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Trout Bums at Large is a monthly column appearing in the Yakima Herald-Republic and the Seattle Times. The column is written by Randal Sumner and Mark Littleton. We will be keeping an archive of these articles on this page.

Snake River Diary
by Mark Littleton

The River

The South Fork of the Snake is one of the most famous trout fisheries in the world. Known as a dry fly paradise, we were anxious to fish it. This is a huge river located in southeast Idaho near the Wyoming border. Even with drought conditions throughout the west, the South Fork was flowing out of Palisades Dam at 6500 cfs - about twice the volume of the Yakima river in the canyon. The Snake is a classic tail water fishery created by the Corp. of Engineers. When we arrived the water temperature was a near-perfect 63 deg. And big fish were rising in the dark.

The Crew

There were four of us - Randal, Chris Bolm, Phil Hull, and myself. Three of us are long-term trout bums and campers. Chris has only been flyfishing for about a year, and hasn't been camping since he was a kid. It took some convincing to get Chris to come, but we were sure he would love the camping part of the trip as much as he enjoys fishing.

We packed our two SUV's full of camping gear and every piece of fishing and fly-tying gear that we owned, hooked up the drift boat and tent trailer, and were headed off on our expedition and quest for self actualization.

The Trip

We left on Friday afternoon. We had decided that the 675 mile trip was too long to drive in one day, so we made reservations at Farewell Bend campground, just outside of Ontario, Oregon. When we arrived there Friday evening, the weather was perfect. The temperature was very comfortable and it was so calm the there was not a ripple in the lake-like water in front of our campsite. We decided to have a glass of wine and enjoy the view before setting up camp and making dinner. Then the wind started to blow. It blew so hard that we couldn't light the stove or the lantern. We didn't zip up the side curtains on the tent trailer for fear that the strong winds would bend the uprights. After a cold dinner and a sleepless night in hurricane-like winds, we pulled out early the next morning. Farewell forever Farewell Bend.

The next day it was a long slow trip through the desert of south central Idaho. Randal's vintage Trooper "Whitey" could only pull the boat at about 60 mph. We stayed together as a caravan and entertained ourselves by chatting on the walkie-talkies. A trip that I estimated we could make in 13 hours took longer, a lot longer. The monotony of the desert scenery didn't make the trip seem any shorter.

The Food

I know some trout bums that go on weeklong camping trips taking little more to eat than hot dogs and snicker bars. This isn't my idea of how to achieve a quality camping experience. We paid attention to this detail on our trip. Randal and Phil are excellent cooks and we brought high quality material for them to work with. A sampling of our fare includes jambalaya, Cajun chicken, New York steaks, and barbequed country ribs. Many of our dishes were prepared with healthy doses of Tabasco, garlic and olive oil. I don't remember eating better on any previous vacation, although I may have to buy a new sleeping bag, the one I took on this trip still smells like garlic.

The Fishing

The South Fork of the Snake has Rainbow, Brown and Cutthroat trout. We floated the river from the dam down a few times early in our trip. We caught some fish on nymphs and hoppers. Unfortunately the nymphing yielded 10 whitefish for every trout. The size of the trout (and the whitefish) was very impressive. This is a big river with big fish. Most of the days were very hot while we were there, high 90's. We decided that frying our brains in a boat all day was not worth it and switched to fishing exclusively in the evenings.

There was very good surface activity every evening. Early evenings seemed to belong to the whitefish. Up until this trip, I don't remember ever catching a whitefish on the surface. We caught dozens of whitefish on dry flies every night. Later in the evening the trout arrived and drove the whitefish out. We caught some very nice rainbow and cutthroat trout up to 20". These were healthy fat fish. We hooked some that appeared to be larger. One in particular will be a lasting memory for me, a very large rainbow that cartwheeled across the pool before I lost him. I also had a couple of fish that bent my hook, I never got a look at these fish, but they are getting bigger all the time.

We took one side trip to fish the Henry's Fork of the Snake. This is probably the most famous trout stream in the world. When I saw it I knew why. If you were going to build the perfect trout stream it would look just like this. Clear blue water, heavy plant growth, massive bug populations. We drifted the lower section during one afternoon. The water was 70 degrees, too warm, and there was no fish activity. We had a long trip back to camp so we did not stay for the evening hatch. We vowed to return next season at a cooler time of year and give this river a thorough workout. I can't wait.

We occupied ourselves during the hot days tying flies and taking side trips to the towns nearby. As usual, although we brought hundreds of flies with us, we were short on the patterns that were working. We tied a lot of small (size 16-18) caddis patterns, size 16 bead-head pheasant tails, and a big mutant prince nymph that Randal invented and Chris named Vlad the Impaler.

