Monday, January 25, 2016

The Art of Fishing in North Idaho

Fishing in North Idaho is diverse. There are plenty of lakes, rivers, and creeks (Cricks to some locals). Through trial and error I have learned a few things. Say for instance you've been fishing all day and don't a bite nada, nothing, zilch. Try the "Howdy partner" method. Find another fisherman nearby and it's obvious they have caught all the fish. Approach with caution and say, "Howdy Partner, Boy you've got some nice looking fish there and what a nice looking pole you got" even though it looks like his setup has been run over. Then pull out some peppered beef jerky and offer some. Gingerly and with meekness ask, "Sooo..What kind of bait you usin"? The use of "usin" is important in that it invokes a hominess and sincerity to your plight as a struggling disciple of the Jedi sub art of fishing. Most likely this will lead to information you can use.
All this aside be flexible in using worms, lures, and flies. Flies are tricky because they're fast and hard to catch and put your hook. Even though Daniel San from "Karate Kid" mastered the technique with chopsticks. Above all have fun. Enjoy the scenery that God has created. Pass along any wisdom learned to others.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What's the Attraction of North Idaho?

At this writing I find myself sitting in the lobby of the new Kroc Center in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho. It's been almost a month since I arrived to the place I call home. Although I don't have blood family in the area I find my friends to be my surrogates. It's been almost 5 years when I left to go back to my roots off the banks of the Mississippi in northwest Illinois and spend some time with my blood relatives. Some have passed. But I felt the pull of north Idaho.

Flooding on the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa

In 1971 my mother and I went on vacation to Colorado in the foot-hills just outside Boulder. A tiny community called Jamestown. It was home to some friends my mother had known since she ventured out west as a teenager. My mother was adventuresome. She was a restless soul who sought the romanticism of a campfire and the beauty of high mountains and clear running streams. A stark contrast to the relatively flat landscapes of the Midwest and the turbidity and polluted water of the mighty Mississippi River.

Jamestown, Colorado

The Mississippi is a river for commerce. It is a vital conduit for supplying and transporting grains, corn, and other goods. The waters in the Northwest are also a means of commerce. The Columbia River begins in Canada and runs south into Washington state. Grand Coulee, Bonneville, and the Dalles evoke thoughts of the New Deal during FDR's tenure as president. It was then the Civilian Conservation Corps was started. There are many structures still standing today as a reminder of that time.

Idaho is diverse in geology. The south eastern part of the state has high desert plateaus, rugged rocky mountains. There are the Tetons and Craters of the Moon. As you head west sage brush turns to rolling arid hills. Sugar beets, potatoes, wheat, corn grow here only as a result of extensive irrigation, channeling, redirecting of the water resources that exist here. Northward you run into the jagged Sawtooth mountains and Redfish Lake. Sun Valley is a popular stop for snow skiers. Earnest Hemingway called this area home in the early 1940's.

From Grangeville and looking north, the state is a west slope for the Bitterroot Mountains. The Frank Church Wilderness, Mallard Larkins, are popular areas for hikers, backpackers, and those on horseback. Lewiston sits on the banks of the Clearwater River. The Clearwater was once the river for floating logs to the sawmill and onto the Columbia. There were loggers who floated and lived on large rafts during these runs.

North Idaho supplied wood, and precious metals during the late 1890's onto into today. Many of the logging mills with their teepee style kilns have mostly disappeared in the area. Logging has been modernized to include select cutting. Still North Idaho is beautiful to see. Wildlife abounds. If you're looking for a place with a relaxed and unassuming lifestyle then the area may appeal to you. Winters are not near as the bitter cold of the Midwest. Below zero temperatures are rare. Snow has at times been plentiful in and around Coeur d' Alene.

