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The High Country

A Summer Stone just crawled over my bare foot. It’s just after 11 PM and the stoneflies are hatching on the St. Joe. I flip on my headlamp and see several crawling around the bank and flying into the trees. I can hear bats chirping and eating. We are 77 miles up the St. Joe River in North Idaho.

I have not fished up this high. The river is simply beautiful. The kind of river I’ve had dreams about and only thought existed in my mind. The fish are plentiful and come in all shapes and sizes. Big ones…oh yes. Very big. Lots of little ones. Yep. Cookie cutters galore…fosho.

In 4 hours and 2 miles I landed over 30 missed another 30 and hooked into and lost 4 very very large cutties on the streamer. Dry fly fishing is spectacular. The river is cold…and it holds its temp throughout the day. The fish have a rhythm. They move about frequently. Fish you hooked an hour ago, have moved up or down and maybe 3 miles away by next week. Cutthroat move, and with a range like this with so many tribs…these fish can move like they were meant to. Cutties like high grade, higher elevation water. When it gets hot fish always seek out the cooler water. They use thier speed, range, and camouflage to survive. Westslope cutthroat blend right in. For such a colorful fish, they have the ability to disappear against the river bottom and the broken up currents. They are amazing, using thier camouflage to tuck in, rest, then move, feed, move, tuck in rest, move feed, up and down and up and down the river system. Sometimes 100 plus miles a year. Hundreds of miles over their life span. Truly amazing critters.

Up here, way the fuck up here, is where some of the oldest, most gnarliest of clarkii-iest of westslope cutthroat reside. Ranging high into the back country to spawn and moving about the high country ranges throughout the year. I saw a few today. Flashing bright aged colors at me with a streamer lodged in thier lip. They all bested me with aggressive headshakes. I’m very out of practice. Having only touched a fly rod to teach and rig up, not to fish with for several weeks now. Tomorrow will be better.

There are also bull trout up here. I am cautiously optimistic that I will meet one over the next few days. Having finally made it up here, and knowing a little about bulltrout…this place may have a few willing to test my angling abilities. Rarely do I feel the absolute need to fish…but seeing this place up here…ya…I could spend the rest of my life here and it be a happy and fulfilling one…

Tamarack

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