Quest for Arctic Grayling

We spent the next week or so in Boise after our time in White Clouds. We were not expecting the heat in Boise. Most days were approaching or well into the triple digits. It is a dry heat, but 100 is hot no matter how you look at it. We were itching to get into the mountain backcountry again and into it’s cooler temperatures.

I’m not going to say where we went exactly. It was a very quiet and out of the way place that took some research to find. It’s not that I don’t want anybody to know about it. It is just I don’t want everybody to know about it. I will tell anyone how to get there and where it is that asks, but I’m not going to just put it on the internet. Plus, finding these places on our own is part of the fun, right?

I will say we went up a drainage from alpine lakes in Sawtooth National Recreation Area, about a half an hour south of Stanley ID. These lakes are not named and are known only by their numbers. We are hiking to them to catch some arctic grayling. Laura and I have never even seen one in real life, and we can’t resist getting to catch these weird fish.

Arctic grayling belong to the Salmonidae family. Trout, salmon, freshwater whitefish, and chars are also in this family. They are widespread throughout the arctic and can be found in some high mountain lakes in the lower 48. I did a lot of research to find a place were we could hike in a try to see one of these amazing fish.

The hike starts off on a maintained trail, but after a few miles we had to cross-country hike to the lake we would base camp at. I don’t know why, but Laura and I had a hard time with this hike. I think we were just having a bad day, but the 6 mile 2,000 foot hike up the first day was pretty rough. By the time we got to our base camp lake I was done for. So, after we setup camp, we spent the evening lazily fishing our camp lake.

We would use this lake as a base camp and day hike to the others like we had done before. There really was some cross-country parts to get to the upper lakes, and we were very happy to have our GPS app, onXmaps. Even with the GPS, we were cliff-out a few times. If anyone wants to checkout onXmaps, here is the link. It really is a very good way to find your way around.

https://www.onxmaps.com/?gclid=CjwKCAjwzqPcBRAnEiwAzKRgSwSrJjVhKpGL5zcp3zxZs3nLNQetJZ8kN-2irsD96DovizNhSrCAxhoCz10QAvD_BwE

This drainage system had many lakes in it, and most of them held arctic grayling. There was one lake that we really wanted to fish, so that was the goal. We finally got to a cliff and looked down on the lake. The problem was how to get down to the lake. After some exploring, we found a way down the cliff face. The whole way down, the hike back up was on our minds.

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Looking down at the lake.

All that hard work and effort was paid back in spades. As we descended on the lake, we could see how clear the water was and the fish in it. I wasted no time getting a fly on the water. Before I knew it I was holding an arctic grayling. The camera doesn’t pick up the blueness of the fish. They have an almost metallic blue tint to them. The camera does show there oversized dorsal fin. What a beautiful fish.

The camera doesn’t show the true colors of the fish, but it did do a good job showing the color of the water. It was so weird to be this high up in the mountains and be fishing in water that looked like it belonged on some tropical beach. It looked very inviting, and Laura did get in. The sun can be very intense at these elevations, but that water was COLD. At least that is what Laura lead me to believe. I stayed dry after hearing her deal with the water’s temperature.

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Laura warming back up after a dip.
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My fishing view.

We had this lake all to ourselves all day. We did run into one other couple at another lake on our way back to camp. What a place this was. I feel very fortunate to have had the time that we did. Places like this will give me an energy like no other. Their memory will keep me moving when the going gets too tough on the trail or in everyday life. I hope you all have the opportunity to have your batteries recharged in places like these soon.

While, we will have some more adventures to share soon. Not a bad place to summer. We will tell you all about it.

Until next time…

Wes

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Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wildernesses

We both were very excited to get into some backcountry after our trip to Redfish Lake. I did a lot of research to find our next camping trip in Idaho. It would be in the Big Boulder Basin lakes in Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness.

Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness was added to the National Wilderness Preservation System in 2015 when the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and the Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act were signed into law by Barack Obama. It borders Sawtooth Nation Forest to the East. This Wilderness is home to bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose, mule deer, gray wolves, bears, fish, wolverines and many more different wildlife. For a few days in July 2018, it was home to Laura, Cohen and me as well.

We would have three nights to spend in this backcountry area. We packed our backpacks and started the hike up to Walker Lake were we would make our base camp. We planed on day hiking to the upper lakes to fish each day. Cohen had a hard time with the water crossings at first, so I had to carry him across. By the end of the trip he was a pro at them.

