Anything Fly Fishing

Five-weight Fun on Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene River

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There’s a persistent, vicious rumor that the only reason I married my wife, Khris, was to get free room and board at the in-laws so I could fish Northern Idaho, a top spot for wild Westslope cutthroat and rainbow trout.

That’s nonsense—well, at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. But if you’ve ever been to the Inland Northwest, especially Coeur d’Alene, you’d understand how such a conspiracy theory could get ignited–and continue to smolder despite the birth of a son, the adoption of a chocolate lab, and nearly 20 years of marriage.

Idyllic Idaho

In the spirit of full disclosure, when we were dating, it was my wife who introduced me to fly fishing through our (now) mutual good friend and Pacific Northwest fly fishing icon, Joe Roope, who runs Castaway Fly Shop in Coeur D’Alene and Kingston.

Not surprisingly, that supposedly innocent introduction to angling was clouded in Khris’ thinly veiled, Hollywood “B” movie-like attempt to lure (what else?!) me to Idaho from Washington, D.C., to meet her parents, who were in Coeur d’Alene (her hometown) for the summer.

Needless to say: It was the beginning of a great love affair with fly, er, I mean, my lovely wife.

Indeed, in June, we made our annual summer trek to Northern Idaho to bask in the warm glow of my wife’s family—on the non-negotiable condition that I get a kitchen pass to go fly fishing with Joe and the Castaway Fly Shop crew.

I don’t even have to mention Joe’s last name to my wife — just saying “Joe” is sufficient. Joe and Khris went to high school together, so when Khris drops me off at the shop, Joe asks her, not me: “What time does he need to be back?”

Being an outdoorsy Idaho gal at heart, Khris usually says:

“Whenever….”

Trout Whisperer: Sage Guerber

Joe had to watch the fly shop this time so he gave me one of his top guides, Sage Guerber, to run the Coeur d’Alene (aka the CdA) River with. A trip down the freestone CdA means hammering away at miles of wild fish, including native Westslope cutthroat, rainbow, and hybrid “cutbow” (i.e., a cutthroat-rainbow cross) trout.

(Just FYI: The CdA is probably about 80-percent Westslope cutthroat…)

We launched the drift boat at about 9am on a cool, clear day in mid-June. The river conditions were near perfect with the minor exception that the mountain water was incredibly clear; indeed, the water was so gin-clear that you could easily see down 10-feet into the water column.

It’s like that big fish tank at Cabela’s….

Despite this, I quickly get into some chubby cutties on a dry-dropper rig. Before long, we also caught a cutbow and a rainbow, nailing–in seemingly no time–what I’ll call a “CdA trout slam” of cuts, bows, and cutbows.

(Some may object to my claim of a “CdA trout slam” since you can find brook trout in the river; But brookies are technically char, not trout, putting me on pretty solid scientific terra firma….)

The native Westslope cutthroat

The fun really starts for me when we begin to fish dry flies. Sage likes a big bushy fly with some wiggly legs. He is a super “fishy” guide, and he’s right about the fly because—even though it’s not hopper season here yet—these trout start drilling dries with abandon.

A radiant wild rainbow

Talk about natural instinct.

Not having dry fly fished much this year yet, I missed on a couple of downstream hooksets.

I also whiffed on several more due to coming tight before saying: “God Save the Zags” (for the nearby Gonzaga U. basketball team).

(That’s much more appropriate in the Pacific Northwest than that old British dry fly chestnut: “God save the Queen”….)

Fortunately, I also get lucky when some trout nail the fly so hard that they hook themselves. Indeed, one time while zoning out on the stunning scenery going by as we float downriver, Sage nonchalantly says: “Uhhhh, Pete, fish on…”

Wake up: Fish On!

Awakened from my delightful Idaho daydreaming, I look in the general direction of where I’d cast the fly only to see my fly line swimming very unnaturally upriver. I’m soon rewarded with a good-sized cuttie.

Despite my fishing foibles, it’s all good.

At the end of the float, we boated 30-plus cuts, cutbows, and bows, mostly on dry flies; I’m sure I lost another 10 to 15 hookups due to the trout not playing “fair”…you know, like leaping out of the water and or shaking their heads violently.

The nerve of these salmonids….

The Idaho trouts’ inexcusable bad behavior aside, we landed at least one 16-inch cut and one 16-inch bow, but there are certainly bigger trout than that in the CdA.

I know this because I spoke with Mike Thomas, a fishery biologist in the Panhandle office of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Mike told me he’s seen 20-plus inch trout in the CdA while snorkeling (yes, snorkeling!) the river during fishery survey work.

Moose!

We also spied a moose (not uncommon in Northern Idaho, but still a huge treat for an out-of-towner) along the river—and tagged a (self-proclaimed) “Inland Empire trout trifecta.” Talk about some five-weight fun!

Even if I have to break bread with the out-laws, err, I mean, the in-laws, that evening, there’ll be no complaining after an awesome day of angling for cutthroat on the Pacific Northwest’s Coeur d’ Alene River.

Dr. Peter Brookes is a 12x award-winning, Virginia-based outdoor writer, who considers Northern Idaho one of his favorite places. ‎brookesoutdoors@aol.com

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