Downtown Coeur d' Alene, Idaho

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ice Fishing in North Idaho

Winter can provide some excellent opportunities for fishing in north Idaho. I remember there was a man who walked into the old store of Black Sheep Sporting Goods. He boldly announced to the store owner, "I'm going ice fishin' and I need some gear." The response was, "Well first off, you better make sure you cut hole big enough to get your boat in!"

Ice fishing can be quite the undertaking if you are not prepared. First, clothing should be sufficient to the temperature. Insulated boots and coveralls are a necessity. Second, you need to ask yourself if you're going to use some sort of shelter. Today, there are many collapsible nylon shelters that offer a wind break while on the ice. Third, you will need a sturdy ice auger. An ax just isn't enough when you are attempting to chop a hole through 12-18 inches of ice. Plus, it can be dangerous due to the flying chips can potentially hit you in the eye. Fourth, is your fishing gear. Use a short fishing pole with a spinning reel. The weight of line should be in the 6-8 pound mono filament range. Lures can be a swedish pimple. Some use crappie jigs. Both are effective with maggots and small meal worms. Some fishermen recommend a kernel or two of white Shoepeg corn. Shoepeg corn is sweet and desirable to fish. Fifth, is heat. A can of Sterno while sitting on a plastic 5 gallon bucket is nice when temperatures are in the 20 degree range. Sixth, choose a sturdy sled to haul your gear onto the ice.

Make sure you read the state's fishing regulations. It can unsettling if you're fishing without a license or making the hole in the ice too big only to get a citation from a game warden. An over-sized hole in the ice can be dangerous. Safety is always something to be aware of. Check with your local newspaper and fishing stores as to ice thickness. As springtime nears and temperatures begin warm up there is always the risk of "rotten ice." A condition where the ice loses it's density and can be dangerous to the unwary person. I also recommend packing some 5/8th inch nylon rope to throw out to in case someone needs your help. Both Hayden and Fernan lakes offer some excellent opportunities to ice fish. Give it try!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Winter in North Idaho

Winter is just around the corner and that means snow.  Coeur d' Alene is located between the Cascade Mountains to the west and the Bitterroot mountains to the east.  In recent years, there have been some rough winters with record snowfalls.  Coeur d' Alene has several ski resorts that offer some excellent runs for snow boarding, downhill skiing, and cross-country skiing.  Silver Mountain Resort is located approximately 30 miles east of Coeur d' Alene.

Mount Spokane to the west offers snow boarding, downhill, and cross-country skiing opportunities.  I personally found the cross-country trails to be well groomed.  In addition, for those who do not ski, there is a tubing run that is quite popular to the locals.  

Schweitzer Mountain Resort is north of Coeur d' Alene near the city of Sandpoint, Idaho.  Located in the Selkirk Mountains, Schweitzer offer world class skiing.  As of this writing, they have snow!  Interestingly, they have a movie theater for those who need a break from a day of skiing. If you are looking for a great outing on the slopes, this is a great place.

The Coeur d' Alene Resort sponsors a lighting festival each year before Thanksgiving. This popular event brings a number of visitors from the Spokane area. There is a parade, with the lighting ceremony and a fireworks show on the lake.  Dress warm!  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Portland, Oregon’s Rimsky-Korsakoffee House

I attended a small private college in Portland, Oregon during the late 80’s.  I love Portland.  It is a city packed with a multitude of restaurants.  During my first year at college, an upper class-man invited several of us to some coffee and cake.  I was curious as to the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House.  

My initial glance at the exterior showed a large multi-level Victorian styled home.  Upon entering the house, we entered a large living room with hardwood flooring and antique chairs with parlor-like tables.  It was quirky but comfortable.  The menu contained several choices coffee, pies, and cakes.  A nice bonus to the Rimsky house was a small music ensemble playing classical music.  The experience was transcendent to the early 1900’s.  If you’re ever in the City of Roses, be sure to look up the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My First Fly Rod

Fly-fishing was something I wanted to try for a long time. I was impressed at how a person could create a realistic looking fly using thread, feathers, and deer hair. Then take that imitation fly and tie it to a leader then cast it onto the water in the hope of catching fish was something I needed to undertake. I went to the local library and found several books on the subject of fly-fishing. I became enamored with the intricacies of casting, presentation and the all-important fly. The knots described in the books I read presented some challenge, but after a few days, I was able to tie some basic knots with relative ease. 

