“We’re going in John’s boat today!” My oldest son, Mason, screamed, as our family friend, John McKay, parked in front of our house with his boat hitched to his rig.
“The boat!” screamed, my youngest, Cruz.
Both kids had long anticipated this day, and it was finally here. Despite the rain, the half-dressed kids blew through the door like a SWAT team and started running through the wet grass. They circled John, who was surprised to see my kids running around outside with only a long-sleeved shirt and underwear on.
“HEY! Get back in here and finish getting dressed up!” I called, as the kid laughed and ran around the tree, then John, and then the tree again, and finally back inside.
“Get dressed you little twerps…” I said, as the kids ran passed me, giggling, to avoid getting tickled.
“Well, looks like they are excited.” said John, as he plopped down a bag of life-vests to get everyone sized up for the outing. John had no comment about the kids being barefoot out in the rain, because he too was wearing shorts and walking around with no shoes as we loaded my fly fishing gear into his boat.
Fly Fishing Blue Heart Spring has been a goal of mine for years and years. It’s located in the Thousand Springs area near Hagerman, Idaho, and looking at it from pictures online had me interrogating anyone I knew who had visited the spring; most specifically about the fish in it. Little did I know that I was about to be shocked, not only by Blue Heart, but by every aspect Thousand Springs had to offer.
The kids loved watching the boat enter the water, and thankfully the rain had stopped almost right on time for us to start our journey.
There was one more thing: something I didn’t expect, but almost should have. It never occurred to me that a portion of the Snake River would be so clear this far downstream, but there I was looking at water that was damn near ten feet in visibility.
Kaylee, John’s dog, was at the head of the boat as John fired up the engine.
“You guys excited?” Gracy, my wife, asked Mason and Cruz, who were all smiles.
“Yes, I am ready.” Cruz finished, as the boat started to gain speed.
Everyone was all smiles as the boat hit full speed. Both kids were saying something, and pointing at the ducks that were flying away, but with the engine full throttle, I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
“Okay, let’s check this out.” John said, bringing the boat to almost a stop. We slowly approached an inlet to the main river, and the closer we got the more clear the water became.
“This is a popular spring I can get my boat into. I won’t be able to go all the way in, because it gets very shallow, but if you had a kayak you could float around all of this.”
The water was so clear it was as if we were looking though glass.
“A Fish!” I said, pointing it out as it bolted from the boat.
“Well, what are you waiting for, get your fly rod together.” John said, laughing.
Gracy and the kids were fully inthralled with our surroundings as I quickly rigged up my fly rod.
Mason sat by my side, keeping an eye out for fish at the front of the boat.
“Okay, I want to take you to the other part of this spring. There is a deeper spot over there, and a waterfall…” John said, finishing with “…Super cool!”
We slowly made our way back through the small channel. Every once in a while, Mason would scream out “FISH” as a small minnow swam by.
“Good eye, Mason.” I said, making sure to praise him with every spotted fish.
The sound of roaring water filled the still air as we approached the small falls.
“Cool huh?” John said, coming into view of the falling spring.
“Super cool, huh guys?”
“Yeah!” Both kids chimed, and I peeled line and blasted a cast to the far end of the falls.
The water was turbulent yet the clarity remained. The rushing water from the falls pushed my line away from the deeper section. Without a sinking line I knew I wasn’t going to be able to fish this properly, but still I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
“Come on, let’s get you guys to Blue Heart.” John said, and I quickly gathered my line and stored my fly rod safely for the ride over.
Once clear of the shallow spring, John pushed on the throttle and we were off. The cold wind from the ride pierced through anything in its way, so I held Mason low and tight to keep him warm. Cruz was with Gracy, but threw all caution to the wind when John offered up the driver seat.
Though it was a cold day, every once in a while the sun would break from the clouds, and give us full sunlight. Lemon falls was a spectacular sight as we roared upstream to Blue Heart.
“Is this it?” I asked, as John brought the boat to a halt.
“Right up there.” He pointed… I could see the entrance to the infamous springs, and as we drew nearer, the water got magnificently clear.
The question of whether or not there was fish in the spring was answered immediately as three sizable fish spooked from the entering boat.
“What are you waiting for, get your fly rod.” John said.
“Don’t have to tell me twice.”
I stood at the front of the boat with Mason right at my left-hand side.
Blue Heart Spring was magnificent. Upon entering the spring there is the typical foliage of the submerged plants found in all springs blocking the bottom from being visible, but once we were over the actual spring itself, the clarity and color were unreal. The sun peaked out from the clouds as we stood over the spring and the magnificent sapphire blue was now shown in full magnitude.
“Wow… huh, Mase..?” I said in awe.
“Fish, Daddy. There’s a fish, catch it!” Wherever my mind was, Mason brought it right back to where it needed to be. Sure enough, there were about five little ten-inch fish darting around the bottom of the spring as clear as a bell.