I have to admit I was a little out of shape for this hike. It had been a year since the last backpacking trip and being at elevation. Boise is only 2,700 feet above sea level. This hike starts at around 7,000 and ends up at just under 10,000. I was breathing pretty hard on the way up.

We finally got to Walker Lake and set up camp. Not a bad place to spend the next three nights

Walker Lake
Walker Lake Campsite

We spent the last hours of daylight fishing Walker Lake. The trout in this lake are not very big. On average they were about 8″, but boy are they hungry. I had fish jumping after my dry fly just about every time it hit the water.

The next morning we started up to Sapphire Lake. The way there is considered cross-country because there is not a maintained trail to it. For the most part we could follow a path people had made before us, but a few parts were hard to follow. We did get off the path a few times on the way back down. We got “cliffed-out” a few times. That is where you come up on a cliff that is too big to get down. The only thing to do is go back and try a different way. This can be very frustrating when you are tired and have a 40 lbs pack on. Thank God for gps. We use an off line phone app called OnX. It has been a lifesaver on these trips of ours into lands we don’t know.

The last part of the hike up to Sapphire Lake is pretty steep. You have to go up a cliff side to a saddle and back down into Big Boulder Basin. The top of the cliff has a great view and is a nice place to rest your burning legs.

These lakes are something to behold. Our second day up there was a Sunday and we spent the day there all alone. We caught some of the most colorful cutthroat I have ever seen. What a day, and what a place. These few days we were able to be here will be with me forever.

This seemed to be a pretty popular place. We saw a few backpackers and campers. It is a fairly long and hard hike to get there, but I can see why people what to complete the challenge of getting to these lakes. White Clouds is a pack-in, pack-out area. Whatever one brings in, they have to pack out. ¬†You will have to dig a hole at least 6″ deep to do #2, and you will have to pack out your used TP. I say this because we saw where a few people who didn’t want to do this and left their TP to be packed out by a ranger we saw cleaning up. As the saying goes “The only thing worse than packing out your own TP is packing out someone else’s”. If you are not willing to use the restroom like this and pack out everything, then maybe you should not go to places like this.

OK OK OK, enough with the preaching already. This trip just got our thirst for backcountry camping and fishing even stronger. Good thing we are in Idaho and have what seems like endless options to quench that thrust. We have a few more trips to share, and trust me they are good ones. We can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Until next time..

Wes

Boise or Bust

We pointed the house to Billings after our stay in the Black Hills came to an end. We were only a few hundred miles form our “Montana Family” the Tillerys. We visited with them for a few wonderful days as they showed us around town again and took us to the mountain town Cook City. The road to get there was breathtaking.

Our Montana time flew by too quickly. Before we knew it, it was time to make our way to our summer home of Boise, Idaho. Laura and I knew very little about the town of Boise or even the state of Idaho. We both have had very limited time in Idaho before. I had read and seen pictures of the Sawtooth Mountain Range, and I knew there was pretty good fishing there. So we thought “what the hick, lets give it a try”.

We started researching where to go in Idaho the moment we hit Boise. We searched the web, talked to people at the RV park, went to fly fishing shops, and bought a few maps. What we found was there is so much to do it will make your head spin. Not knowing where to even start, we decided to take a car camping trip up to Redfish Lake in the Sawtooth National Forest as a way to dip or toes in and see what we could find. Wow, what a beautiful recon trip that was.

I was lucky enough to get a spot at Glacier View Campsite. It is right next to Redfish Lake with a beach and a view of the Sawtooth Range that we will not soon forget. There are a few campsites around Redfish Lake, and they are very busy in the summer. If you ever want to go, plan ahead. Everything was full when we got there, and we realized we were very lucky to have gotten a site at all.

The Sawtooth is a National Forest and not a National Park. That means that Cohen will be able to join us on our adventures in these mountains. So we got him his own backpack. If we have to pack our food in it is only fair he does the same.

The Redfish Lodge has a boat taxi that will take you to the other side of Redfish Lake and pick you up for a small fee. The next morning we all, including Cohen, put on our packs and headed for the boat. We were going to hike into a group of lakes called Bench Lakes and fish for brook trout. I could not have expected how gorgeous the hike would be.

We caught brookies until we had to make it back to catch the boat back home. We learn a lot from this trip. It was the start of a few more trips into this and other Idaho mountain ranges. The ones to follow would be a bit harder backcountry camping/fishing trips. We can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Until next time…

Wes