Fish America: Idaho

To begin the week, I decided to take an opportunity to try something I never had before: whitewater rafting. Pictured here is a stretch of the Green River in Black Diamond, Washington. The photo was taken, nervously, from the bridge above on our way to the put-in. Thanks to expert rafter Jodi Senyohl, I got a chance to run the Green on Friday. Thanks to recent rain and dam releases, the river was running high.
Jodi has been whitewater rafting for more than a decade, and has taken trips I can't even imagine, like a month-long float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Still, with all he's seen, he says the Green River, for its scenery, is one of his favorite floats.
This is my attempt to not look terrified. Of course, we had all the right gear, including a head-to-toe dry suit that I'm sealed up in here. Seattle in November is no place to be doing a 4-hour float any wetter than you need to be.
Once I released my white-knuckle grip, the float was a blast. We careened between submerged boulders, brushed up against canyon walls and went ripping through Class IV rapids like these. The aspect of the float that makes it somewhat unnerving is the remote nature of the stretch of the Green that we floated. Many stretches run through canyons that wouldn't allow escape from the rapids, and there are very few roads or trails leading to the main highway. A flip here could be an ordeal, especially in 40-degree November weather. Thankfully, Jodi kept the raft upright and the four hours flew by.
If you're in the Seattle area, stop by the aquarium. Shore birds, sea lions, and a mind-boggling variety of fish make for an interesting way to keep out of the on-and-off Seattle rain for a bit.
On Saturday, I'd get the chance to fly-fish Puget Sound in and around Gig Harbor with Guide Dave McCoy of Emerald Water Anglers, and Dylan Rose. Casting a 4-weight from the scenic banks of the sound just outside the city is a cool enough experience itself, even if it weren't for the beautiful cutthroat trout you're chasing.
Here's a piece of fishing advice from the road: if you're putting on your wading boots, and there's just one, and there's a black lab running around, chances are good that those two things aren't entirely unrelated. I warmed up first thing Saturday by chasing this guy with my Simms wading boot around a parking lot for 10 minutes, trying to hop on one foot so I wouldn't rip my stockingfoot waders. I caught him.
The cutthroat trout in the sound grow to about 18 inches. They're not monstrous fish, but they're beautiful and chasing them from beach to beach is a blast. The approach reminded me of surf fishing in New Jersey, except for a very different quarry.
For the most part, there's little known about the fishery, and especially in November, there aren't too many fishermen out on the beaches whipping the water to a froth. You'll have to climb, stumble and jump for access, but you'll be on the water alone for the most part, according to Dylan.
Pictured here is a stone crab I found. You can probably guess what they hide under, and Dylan says they're a good sign of a healthy beach.
We started off throwing "waker" flies, which made a wake on the surface to grab the attention of these sea-runs pushing bait around on top.
Streamer patterns, like this, are another way to target these fish. Beer3 Fly, pictured here, is tied after, you guessed it, three beers. Further details were unavailable but that seemed like the relevant information. With the cutthroats, it's a matter of finding them and putting a fly in front of them, these fish are aggressive and not terribly selective.
Here, Dylan's hooked up with a cutthroat.
In what has to be one of the weirder events I've witnessed on this trip, he lost the fish, but was left with a partially digested baitfish on the fly hook. Some stuff you just couldn't make up.
Dylan did, however, land his next cutthroat.
This specimen, landed by Dave, had a brighter coloration. These fish are just downright cool to look at and fun to catch.
We caught a rare dry fall day on Puget Sound, and temperatures hanging in the high 40s made for a beautiful day on the water.
One interesting business that Dave's helping out with is Recycled Waders. These guys are using old breathable waders to make everything from wallets to reel cases to beer Koozies. A lot of the major wader companies are contributing fabric, and the stuff's pretty cool. Check it out at www.recycledwaders.com
After thanking Dave and Dylan, it was time to start heading back East. Pictured here is some heavy snowfall at Snoqualmie pass, at the 3,000-foot summit. Route 90 carries traffic East from Seattle, and it was lined on Sunday with cars affixing chains to their tires to prepare for the ice and snow.
Snow would stall me at La Grande, Oregon, and again after passing through Boise. Heavy snowfall and frozen windshield wiper blades combined with days of 6-hour drives made for some earlier nights than expected. But on Tuesday I'd arrive at my destination of Ketchum, Idaho
Ketchum was a town at the foothills of the Sawtooth mountain range built on the mining boom for silver, then bolstered by gambling after the silver ran out. The mining and gambling days in Ketchum have passed, for the most part, but it's still a sight to behold. The night I arrived in the Sun Valley, temperatures dropped to 20 degrees and a foot of snow fell on my jeep.
After running the jeep long enough so that the doors would un-freeze, I woke up to this. You discover that you've just been looking at shades of off-white your whole life without knowing it when you see a fresh blanket of snow on the Idaho mountains.
It wasn't, however, water or fish that brought me to Ketchum, but a gravestone in the Ketchum Cemetery.
Just up the road from the Bigwood Golf Course and resort, and across from the Bell Drive and Industrial and Office Center, is the Ketchum Cemetery. After a foot of snowfall, it will take some Google image searching, some digging, and a few trips to the photo gallery across the street to warm up if it's 12 degrees, but if you're persistent you can find the gravesite of Ernest Hemingway. "He loved the warm sun of summer and the high mountain meadows, the trails through the timber and the sudden clear blue of the lakes. He loved the hills in the winter when the snow comes." Hemingway used these words to eulogize friend Gene Van Guilder in the same Ketchum cemetery, but many suspected they were equally introspective. I doubt Hemingway would have minded his stone being covered with some of Idaho's first winter snow.
If You Go: Puget Sound: Dave McCoy, www.emeraldwateranglers.com

A whitewater rafting adventure, fly-fishing for sea-run cutthroat trout in Puget Sound, and a stop by the final resting place of one of America's greatest writers. Fish America goes from Seattle to Ketchum, Idaho.