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Ramblin’ Notes: Cooper River

The Cooper River is dear to me. I haven’t fished it seriously in a few years. It was a place that I shared with my close friend, guide buddy, and angling partner Casey. Casey passed away a few years back now…a US Marine that was using fly fishing to heal and recover from trauma…sadly he commited suicide.

We had become close, and when we lost him it hit me heavy. I was angry, sad, depressed, and at a loss. Talking to him literally a day before and not having any inclination. We had planned on meeting on Rock Creek Montana the following week. A trip we never got to share. To this day I still miss him. We fished the Cooper together…a lot in the short time we knew each other.

I returned to the Cooper River today. I have been driving along it to Cooper Lake a few times in between the trips of this past run. I could feel it calling me. I could also hear Casey’s deep chuckle of a laugh among the rapids. To this day I still hear it, right near a place he slipped and fell while walking behind me…rolling backwards laughing the entire time as he made sure he didn’t lose any important stuff and decided to just take a quick soak before returning to fishing.

I fished there today…and caught several fish and a few illusive brown trout. I remember his smile catching small hand sized trout among the rapids. Amazed and awed by the beauty of this small wild river tucked up in the highlands. God I miss him. He was one of the only other anglers that could keep up with me and matched my energy level. He just put himself wholly into Trout fishing.

I feel sad…sad is the only word I can muster, when I think about the times we shared, and the times we lost because of his departure. I feel privileged to have known him, fished with him, and shared in the experiences that fly fishing can bring anglers.

The Cooper River is a high mountain stream. It’s source is the Lemah Glacier, fed by way of Lemah Creek, into Pete Lake, into the upper Cooper River, which pools in a large deep lake around 4300ft, Cooper Lake. Not quite alpine. Then the river flows out of Cooper Lake, and begins it’s almost 7 mile journey to the Cle Elum River. The Cooper River below the lake is a torrent of water. With class 3 and 4 rapids every few hundred yards. Cooper Falls is an impressive 60 foot cascading waterfall that descends a solid granite staircase of rock into a large deep pool. There are fallen trees, huge boulders, and crystal clear water that holds 4 species of fish. Native and wild Rainbow and Westslope Cutthroat, wild spawning Brown Trout left over from old stocking habits, and the invasive Brook Trout. Plus Whitefish. I caught 2 of the 4 Trout species today. Brown and Bow. The others eluded me. But they are there.

Dry fly fishing for small creek fish, blue lining up and down the river in search of the precious gems that live, feed, and spawn in such an amazingly beautiful place…it’s what anglers dreams are made of. Hard to get into, but so worth the reward. Fish that only see a few adventurous anglers a season, they eat ferociously, and will happily take traditional dry fly patterns like wulfs, humpys, and trudes.

You feel isolated when fishing the Cooper. Like a bear could pop out at any second…and they do occasionally. I’ve seen all manner of wildlife there, including a rare Pine Marten a few years back. You feel as if you are being watched…but there is no one around you…save for a few trout…and the trees and critters. It’s quiet, well, the sound of the rapids drown out the world. You can barely hear yourself think…which is kind of the point up there.

To escape, to be consumed by river and trout, to get lost in the twists and turns, the current, the flow, the sunlight brightening the river bottom to a teal hue against the hard white granite stone that makes up the river bed. It is a sight let me tell you. Both above and below the water. I have not fished a prettier river, and I’ve fished a lot. Wild trout do not live in ugly places.

The Cooper River is a treasure, filled with gems of Trout. A 3 wt paradise. A place I loved to share with Casey, a place I love to fish solo, a place every angler should see, fish, respect, appreciate, and take care of. There is but a short window to discover and explore the Cooper River, before the snows fly. I invite anglers to experience it…no guide required.

Tamarack.

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