From the Summer 2015 Issue
Fishing small cricks with a dog and a fly
Forty years ago I escaped the swamps, marshes and bayous of Louisiana for the clear, cold waters of North Idaho. I discovered that Newton’s Theory of Gravitation not only created resistance in picking up a watermelon in Cajun Country but it also caused water to flow downhill in Idaho’s mountainous terrain. But no one – not even my English teacher, author, blogger and journalist wife, Marianne – could explain why the word creek is pronounced “crick.”
Before coming to Idaho, I laughed through Patrick McManus stories describing his boyhood days growing up along Sand Crick just north of Sandpoint. I later listened to Marianne and her brothers tell tall tales of honing their angling skills at the Popsicle Stick Bridge downstream from McManus’ famed Packard Hole. I eagerly awaited creating my own crick fishing stories.
My first employer, the U.S. Forest Service, fostered my earliest experiences in crick fishing. I spent the summer of 1974 doing timber sale work in the Smith Creek drainage up near the Canadian border. In the evenings I would wander down from the old CCC Camp 126 to take in the evening hatch on Smith Creek. Ellen, the camp cook, once propositioned me: “I enjoy eating fresh trout, but my husband can’t fish anymore. I’ll fry up some trout for your breakfast if you bring a couple for me.”
The next summer the Forest Service assigned me to a hike-in camp in the East Fork of Boulder Creek east of Naples. By mid-summer the flow shallowed to not much more than a trickle, but the pools contained brook trout eager for a fly.
Weekends back in Sandpoint usually required a visit to the Pend Oreille Sports Shop to restock my fly box and seek advice on how to use them. Slow traffic on First Avenue in those days allowed shop owner Ron Raiha to occasionally use one of the traffic lanes to demonstrate a casting technique or let a customer try out a new fly rod. This likely amused tourists while log truck drivers patiently veered into the oncoming lane allowing for these impromptu fishing clinics.
While I enjoyed the area’s small cricks, I felt the urge to cast for the trophy trout in the region’s name-brand streams. Family vacations to Montana always involved sneaking off to rivers featured in fly fishing books and articles.
But two unrelated events a few years ago transpired to bring me back to my small streams roots: a sharp spike in gas prices coincided with an unseasonably late melting record snowpack. The calendar showed late-July but the big-name rivers still raged with spring runoff. Why burn five-buck-a-gallon gas and waste several hours of windshield time only to arrive at a blown-out river?
Desperate to wet a fly, one evening after an early dinner I grabbed my crick fishin’ gear and announced to Marianne, “Kiwi and I are heading up Grouse Creek.” Ten miles from home and a half hour later, I had a fish on the line. Not a big fish by any means but a fish nevertheless. After years of neglecting the area’s small streams, I once again found myself hooked. And, I returned.
An added bonus to rediscovering crick fishing was learning that one of our border collies – Kiwi – could easily hire out as a fishing guide. Using her inherent instinct, she goes either upstream or downstream as directed and stops at each likely pool or riffle that holds fish. I could send her to a crick with a neophyte with the simple instruction, “Where Kiwi stops, you cast.”
Just like four decades earlier, crick fishing once again became my favorite form of angling. I won’t pass up a float trip on the St. Joe or Coeur d’Alene rivers, but they require planning and preparation. Catching the evening hatch on a nearby crick only involves sneaking out the driveway when Marianne isn’t looking.
Every fishing story must disclose the what, where, when and how. So now is the time to name names and that includes cricks, gear and fly patterns.
Living in Selle Valley places me a roll cast away from the Pack River and Grouse Creek. Both have good access on Forest Service roads and make for ideal outings on long summer evenings. For a little bit more distance, called a double-haul in fly casting terms, Lightning Creek near Clark Fork and Boulder Creek east of Naples provide good alternatives. For sentimental reasons, I always visit Smith Creek at least once each summer. Unfortunately, the stream reach that I fished almost every evening in 1974 has been significantly altered by a hydro-electric facility.
I can list more streams but the true appeal of crick fishing is to discover your own. In doing so, rarely will you encounter another person.
What about fishing gear? Well, save your two-handed Spey rod for steelhead on the Clearwater. A 3-weight rod, 7 to 8 feet in length is ideal. Occasionally the snooty “Captain Orvis” comes out in me and I’ll use a bamboo rod, but more often, my 20-buck Eagle Claw Featherlight fiberglass rod, in bright yellow, works just fine. If you are new to the sport, I recommend starting out with a complete fly fishing outfit costing about $150.
Fly fishing is all about matching the hatch. Even the insects’ metamorphosis from larvae, pupae to adult becomes extremely important. Fly fishers sometimes carry fly tying kits streamside in order to whip up the exact pattern required to fool a trout.
Baloney! Crick fishin’ is not exactly southern Idaho’s Silver Creek where a fly pattern may be refused if its antennae doesn’t contain the right amount of fuzz.
In selecting a fly pattern, I often ask myself, when did a size 14 Adams not work for crick fishing? This all-purpose dry fly looks enough like a variety of different insects to convince fish in almost any small stream.
Because I spend long winter evenings tying a variety of fly patterns, I’ll sometimes tie on a Renegade, Humpy, elk hair caddis or Royal Wulff. That’s not because the Adams didn’t catch fish; I just wanted to try a different fly.
Before going any further, you must understand one important aspect of crick fishing in this area. THE FISH ARE SMALL! Really small. A 6-inch trout in many small streams is a trophy fish. My satisfaction comes from not how big the fish measures but, rather, amazement for how a fish of any size can prosper in such an environment.
Remember, these wild fish survive ice water temperatures during the winter; floods that move boulders and trees during runoff; and bath-water warm temperatures during the dog days of summer. They enjoy just a few days each year bathing in desirable water temperature and feasting on bugs that drift into their open mouths. And they deserve to stay in these cricks!
Moll’s Gap, a Bill Love original dry fly. Made with dubbing from sheep’s wool he collected off a fence in Ireland, the Moll’s Gap doesn’t imitate any insect found on local cricks, but it is effective at fooling fish. Love donated 10 of his hand-tied flies to be given away. Click here to Enter by July 1 and win a hand tied fly!
Photo by Billie Jean Gerke
I can’t remember the last time that I kept a crick fish for eating. I never, ever entertain the notion of keeping a native westslope cutthroat trout, even where legal. Mother Nature put these special fish in our cricks after the glaciers melted and the Ice Age floods drained to the Pacific Ocean. Yes, they deserve to stay there.
Brook trout and, for the most part, rainbow trout are now common in our streams, but they were introduced during the last century.
My obsession with crick fishing has proved invaluable in my career as a forester. The Idaho Forest Practices Act, the law that loggers and forest landowners must follow, requires special practices to protect fish-bearing streams. While I sometimes call in a fish biologist with electro-fishing equipment to determine fish presence in a small stream, I oftentimes conduct a “rod and reel survey.”
My current passion for crick fishing is to determine just how far upstream fish inhabit a stream. I’m often amazed. For example, I came across a small tributary of Rapid Lightning Creek that contains a remnant of old rail from the Humbird Lumber Company’s railroad logging era. That’s right, a train once went up this draw bottom containing a stream measuring less than a foot wide. I drifted an Adams across a likely looking pool to have a 3-inch cutthroat trout rise to the fly. After releasing this beautiful, native specimen, I reeled in and stood for the longest time, just watching this trickle of water, realizing that I am perhaps the only human who knows for certain about this small, isolated population of cutthroat trout.
I remember an old-timer telling me years ago, “I enjoy the crick fishing around here.” Four decades later I am now that old-timer.