The weatherman called for 1-2 inches of snow today. However, when I got up at 6 AM there was already 3 inches of snow on the ground and it was still falling. The good news was that the flakes were big (indicating it was warm by our standards) and they were floating straight down (meaning there was no wind).
The weather was important to me because I was heading to the South Fork to meet up and fish with Paul Bruun. Paul’s been a fishing buddy for years and I’ve mentioned him in my blog before. Paul has lived in the Jackson Hole area since the 70’s. He’s a highly respected fishing guide and outdoor sports writer for the Jackson Hole News. I’ve known Paul since I arrived on the Jackson Hole scene in 1987 and we’ve been friends ever since. He’s been a mentor to me, wrote the foreword to my saltwater fly fishing book and we’ve fished together in both fresh and saltwater. In fact, I could write a novel on some of the adventures we’ve had together from Belize to Fremont Lake.
To make our day somewhat complicated, Paul and I planned to float the South Fork in his boat. Normally the shortest route for Paul (who lives in Jackson) to the South Fork is over Teton Pass. However, Teton Pass is closed to trailer traffic this time of year, so he had to tow is boat the long way around. This is about a 2 hour drive on snowy roads. On top of that, with these wintery conditions a lot of preparation went into getting ready. Paul dug out his boat cover, sorted out enough rope to pull the boat up an icy snow covered ramp and organized chains for his truck so we wouldn’t get stuck driving through two feet of snow at the unplowed boat ramp parking lots. With all these chores and a snowstorm, we didn’t meet in Swan Valley, Idaho until about noon.
When I drove my Exploder into Swan Valley I found Paul parked at the local gas station. His boat and trailer were so iced up it looked like he arrived from the North Pole. I pulled up next to him and we both started laughing. It was dumping snow and people looked at us like we were insane. Of course there was no chance we were chickening out so off we went to look at boat ramps.
By now we only had time for a very short float. It gets dark around here by 5 PM. The only float we could even consider was from the Spring Creek Bridge to Conant. But still the big question was would the snow be too deep to reach the boat ramps.
Well, for most people I think the snow would be too deep but Paul’s truck had the power to pull the boat close enough to launch and with his ingenuity of trailer detaching, chains and long ropes we were able to go for it. By the time we pushed off from the bridge luck was on our side. The snow had nearly stopped and the temperature was around 35 º.
We rowed down to the first riffle and I kid you not, there were at least fifty rising fish. “Those can’t all be trout, can they?” Paul thought out loud as he tied on a midge pattern.
I stared at the frenzied fish as I pulled out my 4-weight Ross FW, and responded, “I think we’re about to find out.”
There were so many risers that we just assumed that some of them had to be whitefish – but they weren’t. Every single one of these fish were hungry trout. They were feeding on midges and there were more midges that I an ever recall at one hatching. Even though they were micro midges, they were clumped together so tightly that in some areas they covered the water an inch thick! At this first stop we landed numerous Snake River Cutthroats, rainbows, cuttbows, one brown and one Yellowstone Cutthroat. The next spot was exactly the same. As was the next and the one after. It was an unbelievable afternoon of fishing!
Paul and I had every intention of being off the river well before dark. In the winter you don’t mess around. Hypothermia is a definite threat and if we ever flipped the boat by hitting a snag after dark we’d freeze to death if we didn’t drown. But like most serious anglers subject to such fishing we cut it a little close. We pulled into to the snowy Conant boat ramp at about 5:15 in total darkness.
Luckily we were able to pull the boat out without any trouble at all. It was probably colder than we knew but because we were so delighted that we beat the elements and safely caught numerous fish we didn’t notice. On a river that normally sees hundreds of boats on any given summer day, we were the only one. Perhaps not just today but maybe even this week. Along with the great fishing we saw heaps of wildlife. From white tails to swans and beavers to turkeys we shared the river with far more than just trout. It was an incredible day. It was so incredible that we stashed the boat in Swan Valley tonight and Paul is staying with me and Granny in Victor – We’re gonna get an early start and fish again tomorrow!