Oct 12, 2013

Over a Hill

     I recently finished my third decade of life.  Events like that can make a man think deep thoughts like "Am I the fisherman I think I am?", "Why is my forehead growing?", and "How uncomfortable are Depends anyway?". Whenever I delve deep into wherever it is that answers to those questions lie, the outcome is usually the same: I get the urge to find out if I'm still tough enough to call myself a hardcore fisherman.
     The "fishing hangover" can be painful after a weekend or two of trying to answer those questions, but those kinds of trips always make for some good memories! When I can share them with family and friends (or better yet - family members who I'm friends with), they're even better. See this post, or this post for examples of other such adventures.

     My plan for this particular "test-of-fishermanhood" was to spend the weekend back in the motherland (Idaho). I would drive there Friday night, fish for steelhead on Saturday, fish for pike on Sunday, then drive home Sunday night. Doesn't sound too bad right?
     Well, just as I was packing my car to leave my plans changed a little. My brother Robert called me and said he and his buddy were going out for some nighttime steelhead trolling, so I should hurry up and get there! You don't have to tell me twice! I booked it there and managed to avoid any speeding tickets. I crossed the Idaho border at 7:30, went and bought my steelhead tag, and was on their boat and fishing by 8:00! We trolled lighted plugs up and down the river, and the fish bit pretty steady for the next few hours. We lost several, but managed to land 4 including a nice 36 incher that I landed just as we started heading home!
Clearwater River Steelhead
Robert displaying some night-time steel!
Clearwater River Steelhead
This ended up being my biggest fish of the trip, and at over 13 lbs, I was OK with that!
     We finally called it quits for the night and made it back to Robert's house by about 1:30 am. I was excited about having already caught a fish since Saturday had only just technically begun! I got to sleep around 2:00 and had some VERY terse words with my alarm clock when it went off at 4:30. But I wasn't going to waste valuable fishing time for something as silly as sleep. By 5:30 I was fishing again!.
     I hooked four fish and land two that morning: one smallish steelhead and a coho jack! That fish made my day even if it was just a little jack! I caught a nice coho several years ago (see this post) and never expected to get another one. 
Clearwater River Coho Jack
See, don't I look surprized?
     After the morning bite wore off, I considered my options. I could either go back to the house like a sane person and take a nap, since I only got 2.5 hours of sleep that night; or I could go fishing for something that would be biting in the middle of the day. So I went carp fishing!
Denizen of the duck pond
I caught eight carp and they all looked identical to this one, or who knows, maybe I caught this one carp eight times...
Common Carp
 He seems to have a distracted look on his face. I'm not sure he's paying attention.
     I carp fished until I thought the steelhead might bite again, then headed back to my spot. I again hooked four and landed two. But this time they were both adult coho salmon! That may not sound too crazy to some of you, but if you knew the coho's story in the Clearwater River, it would.  Coho were officially declared extinct in Idaho in 1986, and if not for the Nez Perce Tribe they probably still would  be. The tribe has done a pretty fantastic job of reintroducing them. They pretty much single handedly brought them back, and I think they deserve a pretty big pat on the back for that! If you want to read more about the reintroduction project, click here
     There are coho in the Clearwater again, but not too many of them. At the time of this fishing trip there were about 70,000 steelhead over Lower Granite Dam (the last dam they have to pass to get into Idaho), but there were only about 1,100 coho. So catching even one was surprising enough, but catching three in one day is almost not even believable!
Fish on!
Battling a Clearwater River Coho!
Clearwater River Coho
Do you see the nose on that thing? The fish has a pretty impressive schnoz too!
     I slept well that night, after having hit the lottery three times in one day. But I was still pretty irritated when my alarm clock went off at 4:00 AM again. But I got up anyway, because - I've said it before and I'll say it again - I wasn't going to waste valuable fishing time for something as silly as sleep! I met my buddy Zach in Moscow well before the sun was even thinking of coming up, and we pulled his boat up to Coeur d'Alene to chase some pike! 
     I've ambiguously mentioned Zach on here in a few posts, but never officially introduced him until now. We met at the University of Idaho where we were office-mates and we both worked on different aspects of the same steelhead research project. He is a great guy and all, but he has the bad habit of always catching more fish than me, and I honestly cannot say that about many people! In fact I think I've only outfished him once in all the times we've fished together, not that I'm keeping track or anything....
     We launched the boat and started fishing with a flurry with high hopes of large teeth at one of our favorite pike spots (OK, it's his spot, he was just nice enough to show it to me. No I won't tell you where it is...). However it was just not in the cards for us that morning. Even Zach, with his freakish ability to summon pike from the depths seemingly at will, couldn't even muster so much as a bite. We called it quits there and headed to another nearby lake (A spot where Zach caught more pike than me on a previous trip, not that I'm keeping track or anything...).
     Finally at about 2:00 in the afternoon, it seemed to have warmed up enough, and we started to see some signs of life. Zach was the first to strike (duh...) and landed the first pike of the day. It wasn't a big one, but it got rid of the skunk and seemed to validate our trip and brighten our moods.
Northern Idaho Pike
Zach finally got the skunk off our boat with this pretty little fish!
     Once the skunk was off, the next few hours were actually pretty good fishing. And (after Zach caught two more pike) the fish gods even decided that I could participate! I pulled up my biggest largemouth bass in years and a pike of my own!
Largemouth Bass
I finally got rid of my skunk too!
Largemouth Bass
That fish sure did have a large mouth...
Northern Idaho Pike
I figure if the fish is making a duck face, I should too.
     Zach was the last to strike (duh...) with this beautiful largemouth!
Largemouth Bass
He just couldn't handle me catching the biggest bass, so he pulled in this monster!

     I made it back to my own bed by about 1:00 AM on Monday morning, after having spent 25 of the last 48 hours on the water. I'm not sure if I really answered any of the deep, thought-provoking questions that spurred my Mountain Dew fueled fishing binge in the first place, but I'd like to think I can still hold my own in the fishing arena, even if time (and my hair-line) are slowly creeping up on me!  And, more importantly, time spent on the water with family and friends (even if they do have the nerve to catch more fish than me) is well worth any amount of missed sleep!

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