Wait, wait, not yet

Take your time and let nature take its course
snowy road driving
Photo: Chris Hunt

Every year about this time, I find myself pushing up some muddy mountain road, trying to get as far into the hills as I can. It’s not Memorial Day yet, which is the barometer most folks around the country use to mark the official beginning of summer (and most of us here in the Rockies denote as the date when it’s possible that the road to our favorite off-the-beaten path trout stream might be reachable without having to ski the last mile or two in).

We’ve had a few nice days in a row here in the valley—the thermometer has tickled 80 degrees a couple of times over the last week, and that, of course, doesn’t mean a damn thing when it comes time to consider what the road into Rattlesnake Creek might look like after a solid winter. Other than muddy. And, in all likelihood, snowy.

But, if by some stroke of luck, I can get up into the hills before everybody else, maybe it’s also possible that I can get above the bulk of the runoff, find some clear water and hungry trout. Honestly, only in low-snow years does this “luck” ever work out, and even then, it just takes a May dose of high-country snow and sleet to remind me that winter hangs on a few weeks longer in the mountains than it does in our lowland valleys. Climbing into the mountains in four-wheel drive low is the fly fisher’s version of premature … um, well, let’s just say we often arrive too soon… before we should. Before the hills are ready for us.

This last weekend was a good example of arriving too soon. I pushed over snow drifts, charged through axle-deep puddles of thick, muddy runoff and, while I did manage to find some fishable water, the fish weren’t exactly in the mood to play. We managed a couple of small rainbows from a tiny little trickle high in the mountains north of Boise, but it wasn’t the fishing we were seeking. Everything runs high this time of year—these trips just turn into “exploration” adventures that cost you more at the car wash than you planned to spend all year keeping the truck clean.

I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that we just can’t help it. Being cooped up for months during a long, gray Idaho winter is all the motivation we need to “see how the crick looks today.” And, lo and behold, the crick usually runneth over. And will run over for at least a few more weeks..

It’s not as if I expected a different outcome (which proves my general lack of sanity at the end of winter and after a few days spent under some warm, spring sunshine—it’s as if a switch just flips and the little devil on my shoulder whispers in my ear, “Hey, brother, I bet the road to Thorn Creek is wide the hell open. We should be casting to fat trout right now!”). I knew that I could honestly believe my eyes when I saw snow on the slopes above the river on the drive up. I knew that, when I turned off onto the gravel road, I’d be humping through snow drifts and sliding on greasy, muddy roads. I knew I should have listened to the little angel on my other shoulder who said, “You know, if you give it another couple of weeks, you’ll have a lot more fun. And the carp are in. Why would you leave 20-pound carp in the river to chase 8-inch trout that may or may not be there when you get there? If you get there, that is.”

Indeed. It’s a big “if.”

But the payout for surviving an Idaho winter, even one that, down here in the valley, didn’t seem all that horrible, is getting to enjoy an Idaho summer, which is God-damn glorious. I have to remind myself that, in just a few short weeks, it’ll be summer, and fishing in the high country will be on for a solid three months. That’s the payoff for patience. That’s what we get for enduring a cold, gray winter.

It’s almost always better if you just take your time and let nature take its course. The snow will melt. The water will clear. The fever to “get up there” might burn a bit longer, but it almost always beats arriving too soon.