This mid-week camping is the best! Now we just need the sun to shine a bit more. Tom and Sarah Husby followed us up the St. Joe River to the Red Ives area on Monday for a little fishing and camping. We got a great camp spot right next to the river. Tom and I put on our waders and drove downstream to a nice- looking pool for a little fly time.
The water is running a bit fast, but it is still early season fishing. The water is actually low for this time of the year. Fishing was slow and we spent our time changing flies and looking for rising fish. We were back at camp about 5 PM where we ate dinner and watched darkness fold in on us.
The rain came in just after dark and it rained off and on all night. When we woke it was still wet so we all took our time getting ready for the day. Tom and I set a departure time of 11:30 AM; we figured the fish would be awake by then.
Linda and Sarah stayed in camp with the two dogs. They had visions of reading, walking and enjoying a relaxing day without us.
We departed and drove upriver. Tom had a spot in mind as we slowly drove the river road. Each bend brought nice-looking pools and great fishable run-outs. Each time we slowed, Tom would say “We’ll check that out when we come back down.” And then we would drive on.
At a campsite on a curve in the river, Tom and I ventured down to the water. We weren’t at the spot Tom was thinking about, but the lure (pun intended) of fishing got the best of us and we had to wet our lines. I was the first to approach the water and I had a two nymph set up with a pink strike indicator on the line. Tom was tying on his chosen flies as I tossed my first cast. Boom! A huge cutthroat hit my strike indicator and was gone. It was a massive fish and the strike was definitely not gentle. Tom sidled down to the pool and started casting and within a few drifts, BAM, he had a hit on his strike indicator!
Why would a fish hit a strike indicator and not a fly? We changed our gear and started floating foam bugs with droppers on them through the hole. We caught nothing! This went on for about an hour and finally Tom said, “Let’s get going; I have a plan.” We loaded up and drove on.
The road widened and there was a pullout with a path leading down to the river. Tom stopped and looked at me with a grin. This was the spot. When he was guiding for the fly shop, he kept this spot in his pocket and used it if the client was not having a great day. The hole was a proven provider and it looked like we were the first ones in it for the day.
As we got ready, the sun came out and then disappeared into a sky of broken clouds. The weather was pushy, meaning that one minute it was sunny and the next, we were in cloud cover. The run looked awesome; long enough for both of us to fish and not interfere with each other’s drifts. Things started out a bit slow. We could see fish rising once in a while but nothing spectacular. We fished for about an hour. I had put on a big bug with a dropper and Tom was using a double nymph set up. Tom was the first to catch a fish. I was still having the luck I had been having on my two previous trips. I knew there were fish there, but they weren’t biting what I was throwing.
We hung in there at the run, but talked about moving downstream to other water. The weather changed and a few bugs started coming off the surface of our run. Now this is where you can believe me or just smile and consider this a fish tale.
Tom recognized the bugs coming off the water and gave me a pattern that he thought matched the hatch. Right away, on my first drift, I caught a fish. From that moment and for the next two hours we caught fish after fish. It was amazing! The weather would be sunny and then the wind would come up and it would start pouring rain. As long as the hatch was on, the fish were hitting the surface and taking our flies. Did I mention that these were not small everyday cutthroat trout? Most of the fish we were catching were 15 inches or better! HOGS!
The fish were in such a frenzy that they were striking from all directions. They shot upstream and if they missed, would swirl around and hit going downstream. They shot out of the water to grab flies everywhere. All we had to do was get a drag free drift in their general direction and they did the rest of the work.
The hard part was sometimes getting the drift where you wanted it. At times the wind blew so hard that we were casting with all we had, trying to get the fly to land upstream in the current. The rain came down so hard that we could hardly see up to the top of the run, but the bugs kept on hatching and we kept on catching.
We would have a few slow moments when the sun came out and sparkled on the water, but then it would go behind the clouds and the fish would pick up the bite again. As time went on another odd thing happened. The hatch changed from a tiny PMD to a much larger mayfly. The fish went crazy! We switched flies and kept on fishing. Tom crossed the river and got into a bunch of fish feeding in the current where we couldn’t reach from our original spot. They were truly big fish!
At about 6 PM, the hatch slowed. Tom and I were cold and we were actually getting tired. We each landed a final fish and noted that the bugs were gone. It finally came to an end; the epic fishing frenzy came to a halt and we slapped a high five and returned to camp.
Linda and Sarah had a fire going when we arrived back at camp. We changed out of our waders and sat down to get warmed up. The story was retold several times during the evening and each time we high fived. Tom figured that we had landed fifteen fish that were over fifteen inches in length. I know we had more than six doubles - times when both Tom and I had fish on. Neither of us could give a good estimate of the number of fish landed throughout the afternoon. All we could do was smile and know that we had experienced something that only happens a few times in a lifetime of fly fishing.
In the morning, we packed up and talked of our next trip with the Husbys. Then we drove home over the pass that leads through St Regis Montana and followed I-90 home.