 My first fly rod was relatively inexpensive at the time and the reel was ok at the time. I purchased some flies, tapered floating leader line, tippet and set out to do some practice casting on the front lawn of my house as noted in the books. Ten and two, ten and two, the motion was easy enough to visualize in my head but not so easy in the actual process of casting. I was determined to become a sage in the fine art of casting. That’s when things began to fall apart. 

The next day I invited my mother to go fly-fishing using a ten-foot long Jon boat. I felt confident in my ability and the water I chose was Fernan Lake near Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. Fernan Lake is not too big and known to be a great lake for catching bluegills, yellow perch, bass, and an occasional trout. I rowed about 200 feet from the shore to an area with lily pads, and began prepping my fly rod for fishing. I tied on a Royal Wulff dry fly. This fly was the one in my mind; I knew would catch a big one. With great anticipation, I raised my fly rod and performed my motion using the ten and two cast. Soon I started stringing out my line and had approximately 125 feet of the fly-line whizzing just above my head. I was in Zen mode. Yes, I felt actualized and had everything going just perfect. I needed one more forward motion of my arm to lay that Royal Wulff upon the water. As I made the forward motion and waited for the fly to make it’s pass above my head, I felt a pain on the back of head. Was it a hornet? Maybe it was a Yellow Jacket. No, it was the Royal Wulff fly. In that instant all of the 125 feet of fly line began to land in my lap and the boat. 

 The fly didn’t find it’s mark on the water but in the back of my head. So much for Zen master of fly-fishing I thought. My mother was laughing hysterically as well as several people on the shore. It took about 25 minutes to untangle the fly line and to remove the fly from my head. I contemplated swimming to the opposite shore line to avoid the crowd. I decided to return to the landing and face the music with my mother. 

 This is probably the part where I say Fly-fishing should be a contact sport. In my case it is. Good luck to your fly-fishing. Be sure to keep a low profile when casting.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Black Sheep Sporting Goods

Black Sheep Sporting Goods in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, is a store devoted to those live in the northwest. They are a sporting goods business that has been around since the 70’s. I remember purchasing my first hunting rifle from them in 1980. It was a left-handed Remington 700 BDL in a 30.06 caliber. The Black Sheep is more than just a store. Those who work there are people who camp, fish, and hunt in north Idaho. 

They know what they are talking about when it comes to buying gear because they use many of their products themselves. When it comes to fishing tackle, I have always found their people willing to share tips on what works best for catching the big one’s. It’s not a big chain store by any means. 

The Black sheep is a great place to start before venturing out on an excursion into the national forest or fishing on the North Fork of the Coeur d’ Alene river. I remember when the store was just a small building measuring about a 1,000 square feet but packed full of fishing lures, poles, ammunition, and firearms. Now their current store has expanded to include more camping gear, archery, black powder, kayaks, canoes, fishing gear, guns and ammo. 

 Be sure to check out the Clothing Store adjacent to the Black Sheep. There you will find camo clothing, work clothing, and outdoor hiking boots as well. There is a saying among back packers and hikers who spend their leisure time in the woods, “Cotton Kills.” It is vitally important to remember that cotton will absorb your perspiration, which will result in loss of body heat. Find clothing that has polypropylene or other synthetic fibers. On one occasion I found myself on the verge of hypothermia while wearing a cotton flannel shirt when elk hunting near Avery, Idaho. The temperature was near 37 degrees Fahrenheit. The next thing I remember was sitting down to rest after hiking through some thick brush and the sweat had permeated my shirt. It was then that I began to shake uncontrollably-the start of hypothermia. Again, those at the Black Sheep will help you choose the right gear.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fawn Lake in North Central Idaho

