North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River

Jason Sackman drove into the parking lot right off of I-90 where my brother-in-law, Jeff, and I were waiting for him. An impromptu business trip brought us up to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and when Gracy gave me the okay to fly fish, Jason was the first person I called. After some quick goodbyes to our wives, Jeff and I loaded our gear into Jason’s truck and off we drove.

“Dude, this is one of my favorite rivers.” Jason said as we geared up. “The fall colors, jin-clear water, beautiful cutthroat trout… that are not leader-shy!” He continued adding emphasis on that last fact.
“My kind of place.” I added with a smile, as the three of us scampered down the rocks and into the river.  
I had taken the time to rig-up my leader to do some Spanish nymphing, but as I approached a nice run I saw a rising fish. One little rising fish was all it took for me to change my Spanish nymphing outfit to a dry fly rig. That is one of the benefits of using a longer fly rod: you can get the best of both worlds and be ready for anything. The purple haze was Jason’s favorite fly for this river, so it was the first one I tied on. 
Isn’t it always the case? It did take me a few minutes to switch up, and now when I was ready, purple haze in hand, the fish stopped rising. 
“Damn, it!” I said under my breath, while scanning the foam-line like a hungry hawk. Nothing was breaking the surface, so I just decided to start searching that same foam-line with my purple haze. 
The little white indicator was clearly visible as it floated down the mirrored surface of the water where I had seen that fish rise, but the fly never made it down there. A small mouth broke the surface and the little white fluff of fuzz disappeared inside it.
“There you are…” I said, lifting the rod to set the hook.

There was no whooping or hollering necessary, because the little fish was thrashing the still water to the point where the sound easily projected down to Jason. Jason looked my way after hearing the splashing, and gave me a thumbs up as I brought in my fish.

The little fish darted from my hands, and because the water was so clear I got to watch it swim away for a long distance before it disappeared. 
That is my favorite part. Watching the fish swim home. I smiled as I stood there watching the fish, but the enjoyment was short lived; another fish rose in that same soft foam-line that the previous fish came from, and I snapped out of my daze and made another cast. 
“There’s another one!” I yelled, getting Jason’s attention, but as I did so the fish threw my hook, leaving me with this picture of it flipping me the fin.

“You should come up here!” I yelled downstream to Jason, who was fishing just within earshot.
“There’s a fish rising right here!” He said back. His voice was almost incomprehensible, but I was sure I heard “rising” and “here” so my mind filled in the rest. 
Suit yourself, I thought as I looked over and saw three fish rising happily in my section of water. I didn’t hold back. I picked off each fish starting with the fish furthest downstream, and just as I was releasing the third fish I heard a disturbance from downstream. It was, Jason. He had reeled in his line as was moving towards me… “Okay.  I’m coming!” He yelled upstream to me, after I had caught the three fish I would have saved for him.

”What the hell took you so long?” I asked, after having let my fish go. 
“Dude. There was this fish rising…” Jason paused, and sighed, “…and it just wouldn’t take my fly. But you seem to be doing just fine.” 
“Well it could just be my water column.” I said, and Jason looked at me, ready to hear my theory. So I began.
“Look at the water I am fishing versus the water you were fishing. I am fishing water that is choppy with a definite current, while down where you were fishing the water had time to become smooth and calm. Smooth and calm water, especially this clear, can easily equate to snobby fish. And it’s not that the fish are smarter, it’s that the elements are on the side of the fish. The water is just as clear here, but I have a definite current along with a chop that offers less visibility to the fish and less time to be selective.”
“Huh…” Jason said, taking in my thoughts.
“So it’s not that I’m a better angler, its just that I’m fishing easier water.” I said, modestly. 
“That makes sense, because we both have the same fly on.” Jason added, before I pointed out two fish rising just upstream from us. 
“All yours.” I said to Jason, as he made his approach.

