The West is Calling
Summer of 2018 was a life changing summer for myself and two close friends. This would mark our first voyage in to the vast and beautiful expanse of the western United States. Bozeman Montana was the base camp for Nick, Brandon and myself and it is hard to put in to words how incredible the trip was. Well, I managed to write a lengthy blog about the trip so maybe not that hard to find words but you get the point. Immediately upon arriving home that July our wheels began spinning on how we could recreate this experience. The initial consensus was to go back to Montana but as time went on and I began to ask around I started to hear whispers of this mysterious place. A place that was somehow more rugged and beautiful than Montana. A place where cutthroat abound and the list of other possible species forced your lips to curl into an uncontrollable smile. The place was Victor Idaho and we quickly booked our flights and began planning for summer of 2019.
The Teton Valley is honestly a part of the country I am not very familiar with. While many of the rivers are legendary with the Henry’s Fork and South Fork and Teton rivers, the area itself was a mystery to me. Immediately upon arriving in Victor the immense majesty of the Teton mountains takes your breath away. The snow capped peaks are rugged and dwarf the clouds and quickly brought in to perspective the challenge that lay before us. We try to do our trips as DIY as possible. For one it’s much more rewarding but two, and most importantly, it makes a trip like this more affordable. Upon arriving at our rented house we got out the Google machine and began to plan our conquests. Day one would start with the Henry’s Fork followed by Falls Creek in the afternoon. But we had made it to town late in the afternoon and with sunlight still left, we couldn’t help ourselves. We headed for the Teton River as it was a mere 5 minutes from our house. As we began to look for the tell tale signs of holding trout, the river began to boil with rising fish. I don’t mean a few fish rising regularly or aggressively, I mean as far as you could see fish covering almost every inch of water. Who couldn’t catch a fish with all these aggressive feeding fish? This guy that’s who. The next morning we arrived at the famed Henry’s Fork and I was immediately struck by how much this place did not look like a “trout river”. It was huge and flat and seemed almost still. As soon as I stepped in to the river I realized how wrong I was. The current was swift and smooth. The lack of rocks and structure were replaced with an abundance of aquatic vegetation creating an insect buffet for the resident fish. The flat water and non stop flow of food means these fish know what a real insect looks like and get to stare at your drift and pick apart your every mistake. Spoiler alert, I got skunked again! I swallowed my pride and began to rethink my life choices as we made our way to Falls Creek. I needed a win. Falls Creek was much more what I am used to seeing when trout fishing but the current was incredibly strong and the rocks were all small perfectly round ankle breakers waiting to claim their next victim. I am not the most confident wader so I found a safe spot and posted up. After many drifts I finally felt the familiar tug of a fooled fish. I have never been so happy to land a tiny little rainbow trout in my life! Dusk was setting in rapidly and we headed home counting each small victory to restore our pride. Idaho was kicking our butts!
Wednesday was the one day of the trip we had booked guides for a float trip on the South Fork of the Snake River. World Cast Anglers in Victor Idaho provided two drift boats for the four of us and two amazing guides. We were set to float the canyon section of the South Fork and along with many fish stories, the beauty and wildlife contained in this stretch of river alone had our juices flowing. I tempered my expectations seeing as I had been chewed up and spit out by Idaho so far, but I couldn’t help but be hopeful. A fly angler is a perpetual optimist. We launched the boats and within 5 minutes I had a beautiful 16 inch rainbow come up and slam my small ant. Before the next thirty minutes passed I had landed multiple breathtaking cutthroat and even landed a couple browns. I had pulled off the South Form slam! Throw in a full grown moose sipping water along the river bank and more eagles than I can count, we ended the day with quite possibly the best day of trout fishing any of us ever experienced. The balance of the universe was restored and we all slept well that night.
Thursday was back to DIY and we had planned to explore a different section of the Teton River and then head to Bitch Creek to try a different area a little farther out from our home base. I really believe the fish on the Teton only rose to get a good look at me as they laughed and pointed and told all their friends what a loser I was. I have never in my life seen more rising fish that were completely and totally uninterested in anything I had to offer. Bitch Creek was a beautiful small creek that was only accessible by sliding down an almost vertical hill covered with rocks and sage brush and I’m sure more rattle snakes than I care to know. We managed a few fish but after busting my leg on a rock the perfect size to land my entire body weight on my shin (and I have a lot of body weight) and having to make my way back up the almost vertical hill, it still felt like a loss. We grabbed dinner at an amazing little diner in Ashton Idaho and watched as a storm rolled in foiling our plans to try for an evening hatch. To say I wasn’t a little relieved would be a lie.
Friday dawned beginning our last day in Idaho. I had resigned myself to the reality of heading home with only one successful day under my belt. I truly was ok with that and went in to the day for the first time that week feeling relaxed and like I had nothing to prove. We went by World Cast Anglers early that morning to get their input on possible destinations. A plan began to form to cross the Tetons in to Wyoming and fish Flat Creek. It had only opened to anglers August 1st which just happened to be the day before. We knew this meant the possibility of crowds but that was worth the risk at this point. We headed off through the valley and in to the single most amazing drive I have ever been a part of. Coming over the Tetons and beginning to descend into Jackson Wyoming can only be described as spiritual. Flat Creek most definitely lives up to its name. From the road you don’t even see a creek, just a huge field of tall grass. The tall grass hides a tiny gem that is a mere six or seven feet wide and snakes and turns through the field like it’s lost and wandering. I quickly found a spot far from any crowds that just looked promising. A small shallow riffle the width of the creek ran in to a deep channel that followed the opposite bank for at least twenty feet. I tied on a Chubby with a small split case below it and began to make my first drift. If you can’t tell where this is going, it worked! The next hour or so was filled with countless cutthroat anywhere from fourteen to sixteen inches. I was healed! Every time I was sure I had caught the last fish and this hole couldn’t possibly hold more, I hooked up with another. I even managed to land a twenty inch cutthroat on a dry fly that makes the word beautiful seem inadequate and weak. I had finally done it. I finally caught fish and felt like I knew what I was doing. It didn’t hurt that my best day of unguided fishing was our last day of the trip. I went home walking on air and the days of torture and failure faded away.
When you do any DIY trip there are many pros and cons. Sure it’s rewarding when successful and saves you a ton of money, but in case you skipped everything else and only read this last paragraph, it’s hard! It takes a lot of work and planning and money to travel across the country and when you are relying on your own skills and intuition, sometimes you fail. You need to go in to any DIY trip completely aware of the fact that you could come home empty handed. Not that guided trips guarantee success, but it definitely increases your odds. On the flip side, when you pay your dues and get your butt kicked and fail miserably, your only option is to dust yourself off and keep going. You have to wake up every day with a short memory, forget the previous failures and go for it. Sure, having a day like I did on Flat Creek would be incredible in any circumstance, but I worked my butt off for those fish and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with that cannot be found without the struggles that precede it. I’m not saying not to fish with guides, some of my best fishing experiences have been with guides and what you can learn from a day of guided fishing is unmatched. But don’t be scared of the unknown. Don’t be scared of the challenge. Some times it’s ok to fail. Some times the only way you can truly enjoy the triumphs, is to have been through the failures.