I have had some memorable excursions into the mountains of Idaho.  Preparation is important to any backpacking trip.  Particularly, if you’re planning a trip in which you will be away from the comforts of civilization.  My friend Don was a transplant from West Virginia.  He was one that grew up in the Alleghany Mountains. He referred to them as the hollers.  He was not a big man.  He was lanky and he could hike up any hill or mountain with relative ease without breaking a sweat.  For several years, Don had told me to consider a backpacking trip into the Mallard Larkin Pioneer Area.  For one reason or another, I was working or busy doing something else.  The topic came up again in 2003.  Don and I began our plan to go backpacking into Mallard Larkin.  We gathered our topographical maps and Googled aerial photos of the area.  Don had numerous photos of the fish they caught in years past.  He also had stories of the mountain goats that fed in the high meadows.  The invitation was there.  Now I made up my mind to go.

We both began to do some walks on the Centennial Trail around Coeur d’ Alene.  The  North Idaho Centennial Trail was a project that was completed in 1996 and stretches approximately 24 miles from Coeur d’ Alene Lake to the Washington state line.  Later, we did some hikes up Mineral Ridge.  We wore our daypacks and increased the weight with additional hikes.  Mineral Ridge is just east of Coeur d’ Alene. 

After months of physical preparation and gathering the proper backpacking gear, we were ready.  I bought a lightweight backpacking stove from a local Big Five Sporting Goods store.   I also purchased a lightweight raincoat from L.L.Bean.  I purchased my sleeping bag through Cabelas.  There is also an REI Store in Spokane, Washington that I found to be perfect for gathering miscellaneous backpacking items. 

We drove into Montana to get to the right access road into the National Forest in July 2004.  I highly recommend having a four-wheel drive vehicle when travelling into the woods.  There are portions of the road that are rough and have big rocks that could potentially punch a hole into a gas tank or oil pan.  We came in from the north.  As we began our hike,  I soon realized how important the training was.  Once I added all my gear together, I figured my pack was somewhere in the range of 85 pounds!  A rule of thumb is no more than a third of your weight for your backpack.  The first lake we got to was Skyland Lake.  The area around the lake had mosquitoes.  Be sure to take some insect repellant.  We rested there awhile before continuing on to Fawn Lake.
We arrived at Fawn Lake at about 4pm.  Some mutual friends who had arrived the day before greeted us there.  Fawn Lake is beautiful.  Steep granite cliffs surround the lake with a nice area to the south for camping.  There are plenty of Ponderosa, Tamarack, and Douglas fir trees nearby.  We found the fishing to be superb.  Mostly cutthroat trout inhabit the lake.  The trout are voracious.  I recommend taking some small spinner lures, flies, and even a container of small worms.  Both Don and I took pistols in with us as a precautionary measure.  Wildlife is always nearby. The first morning some hoof stomping of a mule deer on the forest floor awakened me. Lately, wolves have become more abundant. 
You will definitely need a camera. The scenery is magnificent.  Below is our group campfire.


In memory of Don who passed away in April 2009.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fly Fishing without the Fly Rod

Over the years that I have fished in north Idaho, I have learned a few things. One is to keep an open mind when fishing. Two is to be willing to change your presentation for bait and or lures.  I am not one to badmouth the fly anglers out here.  However, there may be times when you do not have a fly rod handy while fishing.  Please, do not get me wrong.  I have a fly rod along with all the flies, tippet, and have even done some fly tying.  A friend of mine taught me this method for fly-fishing with a standard spinning rod:  a spinning reel with 6-8 pound test mono-filament, 2-pound test tippet (leader line), clear colored torpedo float, and of course, #12 fly. 

