I was on the South Fork of the Boise River where it’s swift and rocky, and as the driftboat piloted by Todd Packer plunged through the rapids, John Wolter and I were dropping flies into every fishy-looking spot.
People may think of fly fishing as languid and slow-paced, but this was high speed, high risk and high reward.
Cast a fly into a tree branch and the fly was gone. The boat wasn’t slowing down, and you had to retie a fly in a bouncing boat while someone else caught fish.
Hook a fish and you’re on your own. Someone will toss a net in your direction, but it’s up to you to close the deal, and the boat wasn’t slowing down because the river was moving too fast.
It was my kind of fly fishing.
I made the perfect cast into a perfect spot with the perfect fly.
How did I know that?
I didn’t. It was a cast like the dozens of others I had done with mixed results.
But this time, a 17-inch trout launched out of the water and grabbed my fly on the way up, did a perfect rainbow arc and dropped back into the water just as I was raising my rod to set the hook.
The water splashed and my rod bowed into a letter C and thrashed like a willow in a gale.
It was beautiful.
I might see an aerial take like that once a summer. In fact, I bet I can recall the exact places where it happened in the last five years.
Usually it’s a big cutthroat, and that jaw-dropping split second is the reason I drive washboarded, dusty, dirt roads for hours and then hike for miles to find a big, not-so-wiley cutthroat that’s so hungry for a big, easy meal it will launch itself out of the water to grab a fly.
Fly fishing will never be considered an “extreme sport,” and it shouldn’t be.
But people who think of fly fishing as a sleepy sport in a pastoral, postcard setting haven’t slept in the dirt, hiked through head-high brush, chased a fish downstream across slick, ankle-twisting rocks to keep it from wrapping line around a boulder or submerged tree.
That’s the kind of fly fishing I live to do, even though it’s not always like that.
I can still amuse myself for hours in a neighborhood pond catching palm-sized bluegill. But I love a good challenge, and mountain streams never let me down.
It’s not unusual to come back from those trips scraped and bruised, bug bitten and sore.
But the rewards are there. A friend who wishes to remain anonymous sent me a photo of him holding a trout in the 5- to 6-pound range.
I’ve caught steelhead smaller than that, and he caught it in one of those remote corners of Central Idaho that most people overlook.
I’ve seen a few other photos recently of adventurous fly anglers hitting mountain lakes that were “only a two-hour hike,” one said.
That made me laugh. In his mind, that was a short trip.
I’ve heard other anglers complain if they had to walk a couple hundred yards between a paved parking lot and a boat ramp, then belly ache because the fishing wasn’t good enough.
They’re the minority. For the most part, anglers are satisfied if they spend a day on the water and hook a few fish.
I’m one of them.
But when the mountains beckon, I have to answer the call, and I am rarely disappointed.
Last year, I caught the biggest trout of my season in a backcountry lake. It was also measured in pounds.
I haven’t matched it yet this year, but I have several trips in mind that might give me a decent chance.
If you love Idaho’s mountains, it’s time to get out and forge some new campfire tales before the snow flies or hunting season pulls us in a different direction.
If you want a truly memorable trip this summer, Idaho’s backcountry is a great place to do it.
To steal a quote from the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, “the adventure begins where the roads ends.”
Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors
Statesman outdoor writers Pete Zimowsky and Roger Phillips alternate columns on Sunday. Look for Zimo next week.