Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change.
I think next time, if there is one, I'll keep that particular observation to myself. There just aren't enough trout in this river to go around.
It's also pretty widely known among the few of us who wade the Spokane that it's a solid number one on the 'top one hundred' list of toughest rivers to wade. And that's not even talking about general access to the water, which in itself can be an adventure. I will save that topic and elaborate more on it in a future post. But despite the obvious challenges presented to anyone who decides to wade here, I was more than surprised, when the flow eventually dropped enough to level the playing field, to see more wading fishermen this year than I've ever seen before. It was not an uncommon occurrence to arrive at one of my favorite runs only to discover a fisherman already working his way down through. And, on more than a few occasions, even when I thought I had a run all to myself, after making just a few casts I had the unmistakably distinct feeling that this run had been fished just prior to my arrival. I ended up doing a lot of extra hiking this year, giving myself a 'pep' talk as I did. I know it's everybody's river. I know that there are others who have discovered that this river is a favorable alternative for a day instead of jumping in the car and driving for a few hours to another venue. The present state of the local economy dictates that. But the truth is that from my years of solitary fishing I must confess to having become rather territorial. I also know, from my guiding experiences when I worked at the shop years ago, that even though there are more rods on the river, more specifically on 'my' water, that doesn't necessarily always equate to more fish being hooked. What does happen, though, is that the fish in any given area that is fished will simply 'go away', often for several days, and I think that's partly a condition of too few fish per rod, or per mile, or however you wish to delineate it. As much as I tout the attributes of the fish on this river, there are simply not enough of them to support an increase in fishermen. Fishing from a drift boat puts the fisherman in a position of one or maybe two shots at a fish before he's downstream and on to the next target whether that target may be a locale, a rise, or simply a nymph under an indicator drifted through one of the many deeper slots. But the wader has time on his side and is only moving after satisfying him/her self that every possible method has been tried. He/she may cover a section of water with a variety of flies utilizing a lot of different techniques before stepping down to repeat the process all over again. For the fisherman who knows what he's doing, that can provide success where the drifter merely shook his head as he moved downstream in search of the next opportunity.
This year, because of that increased fishing traffic, I've fished a lot of water that in years passed I would normally have walked right by. The decision to do that proved, in many instances rewarding. Evidently some of the trout have also taken up at least temporary residence in these areas seeking sanctuary from the increased activity in their usual lies. I was treated to some interesting hours of fishing and a few surprises during my time spent searching through and fishing these sections. It also aided in increasing the number of go-to flies in my box.
But two-legged fishermen are not the only reason that I have seen fewer fish. There are other, more 'serious' fish hunters to be aware of. In the feathered realm, I speak of the growing populations of Osprey, Great Blue herons, and in the early fall as they make their way to the Kokanee harvest on Coeur d'Alene lake, Bald eagles. On the furrier side, there are minks and a surprising number of otters. I was a bit taken back one early morning in August when it occurred to me that one of my favorite runs, a deep, fast trough with a classic tailout, had been adopted by a family of otters. Their den was at the top end of the fast slot. In previous years, I'd enjoyed the challenge of wading down this section as I swung heavy soft hackles through the various pockets of hydraulics, and it was a real surprise that particular morning to all of a sudden come face to face with a large otter with a face full of rainbow trout. I'm sure he was laughing at me. None of these fishers, furred or feathered, prescribe to the catch and release policy as far as I know.
Neither do the poachers and those intransigents who choose to fish without licenses. They fill buckets and stringers without conscience. Our beleaguered Fish and Game department, already strapped for resources (by selfish, thoughtless budget-cutting) with which to combat this plague does what it can, but they are woefully understaffed and the law-breakers know it. Every fly fisherman I know who has spent time on the Spokane has at one time or another witnessed this illegal activity. Many of us (including me) risk soaking our cell phones in order that we might report such activity if/when we see it, but it continues, pretty much unabated, and the propagation and proliferation of the native population of Redband Trout is now very definitely at risk. I get so frustrated! So angry!
And being on the subject of illegal fishing and keeping of fish is a perfect segue into another point of frustration. Our city 'fathers' have recently embarked on a campaign, or better yet, 'purge' if you will. They have decided that there is too much cheap alcohol for sale in certain parts of the city that have been determined to be 'high crime' areas. It is a concerted effort to drive the 'unhealthy' element out of what has been determined to be these 'high crime' parts of town. Their thinking is that by limiting sales of cheap, high alcohol content beverages, they will effectively reduce crime in these areas. Well, they were partially successful. They did decrease crime in a few isolated neighborhoods, but that's because the perpetrators simply picked up and went elsewhere. The crime rate in other areas then went way up. That's what happens when you move a resource. It causes the consumer, who, by the way has little to carry, to simply pick up and move. And that's exactly what they did. Great strategy. Many of them moved closer to the river, which already has a good reputation among this element for being a viable refuge from the law. Out of sight, then out of mind. That's a great way to solve a problem, city 'fathers'. Send them to the river. Nobody will see 'em down there.
I now step down off of my soap box.
As of the first week in September, right on schedule, the drawdown of Couer d'Alene Lake began. The river's rising now, and that will continue, little by little, until the Lake has reached it's winter level near the end of November which is at the same time good and getting bad. At this point it's still not enough to cause any major headaches as far as the wading is concerned; I'm hoping that I've got a few more weeks before I have to dust off the long (switch) rod again. On the plus side, with the shorter days and lower temperatures comes cooler water. Many of the fish have re-established shallower lies to take advantage of the early fall appearance of pseudos and blue-winged olives, not to mention the sporadic caddis, October caddis and the ever-present chironomids. For the past two days I have been on the water at the right time, and, for about an hour and a half right during the warmest part of the day have enjoyed casting my #18 BWO upwing parachute to favorably impressed rising fish. From experience I know that this 'window' will begin to close soon, so it is paramount to exploit as much fishable water as I can over the next few days. However, I have, along the way, rediscovered the value of my #16 classic TDR soft hackle. In the hour or so prior to the appearance of the BWOs, and thus the rising fish, I have had consistent success swinging my little soft hackle through the slow water sections where the olives will soon appear. It's all in the timing. Chalk up another one for serendipity.
And so it flows past. The river. Time. Summer into autumn. Warm into cool. My fly line bellies from the continual push, the ever present surge of things to get where they are going.
Me? I don't know if I'll ever get there. And yet, maybe I've already arrived. It doesn't matter.