Let us start with the spinning rod.  The rod should be the lightweight class and approximately 6 feet in length. The lightweight action is necessary as it allows for more sensitivity with the fly.  Your spinning reel should have nothing more than 6-8 pound test mono-filament line.  
I prefer Berkley Trilene XL.  Berkley is a brand I have found to be less likely to twist or tangle.  The color of the line should be lo-vis green for both your reel line and the leader or tippet.  Today, there are hundreds of varieties or brands of reels.  I have always stuck with Daiwa. Daiwa reels have a smooth action when reeling.  I recommend a trip to a reputable sporting goods store and testing the reels on display.  The leader line is important and no more than 2-pound test.  The torpedo float can be either clear colored or green. Here is an example. The setup is simple.

First, tie your reel line to the narrow end on the torpedo float. Second, tie approximately six ½ feet of the 2-pound leader to the fat end of the float.  Third, tie on your fly of choice.  Now, you are ready to fish for that big trout.  You will not need any additional weight on your line. When you cast your line onto the water, reel in any slack from your line.  When you retrieve your line, make sure you keep your fly dry. 

Remember presentation is everything to a fish.  The dry fly can be a mosquito, Royal Wulff, or the Adams variety.  If you have not fished using this method, you will be convinced as to it’s effectiveness in your fishing arsenal.  It also works with crappie and bass.  Below is an example of the Royal Wulff.  Good luck with this technique.  If you need help using this method, let me know. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Plop Cast

I have some fond memories of fishing around Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho.  Coeur d’ Alene Lake has a diverse list of fish species.  My favorite has always been the Cutthroat trout.  Unlike the rainbow, the Cutthroat trout have a red-colored slash that run along the underside of the lower jaw.  They are for the most part a hearty breed of fish and can grow in excess of 20 inches in length. 

On one occasion while looking for place to fish on Coeur d’ Alene Lake, I found what I thought was the perfect spot.  There were Ponderosa pine trees nearby to provide some shade, and a small sandy beach as well.  The spot I chose was on top of some rather large rocks or rather boulders approximately the size a large VW bus.  This provided a great vantage point to look down into the water and get a sense of the depth.  The nice thing about Coeur d’ Alene Lake, the water is quite clear year round.  I noticed that were some smaller rocks under the surface of the water. Therefore, I decided this was the place

I usually fish with a lightweight pole about six feet in length and with an open-faced reel.  I typically use 6-8 pound Berkeley mono-filament.  Any heavier on the line weight and you are destined to be fishing all day with fewer bites.  In this instance, I tied a Mepp’s silver colored spinner with a red spacer on the shaft of the treble hook.  The spinner was approximately 2 ½ inches in length.  The heavier lures will spook your prospects for fish.  Remember you want to catch fish not Bean Them. 

Anyhow, I returned to my chosen spot, which I now called, “The Glory Hole.” I made my first cast and, “Wham” -a fish. I reeled it in and it was a beautiful 18-inch cutthroat trout.  They are a beautiful fish indeed.  We were successful that day.  So much so, I told a couple of friends about the place I found and the positive results.  I invited them to come along.  We met up the next day and I guided them to my Glory Hole.  I felt I had already had enough fun and one of my friends asked if he could take my spot to fish for that morning.  I said sure.  That’s where things turned bad.  You see the friend was somewhat used to fishing on the dock or maybe a rowboat not a boulder the size of a VW bus.  With that in mind, you can probably see where this is going, or rather, he is going.  He looked as if were going to cast the distance of two football fields. He generated enough bodily torque from all that energy, it needed to go somewhere. You guessed it, enter- The Plop Cast.  He went into the water with such grace that an Olympic diver would have been proud.  We all rushed over to him to make sure he was OK. We were relieved to see he managed to hang onto his pole and his pride.

The important thing I found in being outdoors is it is not always about how many fish I caught, or the size of the fish. Moreover, it is about just being outdoors with the sights, the smells, and the experience.