good tires. She only had her skinny tired road bike and that would not work on the gravel trail we were riding. Art drove his truck with the bikes and Geo drove their van with their gear. The trip was a total of eight hours in length, two hours to the trail, four hours on the trail, and two hours back home. The day was clear and sunny and everything went very smoothly. Our only glitch was that we had to wait at the trail head for a half and hour while they evacuated a woman who had gotten disoriented and run into the wall in the Taft Tunnel. Once that was cleared up it was smooth sailing to the bottom and the bouncy ride back up to our rigs.

Once we were home we baked two Dutch ovens of lasagna and had a wonderful meal. Everyone turned in around 9:00 pm, another early morning awaited us.

On Saturday morning everyone was up and had breakfast before 8:00 am. The ride de jour was from Harrison, to Plummer and back.

Monday, July 05, 2010

And the Sky Turned Black

The day before we left the islands I planned to fish in the morning and then put the gear away and not fish the evening incoming tide. As the day went on and Linda and I talked she really wanted me to fish the evening and of course I wanted to try and catch some final fish.

We have been running a shuttle across the channel to the flats to the south, I paddle over with Don and we leave the gear with him. Then I paddle back pulling the empty kayak and take it to Caroline. It works real smooth and we have gotten good at anchoring the boats with a rock, and then stalking the bones.

This flat feels like it has not been fished as hard and the bonefish are not as spooky here. They tail in larger groups and we get better shots at them when the wind is down.

Tonight the wind was dead calm and we can see the bones tailing. There was a huge cloud bank to the north of the island, it looked mean but it also looked like it would go the other way.

We started moving to the tailing fish and I had several good shots at some of them. Once I think one was taking my fly when another chased him off, no catch though. Caroline was the first to look over her shoulder and spot the thunder heads coming in. She headed for the boat and paddled over to the gazebo, telling us she would be back if needed.

The weather came in so fast! The next thing Don and I know is the lightning is starting to hit the north end of the island. I loaded my gear into Dons boat and he paddled as I swam the channel. We got to the gazebo, tied up the kayak and hid under the little building cover just when the first rain hit.

It was amazing! The rain came in buckets and the thunder and lightning was right on top of us. I did the '”one potato, two potato” count to see how far it was and most of the time I got to five and the thunder went off like dynamite. I love lightning and thunder, but some of this scared the crap out of me.

We had one clap so close that all of us jumped and ran to the abandoned house by the gazebo. We huddled there for the next 45 minutes as the skies let lose their furry. All I could do is think about Linda knowing how frightened she would be. I told Don and Caroline the I was going to go to Linda and they wouldn’t let me, Don said “Linda is scared but she is safe, do put your self in danger.” So I waited for about twenty minutes till the lightning got past us.

I drove as fast as a golf cart could go in a foot of standing water with more coming down.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Final Bonefish - A Fighter

Now that I have finally got this figured out a bit, we have to leave tomorrow. I have learned quite a bit about fishing the flats for bonefish. There is a lot to it. You fish the lower out going tide and then mostly the incoming tide. We were lucky to have both sets of tides, one in the morning and one at night, that we could fish.

The fish come in and tail, eating critters in the sand, mud and turtle grass. When they tail you can see the tail flipping up out of the water as they gobble food. At time the fin. Fining is done in shallower water and the motion is much less aggressive. Another thing we looked for is fish mudding. They sit in one spot and churn up the mud eating.

After we figured out a little about the tide and how the fish feed, then we had to get the presentation down and with that decide on what they are feeding on. This took some time.
The presentation and fly that caught all our bone fish was a weedless green crab pattern tossed to the tailing fish and then you had to just wait for a while. Twitch and wait, then hope that the fish sucked up your crab.

All the fish I caught were caught that way. This last one was big and fat. If you look at the picture close you will see that it had bite marks on both sides. It looked like it had been attacked and was lucky to get away.

Today I will clean and pack my gear. I got a taste of bone fishing and was impressed with their strength and speed. Two of my catches ran be into my backing quite a ways. The one I caught last night was my exhibit fish. Just as I set the hook a big power boat filled with fishermen was motoring by. They all saw me hook him and were yelling along with me as it ran across the flats. It was pretty exciting.