Posted by: 1000fish | November 6, 2017

Our Own Private Idaho

Dateline: June 11, 2017 – Boise, Idaho

I am told Idaho is a beautiful place, but I can’t necessarily verify that, because I didn’t have my glasses for more than half the trip. So instead of a Biopic, this blog will be more of a myopic, but let’s stay focused.

As you all recall, my last Idaho trip with Martini was a disaster. (See “The Snowman Dies,” which actually covers a couple of disasters. Not every fishing trip works out spectacularly, or we’d all do it.) I had quietly stewed about this for 11 months and was determined to undo the pain of that July 2016 misadventure, and to finally add a largescale sucker to my list.

Martini, equally determined and more organized, had used the time wisely and done some actual planning. Through the shadowy underground that is the North American species hunting community, he had met Matt Miller, a Boise-based outdoor writer and experienced species fisherman. (Some of Matt’s work can be found HERE – he’s quite a writer.) Matt kindly volunteered his time to take us and check a couple of his prime spots, and with that in hand, we booked airline tickets. This would be a month earlier in the year than our last outing, and we were sure this would place us in the middle of the sucker run.

Amused at our confidence, the Fish Gods convened with the Weather Gods and arranged rain. In the weeks preceding our trip, it rained biblically in the area, raising the river flows well above normal. Matt warned us that this was happening, but having nothing better to do, Martini and I stuck with our plan. We met at Boise airport, found an excellent local grill, and then settled into an endless discussion of the fishing possibilities in the area. Of course, there were the suckers to pursue, and a few other endemics like chiselmouth and Utah chub, and if things went just right, Martini had a couple of truly weird things scoped out. (One of which could save me a trip to Africa.) We avoided all discussion of precipitation and water levels.

I slept fitfully, haunted by flashbacks of the miles and miles of suckerless water that we suffered through last July. We met Matt at his home bright and early – Matt was bright and we were early. Matt immediately mentioned water levels, which kind of killed the mood, but we had to face the fact that the rivers were muddy and high. We drove up a creek for miles as Matt inspected his “go-to” spots, each of which was under water. He remained optimistic, but, as in Egypt, I remained in denial. We finally stopped at Matt’s best bet – a rocky point that created enough of a slack area where we might have a chance.

Martini took the drama out of things quickly.

Matt, Martini, and the first sucker of the day. Note that Martini has caught this species previously.

I struggled a bit, and Martini thoughtlessly caught a few more before I finally hooked my largescale.

I finally, finally got one. Now, on to the bridgelip!

Matt was relieved we had gotten the main target. He needed to head off to handle some adult responsibilities, so Martini and I thanked him and he was on his way. Despite some challenging water conditions, I had finally gotten my largescale sucker, with a huge assist from Martini and a huger assist from Matt.

This left us much of the day to fish. With a bridgelip sucker in mind, we began exploring some other spots. We went up and down the creek and found some inviting pools, and most of them gave up a largescale or two – great strikes and a nice fight.

A typical largescale. We got these all day.

Yes, they are adorable.

After seven or eight fish, we had not seen a bridgelip. These are supposed to be less common than the largescales, which I was thrilled I had gotten, but we were beginning to get statistically concerned. So we kept moving, roaming well up and down the valley. We finally settled onto a point where a small side stream joined our creek, and this was there Martini and I sat down and worked through one of our fundamental philosophical differences. Martini, you see, is quite disciplined about changing spots quite quickly. I, on the other hand, will tend to stay someplace far too long once I have caught something, because I just hate to leave biting fish, even if they have stopped biting, because I firmly believe they will start again. In this spot, the fishing was good – we were getting constant suckers, a few trout, and the occasional oddball, like the nice northern pikeminnow Martini landed.

Yes, they get bigger, but not that I’ve caught.

It was a perfect, sunny, warm day, we had cold beverages, and the fishing never slowed down. I was just certain that the next fish was going to be a bridgelip, although Martini kept having visions of heading off to some other venue. Perhaps due to my whining, perhaps because it was a beautiful day and the fish were biting, or perhaps because his butt was asleep, Martini stayed. And for once, my approach paid quite a dividend – late in the day, Martini landed a mountain whitefish, a species that had eluded him for some time.

Martini adds a difficult species.

