Paying It Forward

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Paying It Forward

I got back from my last trip to Silver Creek with high hopes that one of the greatest mayfly hatches in America was just a day or two away. The Brown Drake is a mayfly that just happens to be one of the biggest of the species and will emerge on Silver Creek Idaho (two hours east of Boise) for only 5 evenings a year. The weather for the Brown Drake hatch historically to occur is during the first couple of weeks in June and must have warm clear weather to happen. All indications from some of the old bulls I met at the creek and the guides working at Picabo Anglers fly shop all pointed to any day now. With that advice I planned a Fri. Sat. or Sunday trip to join in on one of the great fly fishing events in the Northwest.

However Idaho’s Spring weather has a way of changing plans. By Thursday the pro’s at Picabo Anglers fly shop who are at the creek every day and night projecting the “hatch” predicted because of the cold weather front coming through on Friday that it would more than likely put the hatch past when I would be able to go and fish it. Now I have a situation where I want to go fishing but very few places to go. The next best alternative to casting Brown Drake flies to huge hungry trout is…………… well I guess there is no other alternative. But I still want to fly fish, so I was settled in going over to Riley Creek near Hagerman Idaho and casting BWO’s to small rising trout.

One of the many benefits of owning a fly fishing school and shop is I get to talk fly fishing every day and get the skinny on what’s hot and what’s not. A bass fisherman came by the shop and wanted to know if I could repair his bass rod and after talking to him about the merits of catching bass on a fly versus a lure, I suggested that he try fishing the Snake River for its known for its scrappy smallmouth bass. I suggested he try the Swan Falls section of the Snake River for some local action and then checked the river flows for him. I was astounded by the low water for such a high water spring and decided right then and there that I would head on over to the Snake and try my luck there. The bad thing about checking the CFS on the Snake is it changes almost daily until the runoff is over. With luck I would have the river at a low point and that would give me access to where the smallmouth bass are.

With all our rivers at flood stage in the Spring I always feel blessed to have the old reliable Snake River to the South waiting for me. I know if I go over there this time of the year, I will most likely have the whole river to myself. For some anglers fly fishing means casting small emergers to rising trout, for me it’s casting a fly to any fish and fooling them into eating my offering. Smallmouth bass and Grass Carp are worthy game fish for any fly anglers. The last seven carp I’ve been lucky enough to hook I only managed to bring one to hand. These fish are incredible fighters and among the smartest game fish in the world. Those qualities and the sheer size of the creatures makes catching them on light fly gear quite a thrill.

The ideal Snake River flow for catching smallmouth bass is around 5 to 6 thousand cfs and I’m going over there at 16,000 cfs. This may sound daunting to some anglers but for a guy like me who knows this 4.5 mile of river like the back of my hand I have learned from hard work where the few nice places where

When I arrived at the river, I immediately drove the three and a half miles downriver to fisherman’s Point, my favorite starting point. During that drive I saw no other vehicles on the river (I guess 16000 cfs scared most intelligent anglers away) which meant there was no other fisherman working the river that morning. Fisherman’s Point is my starting point because I always catch smallmouth bass there and it sets the tone for the rest of my day. After gearing up and putting on a Brown Cone Head Rabbit Tail with a stinger hook, I walked down to the river. As I turned around the corner to the river, I noticed a couple who were camped next to the river enjoying their morning fire. I waved as I began to walk a few feet into the river. A yell from shore brought my attention back to shore. “I can’t start my car to go home and no one can help me, can you give me a jump.” So, there I am all geared up in water up to my thighs with a big brown bass bug in my hand just getting ready to cast when I’m startled by a cry for help.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in situations just like this couple and someone has come out of nowhere, on some god forsaken back road, that follows a no name steam, in the middle of Idaho where I’m all alone to help me find a way home. So, for me it’s a no brainer, when in the woods you always help those folks in need if for no other reason than to return the favor that someone has given you or to pay it forward. There may be a time when you need help and when that help comes it’s always a relief and later a commitment from you to return the favor in the future.

It took me about an hour to get this couple’s car running again and I could see the relief in both of their faces as I shut the hood of their car. They thanked me for my help and wished me luck and as began to walk away I looked back and yelled “Don’t forget to pay it forward.” I had to be back in Boise by 12:30 and it was now 11am so I only had one hour left to fish. Without wasting another second, I waded back out into the river and started casting.

Fishing for Smallmouth bass in the Snake River is not all that different from fly fishing for trout on a trout stream.  You need to first understand that smallmouth like to be in areas where the river has some current created by rocks and boulders.  Like trout who love to live in pocket water, Smallmouth find this water to be perfect for ambushing small fish, crawfish, bugs and the like.  At Fisherman’s Point I’m reading the water in the same way.  I will cast my bass bug on sinking tip floating line and when I get my line right where I want it I start my retrieve with one long 3 to 4 foot strip followed by 6 or 7 quick strips then back to the long strips until I can see the sink tip part of my fly line.

The take is sudden but subtle.  It’s almost kin to your fly line tightening up or slowly stopping.  If you don’t strike hard and stick that big hook into those hard mouths you will miss the strike.  It takes losing a few fish before you catch on.  Unlike trout, if you strike to hard you can break your fly off in the trout’s mouth, pull the fly out of their mouth or strike to fast missing the trout completely.  With Smallmouth Bass I don’t think you can strike to hard, the harder the better.   When the first pause was felt in my hand, I violently jerked my fly rod up and was rewarded by the massive jerk back of a Smallmouth Bass that had just been fooled.  I repeated this process for the remainder of the hour before it was time to head back to Boise.

Even though I didn’t have a whole lot of time on the Snake fly fishing for Smallmouth Bass I did feel pretty good about the amount of Smallmouth Bass I was able to catch while there.  Even more I felt great about helping some great folks who were stranded to get home safely.  Lastly, I felt good about paying it forward. Helping others in need when you’re in the woods should be everyone’s duty for there may be a day, like I have had on too many occasions, when someone’s kind assistance will get you home safely too.

Mike Sandifer

Northwest School of Fly Fishing