Jason made his approach by walking back toward the bank, away from the fish, walked upstream from them, and got into position by walking downstream towards the fish. 
After a bit of casting, I waded over to Jason after noticing the fish had stopped rising during his approach. 
“Do you mind me asking why you approached the fish that way?” I asked Jason, in case he knew something I didn’t. 
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“Those fish that were rising there…” I said pointing to the spot, “…that is where they live. The current in this section of water would suggest that the fish are facing upstream. You walked away and above where the fish were feeding, and approached them face-on.” 
I saw the light clicking on over Jason’s head, but I kept explaining. 
“Fish do two things very well, spook and feed, and they will spook before feeding. With water this clear, regardless of the current-speed and surface-chop, I would recommend approaching these fish from the rear. That would give you the best opportunity to catch them, because, above anything, we want to be invisible to the fish.”  
Jason stood there looking at me before saying, “Dude, that makes so much sense.” 
Jason stopped and looked at the path he took to approach the fish, and laughed at himself. 
“The funny thing is that I knew the fish would be facing forward… what was I thinking?!” Jason asked…but I believe he was talking to himself. 
“There’s the fish that I was going for earlier.” Jason said, as we walked back downstream to drive to a new spot. 
“Go for it!” I said. “Just adjust your cast so that your drift to the fish is three times longer than necessary.” 
Jason got into a good downstream casting position, and let his fly land way ahead of the fish.
“Perfect!” I said, “Now just let it float down.” 
Jason didn’t respond, but I knew he was on it. He was so locked onto the placement of his fly that he reminded me of a lynx about to strike. His patience payed off. The fish that had snubbed him before took his fly this time around, and Jason wasn’t about to let it get away.

“Man, I hope you don’t think I’m being too authoritative by telling you what to do.” I said, having realized that I’d been lecturing Jason all morning. 
“Dude, NO!” Jason said quickly. “I want you to tell me all this stuff. I learned so much from you when we fished the South Fork together. I wouldn’t have even considered fishing the slicks, I would be only fishing the riffles.”
“Okay, cool. I just wanted to make sure.” I said, as Jason rounded up his fish.
“Mind if I take a picture?” I asked. 
“Sure!” Jason said, trying to keep his fish from wiggling around too much for me to get a shot.

“How did you do further downstream?” I asked Jeff, as Jason and I approached him heading to the truck. 
“Nothing down here. How was up there?” He asked.
“We got into a few upstream, but it’s time for a new spot.” I said. 
We drove down the road until we caught glimpses of rising fish. The bad thing was that we had to walk in on them from upstream, because the water got too deep further down.

Jason started fishing for some of the fish further down, while Jeff went after the ones upstream from me. And maybe it was our upstream approach, but these fish were awfully picky. We spent a fair amount of time on these fish, and only Jeff was able to fool one into taking his fly. Either way we were now getting short on time. We were told to meet back up with our wives at 5:00pm, which meant we would have to be off the water at 3:45pm to get back in time.

Although I was granted the time to fish today, a four hour day on the water is short to me, but if I wanted these small opportunities to fish during business trips then I had better not push it. 
We ended the day on a beautiful stretch of river that looked promising, but was producing no fish. It was 3:30pm and Jason had long since headed to the truck to gear down, along with Jeff. Thinking that I better head back too, I started on my way back to the truck, but then something caught my eye. Was that a rise, I thought to myself, and stopped to look more contently. 
Just up the bank from where I was standing was Jeff and Jason. Jason was already out of his waders and had fired up a small grill he had brought with him to cook up some Brawts. 
“Hey, Erik! It’s about time for us to get going!” Jason yelled down to me, but I didn’t reply. Maybe if I kept silent he would think that I couldn’t hear him, and would go away… 
After a minute of looking, I had confirmed it was a rising fish and started to walk towards it.
“HEY! Don’t act like you can’t hear me!” Jason scowled from the bank. I was so focused on the rising fish that only now did I recognize Jason was standing on the soft shoulder of the road looking directly at me. 
“Oh, hey…” I said, nonchalantly. 
“Dude it’s time to get going.” Jason said, holding a pair of tongs.
“I still have fifteen minutes. Just yell at me when its time, and I’ll come in.” I lied. 
“Okay.” Jason said, and walked back to the truck.