As the sun set, we hit the road – our destination for the next day was some 200 miles distant, and we had to find some kind of fast food and a hotel. This ended up much more difficult than we expected. Everywhere we called was booked up – which was bewildering to us because we were, after all, in Southern Idaho. We learned later that the Special Olympics were going on in the very town we wanted to stay, so there was nothing available in hundred-mile radius. Luckily, we figured this out while we were far enough away to still find a place to sleep.

It was on this evening that the individually-packaged dill pickle joined our road trip.

The individually-packaged dill pickle. I imagine you too are wondering exactly how durable that packaging is.

I purchased the individually-packaged dill pickle at an off-brand convenience store, figuring it would be a funny thing to leave on Martini’s seat in the car. Just as he had with the can of baked beans, he spotted it. It showed up later in my tackle bag. I then placed it surreptitiously in one of his rod cases. This juvenile exchange continued for the entire weekend, but I did note that we both seemed to have enough respect for each other, or at least enough common sense, not to hide it in the other one’s suitcase. The idea of it bursting in a tackle box was funny, but not so much in my underwear, so if you ever really want to know if someone respects you, hide an individually-packaged dill pickle in their fishing gear.

That same evening, Martini and I were maturely watching YouTube clips with the general theme of “Motion Sickness on Roller Coasters.” Somewhere in this process, I was laughing so hard that I rolled over on my glasses and destroyed them. At least I had my prescription sunglasses to use, but this meant that Martini would do the night driving.

In the morning, we had one quarry in mind – the elusive (for no one but me) Utah Chub. We headed to the Snake River, which, needless to say, was extremely high. We tried one highly-recommended boat launch, and this didn’t work out, although I did hook something large and obnoxious that broke me off. We then moved to an extremely scenic dam.

The extremely scenic dam.

The extremely scenic dam was also running very high, but it did feature enough structure to give me a chance. After I caught roughly one squillion juvenile smallmouth bass, I hooked something slightly larger and was delighted to see my Utah chub.

Species #2 of the trip, a Utah chub ironically caught in Idaho.

We spent the rest of the day driving through some of the more remote parts of a remote state, checking out locations where Martini thought we might find some truly exotic species, but where we found mostly that Apple Maps has a very loose definition of “road.” The scenery was stark but beautiful, and we figured out that we were going to end up driving well over a thousand miles in just three days.

Martini got some nice wildlife shots. For those of you who care about such things, the bird is a Killebrew’s Predatory Warbler.

I did catch a nice rainbow late in the afternoon.

Dinner was memorable that night, but for all the wrong reasons. Martini and I have different philosophies on restaurants. I will look for the name brand fast food – think Carl’s Junior. Martini prefers more local cuisine that features the occasional salad or vegetable – think brew pub with a real chef. (And he usually ends up finding great places.) As we headed home from the river, Martini spotted a local bar and grill – the kind of place that is often a hidden gem. He talked me off the Dairy Queen ledge and into this place, insisting it would probably be nice. For once, he was colon-clenchingly wrong. It was one of the most ghastly cheeseburgers I have ever gone up against, and indigestion is a bad idea on a long road trip. At least I have ammunition for the next time he objects to Burger King.

The next day would be the last of the trip, and we had an ambitious plan that involved hundreds of miles of driving and one of the most bizarre fishing spots in the continental US. Idaho is dotted with small hot springs. In one of these hot springs, which is about as far away from anything resembling civilization as you can get, somehow, someone had stocked a set of exotic warmwater species, and somehow, these had survived and formed breeding populations, much like the Polish in Detroit.

The paved portion of the road to the hot spring. I remember it as a lot darker, but I was wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day.

The spring. For scale, that’s a picnic table on the right.

This was one of the most unlikely places I had ever fished – a glorified hot tub exactly in the middle of nowhere filled with African fish. I’m not sure if it’s weirder that someone put the fish there, or that someone figured out they were there and could be caught. Once we got out of the car, the fish made themselves rather obvious, swimming en masse to the shoreline to determine if we could be eaten. Out came the very small hooks and a bag of white bread, and we were off to the races. The main inhabitant of the spring was some type of blue African cichlid, and we caught dozens of them, each bluer than the next.

The very first one.

The second one, just as the sun began to come out.

One of Martini’s fish – perhaps the bluest of the day.

Some of them had apparently cross-bred. Shameless.

The place was also loaded with tilapia, but I had caught this species previously. We also spotted swordtails, which were small enough to be a serious challenge, but I was determined to get a male with the eponymous “sword tail” so I could end any controversy on my ID of this species. It took quite a while to maneuver the bait around the cichlids to the smaller fish, but we both got it done.

