AVERY, Idaho — It’s the beauty of Idaho’s trout-bearing streams that always does it for me.
How the water appears gold as it rushes over shallow cobbles and gives way to green when the speed slows and the depth increases. How it clamors and fusses as it tumbles out of the mountains and collects ever-building momentum for its journey to the sea. How the air feels cool and heavy when you approach it and how it pushes against your legs with deceptive strength when you wade into one of its slow-moving pools.
In this case, it was the St. Joe River, but it could just as easily be the Selway, Lochsa, the North Fork of the Clearwater or a dozen other streams. Their beauty just by itself is enough to wash away, at least temporarily, the stresses of life.
But the fact that these rivers are home to cutthroat that can be fooled by half-competent anglers like myself, makes them not only soothing but also exciting. The gorgeous fish with their dark spots on golden skin and their distinctive red-slashed jaws are a wonderful distraction. They are mostly willing foils and seem to bite at almost any fly offered.
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But they aren’t always so accommodating. There are those days, or portions of them, when the fish turn finicky and reject everything offered.
That is how it began for my wife, Sadie, and me on a recent day trip to the Joe. We arrived late, just as the heat of the early July day was reaching its full strength. A swim seemed in order but the water was still a bit too bracing to be enjoyed.
Instead we pulled on our waders, walked waist-deep into a promising run and attempted to brush off the rust from months without casting a fly rod. Soon we were making casts that, while far from perfect, should have been good enough to elicit a strike. But only one fish rose and it was too fast to be hooked.
Nor was anything happening on the surface of the pretty stretch of water we selected. In addition to rejecting our offerings of artificial insects, not a single fish broke the surface to nab the few natural bugs on the water.
Although mildly disappointing, it wasn’t a shock. The heat of the day can often be tough on anglers. So we let the dogs romp in the river and we worked on technique before heading to another spot.
This time we arrived as the sun was slipping behind a ridge. Fish were actively feeding in the long run with a deep pool at its head. It took only a few casts before Sadie was fighting a fish, and then another and another. We both caught and landed several beautiful trout. Neither of us thought about anything but the river before us and the fish swimming in it. Time slowed but the clock didn’t. Before long, two hours had passed and goose bumps formed on our arms as the temperature dropped. We both made several “last casts” before trudging back to the rig, packing up our stuff and driving, refreshed, back to the rest of the world.