With my purple haze secure to my line I made a cast to the fish. It was steadily feeding, so my confidence was high. 
Isn’t it always the case? When you feel the most confident on the river is when the river Gods decide to play. I quickly burnt up those fifteen minutes switching out flies to entice this damn fish that was still constantly feeding. I knew any second I was going to hear Jason’s voice echoing up the stream to summon me back, but not before I caught this fish… But what did it want? All the little stuff didn’t seem to be getting its attention, so perhaps something a little bigger? 
“HEY!” I heard from where I was standing, and knew it was Jason.
Maybe the water is too rough where I am standing, and I can’t hear him… I convinced myself. I opened the little pocket on my vest where all my barb-less flies go to dry, and like a little shimmer of hope propped on top of a pile of feathers and fur glittered my pico spider. 
I snatched it out of the pocket, and threaded the eye in my first attempt.
“Eriiiiiiiiik!” I heard Jason yelling at me. His voice loomed over me like the chime of twelve midnight at Cinderella’s ball, but I had my tippet twisted around itself five times. All I needed to do was push the tag in through the open loop to secure the knot, and I could cast. I pulled to secure the knot, and the tag end of the tippet slipped through the bulk of the failing knot like a kid sipping up spaghetti.
“God damn it!” I yelled, looking at the tippet that was kinked up like a slinky that was stretched too far by a toddler.
“Erik, I see you, and I know you can hear me!” Jason yelled with confidence, getting my attention.
“The grill is still too hot to store in the back of your truck!” I yelled back… it had to be.
My second knot didn’t fail me. I cast out the pico spider so fast and accurately you would think I was on fly fishing Team USA. I held my breath as the pico drifted right in the feeding lane of the hungry cutthroat.
“YEAH!” I yelled, lifting the rod tip to set the hook on this troublesome trout.

It was a fun fight, but after I had it near me, I unhooked the pico to let it go. I definitely needed to get going now, but as I watched the fish swim away my jaw dropped.  Near the edges, in the riffle, and in the center of the river, heads were coming up everywhere. At that moment it dawned on me… I wasn’t meant to leave right now
I slowly stood being careful not to spook the fish that was right in front of me. Where did it come from? The reason we didn’t hit this stretch of water first was because there were anglers here, and they had just taken off no more than fifteen minutes ago. I watched them leave before I walked over to target that first fish. I didn’t dwell on this fact for too long before making another cast with the pico spider. Just like it’s buddy, it didn’t let the pico pass by without a taste. 

Two fish in the net and so many more still feeding. Another mouth broke the surface of the water, and it was easily within casting range. I stood there for a moment timing its feeding rhythm before making a cast. Jason and Jeff came to mind, and not because I was worried they would call. This, right now, was the most opportune moment for them to catch a fish, and on large flies no less. Yes, I did think about them, even if it was for a millisecond. Jeff setting the hook after seeing a cutthroat inhale his fly, Jason’s smiling face fighting a fish… But they were not here, and there were fish to catch… And catch I did.

I heard the echo of Jason shutting the tailgate of his truck, and new the grill was now put away.  The grill was the last card I had in my hand, and I had already laid it on the table. Still, it had bought me enough time to hook into three more fish before the end of the day. I reeled in my line, hooked the pico spider on the built in hook latch, and started to wade back to the truck. Any angler knows that if you perform this task of “putting away” your fly by attaching it to the hook holder, it clearly means you are not done fishing. As I waded back I kept my eyes on the far side of the river, and saw exactly what I was looking for. The circular ripple of a rise had not even begun to dissipate before I had ripped enough line out of my rod tip to perform a cast. Of course, the last fish had to give me trouble, but after making a casting adjustment that included a longer drift the fish finally ate. 

This time I clipped off my fly, and stored it back into the very pocket I had pulled it from earlier to ensure I made it back to the truck. 
“Dude… it’s 4:45…” Jason said, as I walked up to the truck still dripping. 
“Seriously?! Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked, knowing full well we were not going to make an hour drive in fifteen minutes..
“No! You are not going to put this on me. We are late because of you.” He laughed. 
“And let’s face it…” Jason continued, “… I could have told you it was 6:00 and you wouldn’t have come in.”
“That’s… not… true…” I lied with a straight face, while kicking off my boots.
“Whatever dude, your wife is going to be pissed, and I have no problem pitching you right under the bus.” Jason said. 
“It’s going to be okay, my wife is a bad-ass. I won’t be in trouble, right, Jeff?!” I said looking at Jeff, who looked back at me with the kind of smile that would suggest otherwise. 
“Well, since we are late you could fire up the grill and warm up my Brawts?” I said, stuffing my waders away. 
“Dude, no!” Jason said, in a tone of voice that would suggest he couldn’t believe that I had just asked that. 
“But I did stuff two of them into some foil for you.” He finished, seeing that I was laughing. 
To my delight, the Brawts were still hot. Jason, being a gracious host, fished me up some buns to put them in. 
They were the best Brawts I had ever had, and it made the drive go by quickly. It was nice to have something to talk about, other than how much trouble I was going to be in when we got back; but as we pulled in to where we were to meet up with our wives, they were nowhere to be found.  After a quick call I discovered that they had a late lunch that kept them in town longer than expected, and after I hung up the phone I looked at both Jeff and Jason…
“Gentleman… There’s a God in heaven!”

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