Male and female swordtail together. Martini thought of doing this.

Another one of Martini’s photos.

The proud angler.

The place was also jammed with goldfish, and I couldn’t help myself.

Not as pretty as the fabled Walldorf goldfish, but a lovely catch nonetheless.

Before we left, Martini just had to go snorkeling.

Normal people do not bring a mask and snorkel to Idaho.

No, these were not in the pond, but I did get your attention. Martini noodled these in Oklahoma – yes, BY HAND – this summer.

Underwater photo at the spring, courtesy of Martini.

Swordtail underwater, again courtesy of Martini. As if I would get into a swimsuit in public.

Once we had finished this amazing destination, we planned to drive several hundred miles back to the Boise area and give the bridgelip another shot. I nearly derailed this by underestimating exactly how isolated we were and almost running out of gas. During this drive, Martini, who sometimes loses focus and wants to visit once-in-a-lifetime NON-FISHING destinations, took us to see Craters of the Moon National Monument.

It looked like someone had put a little part of Iwo Jima right in the middle of Idaho.

Martini ran up and down this hill for no apparent reason.

But despite this NON-FISHING detour, we made it back to our original creek in the late afternoon. We set up well south of where we had fished on Friday, in a spot that had both the current seams where we hoped we could find a bridgelip, and some more vertical structure where we hoped to find a chiselmouth. We set up, tossed out some crawlers, and the suckers started to bite quickly. We landed several each – but none were bridgelips. I began to wonder if this was a real species. Perhaps an hour into the session, as darkness and rain were setting in, I got a light bite and a head-shaking fight that didn’t feel like a sucker. Reeling it up, I was thrilled to see I had finally gotten a chiselmouth.

Another western endemic on the list!

This is how they got their name. Something like a freshwater parrotfish, they mostly feed by scraping stuff off of rocks.

Moments later, Martini had a big pulldown and hooked up on a much larger chiselmouth. He recognized immediately that it was a possible record, and I jumped into action to assist him. Unfortunately, my sunglasses jumped farther than I did, and they were never seen again. I was now down to the frame from my regular glasses, which I strapped to my head with fishing line and hoped for the best.

Martini begins his trek to 300 records.

I was actually thrilled for Martini to get the record – that’s his thing. I was less thrilled, however, when, just as we were ready to leave, he pulled up ANOTHER unusual sculpin that I would probably never catch unless I moved here. I would have stayed until midnight looking for another one, but hunger drove us out, and while Taco Bell was scant compensation for a missed species, I was still ahead five for the weekend.

The Columbia sculpin.

It rained torrentially on our way back to Boise, but we had managed to get most of our main targets and a bonus world record, so much of last July’s pain had been erased. (And replaced with Columbia sculpin pain – why couldn’t Martini have just put the pickle in my suitcase?) But for the evening, it was good to just enjoy a great weekend on the water with a great friend who has become family. I had reached 1690 species, and with two more big trips coming up in the next 30 days, 1700 was sounding like a possibility before the summer was out.


Special Bonus Section

Longtime 1000fish reader Charlie Walsh is celebrating 80 pounds of amberjack, which he landed after an epic fight off Jacksonville, Florida. Charlie is a passionate freshwater lure caster, but got a chance at the big game on Captain Scott Anderson’s boat this September. (Charlie’s father, Rob, arranged the trip – what a great Dad – on the condition that Charlie keep up amazing grades this year. So if the grades slip, dude, I swear I’ll edit this section out.) Rob is a co-worker of mine and is actually an OK guy, considering he is in sales. Well done, Charlie.

That’s Charlie on the left. The kid on the right is Captain Anderson’s son, Wade. No one is sure who the kid in the middle was, and he disappeared shortly after the photo was taken.



  1. Nice story Steve!

  2. […] The stupidity of others sometimes has unintended good consequences. For example, the Detroit Tigers personnel moves, although competitively tragic, have caused celebration in Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota, and Kansas City. The same might apply to some of our western hot springs. They used to be a destination for a few locals to go swimming, but over time, for reasons I have yet to understand, a group of reasoning-challenged people have been dumping aquarium fish in them. Some springs are practically overrun with tropical oddities – witness the isolated Idaho pothole Martini and I visited a few years back. […]

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