***Warning: This day ends with me scooching away with my tail tucked between my legs, so please, read on if you like stories of humility.***
We had arrived late Saturday night, headed up to camp and slept like babies in the tent Kevin had set up for us earlier that day. Already, the weather forecast for the week was not looking spectacular, but we were as prepared as you could be and the 30 degree weather was no match for our down sleeping bags.
So far the trip consisted of Jay, me, Jay's buddy from Ohio Josh Streib, and our Jackson local Kevin Mock. It wasn't until Sunday night that our cameraman Greg Cooper would arrive. So, we woke up on a brisk Sunday morning at about 6 AM got our gear together and headed down to the town of Jackson to meet up with another one of Jay's friends, and guide in the valley, Jason Budd and his friend Mark.
After a stellar breakfast (quite possibly my favorite part of any given day) at Pearl Street Bagels, and a sad update that the pass was closed due to snow, meaning we would have to drive the long way around, we were off to the South Fork River in Idaho.
We stopped in Idaho for gas and license, and it was at this time we got out of the vehicles to be blasted by a wall of 35 mph winds that were a constant force. Add that to the low 40's temps and you sir, have got a down right wretched day for fishing. Luckily as we descended into the South Fork valley things did slow down a bit and as we were launching the boats, there was actually a 5 minute window of beautiful sun, zero wind, and what felt like 55 degrees. Though, in truth, that window left and we never really saw it again.
Most of the float was pretty average. We picked up fish on blacktail baetis, scuds, and tungsten pheasant tails, keying in on all the usual slow water seems. We had actually started out parking on a slow moving, thigh deep run that had a fair amount of fish parked over gravel that we could sight nymph to. Jay picked up a 15" cutt, and I was casting to a 17" cutt as well, but we decided it was early on and we should get floating.
Retrospectively, I wish we would have stayed for a while longer, since it was the last sight nymphing we would find all day. So, we floated on and the weather grew worse. The temperature stayed in the 40's which was a blessing, but the overcast skies grew darker and eventually settled on spitting rain throughout the day.
Now, as you know, that weather was not enjoyable, but it makes for some CRAZY baetis hatching, and before long those little sailboats dotted the water like spots on a cutthroat. We rigged up a rod with 6x and a poly-wing baetis and before long Jay was into his first 18" brown. After hooking a few other small fish we decided it was time to find a good side braid of the river with some slow water and depth, park the boat, and start looking for big heads.
We pulled over and found ourselves looking at steady rising fish 20 feet downstream and 50 feet upstream. They would stay in clumps of risers so that it looked like a pod of tailing bonefish, no joke, and I'm not sure that I've ever seen risers like that in my life. Most of them were in the 15"+ range. At the beginning, I'm sure they weren't too spooked and it was only 15 minutes before Jay and I had both landed a nice cutt, and then ... the rest of my day was like a million dollar bill, dangling above my head, just out of reach and no way to get it.
Don't get me wrong, once the lot of the fish figured out we were there, they kept rising but my skill with the rod was not enough. Jay continued to land fish, though none of us was hooking up with much frequency. There was a combination of factors really. For starters, the low light conditions, wind, length of your cast and size of the baetis (I was fishing #20's) meant actually seeing your fly was near to impossible, so that left you guessing where it landed and then guessing at which fish took your fly, if any of them did. On top of that, there was 300 natural baetis surrounding your imitation, which is just bad odds.
Jay, who has the best vision of any human I know, seemed to be pulling it off. He attributes a lot of it to the fact that he had a few #22 baetis in his box and felt that the smaller size was really helping quite a lot. Though, I feel like I was getting some risers to take my #20 and just not seeing them. I'm not a fan of using a larger dry fly as a point fly to see where your fly is at (it usually creates too much drag), but if I had to do it again, I would have probably given that a try.
When the tally was all said and done, that first fish I landed right off the bat was the only one I landed on a dry. I had a few others on, briefly, but it was a sad day for Jeff Allen. However, I stand firm by my conviction that I will take a schooling like that anytime! What a beautiful display of nature we saw that day.