By A.M. Giacoletto

Pit, pat, pit, pat… drizzle, drip… crack! Boom! The rumbling thunder withers in the distance and a dark gray cumulonimbus cloud towers to the top of the atmosphere sprawling across the plains, and reaches toward the mountain range to the east. A flash and crack from Zeus hurling a lightning bolt illuminates the dark sky, so anyone with an ounce of sense would’ve boogied off the water by now, yet I find myself, camo rain jacket zipped to my chin with the hood draped over the bill of my hat, laying in the bottom of my drift boat with my head and shoulders leaned against the rower's bench waiting out a thunderstorm. Actually, four consecutive thunderstorms stampeding across the prairie into the peaks.

A sane person may ask himself, “What the hell am I doing here?” Well, I’m not a rational person when fishing is involved. If the fishing success proves off-the-chain and fish are damn near jumping in the boat, maybe my choices would be understandable, but it’s not – the fishing sucks right now as I’ve only hooked into one fish (which unbuttoned at the boat), so here I am, raindrops splat on my waterproof jacket and forms a water stream spilling over my hood covered hat bill past my face. Each droplet echoes through the raised hood, adding to the tumbling water inches from my nose. Penny, my boat dog, tolerates the rain, but hardly enjoys it. Because she wears no jacket and thus has no hood, her ears pin back while her water-resistant fur drains the rain off the back of her head.

My day started before the rain when the sun blasted across a blue sky and storm clouds were barely visible in the distant western horizon. Rarely do I float by myself, yet this morning I launched my drift boat independently with no (human) companion, so I drifted, dropped anchor, and threw flies to various runs, riffles, and holes from a halted position in my fiberglass watercraft. An independent boat session wasn’t out of the norm, but it came with stop-and-go maneuvers to potential fish holds all morning and early afternoon, and the Idaho water laws allowed me to drop anchor wherever I saw fit. The quick current’s speed broke along the bank behind a pile of rocks, which brought a solid brown trout on the nymph end of my dry-dropper tackle rig. As it neared the boat, I dropped my eyes to my reel as I gathered the slack line below my hand griping the cork, then, suddenly, the hook popped no doubt from overplaying the fish – dammit, I knew better than that. Down the river a hundred feet, I witnessed a flashing rainbow grabbing nymphs a foot below the surface. I cycled through two of three patterns and enacted various casts to overcome the differing current types, but my attempts to fool the trout turned fruitless as it moved to deeper water and disappeared from my sight. Dammit. I considered I may have attempted too long of a float for an independent trip while passing a higher boat ramp than my takeout and it neared midafternoon. To top it off, the fishing remained slower than a turtle in a blizzard, so the idea that my trip would remain a sightseeing trip grew in my mind. Pillars of dark rainclouds and the rumble of thunder drew closer by the minute, and I realized weathering a storm was inevitable.

The second I deem the situation safe from lighting, I pull the anchor, row away from my cottonwood tree cover near the bank, and back row to a mid-river run, perfect for swinging a streamer with a two-hander. My leader wallet holds a variety of sink tip options, so I cycle through my spey fishing filing cabinet and pick an S-6 tip, loop it to my Skagit head, stand in the boat’s front leg locks, peel line, snap-t into anchor point, and bomb a 40-foot fancy roll cast (spey casting is glorified roll casting), and swing a Zonk through a deep riffle downstream of a rock garden. The boat sways to the wind caused by the thundercell drifting east and away from my location. The current causes a swing and drag in my line felt through my right index finger. Drag and swing is interrupted by the sudden tension and tight pull of a trout that trucks olive Zonk. Zing! It pulls the line from my reel on a downstream burst and the second its run ceases I reel. Eleven feet and four inches of graphite bend tip-to-butt as I drop the Spey rod to the boat's right side and reel the fish back upstream. Fish eyes and head break the surface and I drag it into the rubber net bag for a successful landing. Rainbows are known for their leaps and long runs – this fish doesn’t disappoint. I hear cheers 50 feet upstream on the river-right side of the stream from a boat tucked under some cottonwood branches. They’re still waiting out the storm. After a quick release, I reengage to the run, casting my olive Zonk directly downstream of a boulder and into the broken current. A belly forms in my line mid-river and rips the streamer through the current. Seconds go by before a brown clobbers the fly and takes flight into the air in dramatic fashion as if it expects cheers and ovations from a watching crowd. Claps and hollers from the boat to my stern fill such a role, so naturally I hear one group member exclaim, “Maybe we shoulda Spey fished.” Hell, maybe so.

Fly lands next to a chest freezer-sized boulder and… wham – again. Unhook, release, and plug back in for a third. A brown that fights with high spirits and energized ferocity. I realize the evening nears and if I’m going to drive four hours home, I better hop to it. Backwaters, or still lake-ey type water often produces a field of rising trout when a hatch kicks off, and the backwater upstream of the boat ramp often produces successful dry fly fishing, so I make a point to drop anchor and peer across the slow-moving water for heads. A pod of three fish gulp and cause rings on the surface while chomping fluttering caddis. My one-handed dry fly rod is the appropriate tool for the job. Thirty feet off the boat, the fish continue their feeding mission and I cast the fly roughly six feet upstream of their position, so the fly will settle before it flows into their lane. The tan speck of a fly rolls methodically downriver and into the slurp of a rainbow’s mouth; set and splash. By the time I pick out the other two fish, like the Autobots, it’s time to roll out. 

Eight in the evening – a bit later than I intended for a quick float, but the freedom in my schedule today allowing an extension isn’t something I complain about; in fact, it’s a blessing to enjoy the river and connect with fish at this consistency. Thunderstorms aren’t ideal conditions to fish through, especially with a graphite lightning rod in my hand; however, I pride myself in the idea that I can safely weather adverse conditions to keep fishing when paddling out to the comfort of a warm, dry truck hovered as an enticing option. By no means did I whale on fish, yet I feel fulfilled as I drive from the ramp and onto the highway. Thunderstorms, rain, snow, high winds, or shine, you’ll find me on the river.

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1 comment

I hope it isn’t the death of you. Fortune or your guardian angel favored the foolish that day. You do have higher purposes.


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