The water was as still as a blue agate, and the small riffle of my fly line landing on the surface was magnified by the shadow of the disturbance echoed on the sandy bottom below. The few fish scattered for a second before returning, and I watched as my flies sank down in their strike zone.
A small twitch of the flies got the attention of the fish, but I could tell by the behavior they were not going to strike. Still, holding onto hope I twitched the fly again bringing it back towards the boat. When out of nowhere a substantially large fish materialized, bolting towards my flies.
“Ohhh…” I managed, as the fish took my fly without hesitation.
“THERE!” I said, setting the hook hard.
The head shakes of the fish were more than present at the end of my rod. The fish turned hard, and with another shake I watched in horror as my fly slipped out from the fish’s mouth.
“NO!” I screamed with such desperation you would have thought I was watching the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi in real life.
My fly floated lifelessly as the fish kicked away.
“I had it… I had it…” I pleaded.
I knew there was no shot of that fish coming back and being fooled again, but I would have to be without a soul not to try. With my fly already at the right depth, I twitched it back to life. The big fish was still in sight, and that grabbed its attention.
“Come on…” I said under my breath, but the fish was not going for it. A quick dart at the fly and then refusing it was the game we were now playing.
“Dad, are you going to catch it?” Mason asked with some level of hope.
“Are you catching it, dad?”
“Dad, are you catching the fish?”
“Dad, can you catch it?”
“Mason.” I said, realizing I said his name far stronger than what I had meant to. Mason looked at me.
“Come here man.” I said sitting down.
Mason clambered over to me like a lapdog looking for affection.
“Are you going to catch it?” He asked, with a hushed, timid voice.
“No, man. That one got away.” I said, putting my arm around him.
“Well, are you going try for another one?” He asked, a little more happiness in his voice.
“Of course… But I will need your help looking for a fish.” Mason gasped with the opportunity, and leapt to the front of the boat looking for a fish.
Mason did a great job of pointing out every fish, but none were intrigued. I tried all kinds of different approaches, flies, rigs, and bringing my tippet down to dangly low tinsel strengths for a stillwater situation, and still nothing.
Mason had resulted in trying his own method of catching a fish. I glanced over to see my handmade fly fishing net complexly submerged in the water with Mason holding onto the small clip that typically fashioned to my vest. The cord that he held was extended three feet under the surface as he watched intently, just in case a fish chose to swim in it. And if one had happened to swim in it, even the smallest fish would had ripped it from the little pinch hold he had on the outfit.
“Maaaaase…” I said calmly, fearing even the slightest startle would cause him to lose his handle on it.
“Yeah?!” He said, bringing himself and the net back into the boat safely.
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to catch a fish.”
And before I told him that was not going to work, I realized, with the arsenal of gear I had, I was not doing any better.
There was no longer any sun, and the wind had made this once placid spring a static mess. That wasn’t all; it was starting to rain again. Time was flying for me, and I could easily remain out here for hours, but with the wind and rain the temps had drastically dropped. It was time to head out. Everyone was getting rain gear on, except for me and Mason. Still at the front of the boat, I peeled out all my fly line, and launched a cast as far as I could with a slight breeze at my back.
I started to slowly reel in my line, when WAM!
“There’s one!” I said happily. Mason scrambled to get the net, and was ready in a flash. The head shakes suggested it wasn’t one of those little dinky ten inch fish.
“This is a good one, Mase!” I said, through a smile. Then my line went slack.
“Oh no! It’s gone.”
“DANGIT!” Mason screamed. His pure frustration echoed mine, however his almost made me laugh.
“It’s okay, man. Let’s see that fly it took.” I said, reeling in the line for the last time.
“Oh…” I said, smearing my hand across my face with a stupid realization… I had switched to 5X tippet and forgot to cut off that light line before re-rigging. The fish had broke me right off, and that realization slapped me in the face.
Rain pelted us in the face as we bolted back to the dock. Gracy and I had each kid covered well, and despite the cold, we never hear one complaint out of the kids.
The boat was secured again to the boat trailer, and everyone was comfy inside John’s SUV as we started to drive back home.
“How long will we hear about this?” John asked Gracy, who was in the back seat with the kids.
“Him telling you the story of how exactly he lost his fish?” Gracy asked, rhetorically.
“Yeah, that’s the one!”
I started to laugh, remembering the importance of patience when on the water, and how I had failed myself by tying on too quickly instead of removing the 5X tippet in the end.
“Oh, it will be days.” Gracy said, dramatically.
“Thought so!” John chimed.
“Days? Hell, I am going to write a blog about this. With every detail of the fish fight.”
“Only in your blog you will catch the fish?” John said, laughing.
“Yep!” Gracy added.
“NO!” I retorted.
“Well, if you change the things I say, just let me know who I am going to offend ahead of time.” John said with a laugh.
“Will do.” I said, taking one last glance at Thousand Springs knowing I was going to have some restless nights thinking about this day.
“Until I return…” I said to the water, and John looked over at me and nodded.
“We can make that happened sooner than you think.” and after hearing that, a small smile crept up on my face.