We came back through Montana and, although we didn't have time to fish, we saw some of the famous rivers on our way back. The Beaverhead, the Big Hole and the Clarks Fork were all extremely low. We were glad we hadn't come to Montana for our fishing trip.

The Weirdness

Living outside for a week is terrific therapy. It makes a person simplify their needs and makes you numb from the neck up. For example, looking for some shade in the afternoon is a big event. This is a little of the sweet misery of a fishing trip. After enough garlic, olive oil, fresh air, sleep deprivation and flycasting, odd things happen. As the four of us were sitting in our plastic chairs tying flies, two mountain bike racers came barreling into our camp. It startled us to have these have these two just suddenly appear fully decked out in full racing regalia. One of them didn't appear to speak English, the other one was yelling like a maniac in a thick French accent "Where is zee race?". Apparently there was a race somewhere nearby. In my best Pepe Le Pew French, I sent them down the road with "It is zees way".


Chris loves to fish and he loves to sit around the campfire with us. By the end of our trip I was sure he was a convert to the camping lifestyle. On the last day of our trip, he disabused me of this notion. I asked him how he liked camping and he responded; "Now I know I could survive in prison".

More Trout Bum Articles:
05/01/2015: The wolves will always eat the sheep by R.Sumner
11/17/2014: Red Fish Redux by R.Sumner
08/01/2014: Retirement by R.Sumner
07/02/2013: Custom by Randal Sumner
05/01/2013: Subaru Magic by Randal Sumner
01/19/2012: Ding Ho by RandalSumner
04/06/2011: A Cautionary Tale by Randal Sumner
01/26/2010: Redfish Round-up by Randal Sumner
11/24/2009: Kentucky Don and English Bob by Randal Sumner
08/25/2009: A word about Bears by R.Sumner
06/30/2009: Polar bear hugging by Randal Sumner
01/27/2009: Christmas letters by Randal Sumner
11/25/2008: Trip to Eden by Randal Sumner
08/07/2008: Mime Time by R. Sumner
06/02/2008: fuel vs fishing by R. Sumner
05/01/2008: Long sleeve Hawiian shirt by R.Sumner
02/07/2008: The Empire by R. Sumner
11/29/2007: Troutbum self-help by R. Sumner
09/04/2007: The Perfect Client by Randal Sumner
07/02/2007: High Anxiety by R.Sumner
03/29/2007: Grasshopper by Randal Sumner
01/25/2007: Chinese food by R. Sumner
11/30/2006: Old Whitey by R.Sumner
09/28/2006: Chief Holland USN retired by R. Sumner
07/10/2006: BBQ by R.Sumner
05/30/2006: Cashmere by R. sumner
03/30/2006: Sterling Choices by Randal Sumner
01/26/2006: Tying with Pablo by Randal Sumner
12/01/2005: Brrr by Mark Littleton
11/24/2005: Thanksgiving 2005 by randal Sumner
09/01/2005: Anchors Away by Mark Littleton
07/01/2005: Some kinda fun by Randal Sumner
05/01/2005: The Base Lake by Randal Sumner
04/01/2005: Humble Pie by Mark Littleton
03/01/2005: Dance monkey dance by randal Sumner
01/01/2005: Where are the Instructions? by Randal Sumner
12/01/2004: Das Boat by Mark Littleton
11/01/2004: What me Worry? by Mark Littlton
10/01/2004: Priorities by Mark Littlton
09/01/2004: Falling In by Mark Littleton
08/01/2004: Ice Fishing by Randal Sumner
07/01/2004: Honey, I flooded the basement by Randal Sumner
07/01/2004: Elvis Lives by Randal Sumner
06/01/2004: Coyote by Randal Sumner
05/01/2004: Redfish and Capt. Dan by Mark Littleton
04/01/2004: Vested Interest by Randal Sumner
03/01/2004: Are you a Troutbum? by Mark Littleton
12/01/2003: Christmas presents by Mark Littleton
11/01/2003: Oklahoma by Randal Sumner
10/01/2003: Steel heading JuJu by Randal Sumner
09/01/2003: Motor Home by Randal Sumner
08/01/2003: Life is Funny by Mark Littlton
07/01/2003: Deschutes by Mark Littleton
06/01/2003: Class of 2002 by Randal Sumner
05/01/2003: BOAT FISHING by Mark Littlton
04/01/2003: ALASKA, LAND OF THE MIDNIGHTBLUE TARP by Randal Sumner
03/01/2003: MARCH BROWNS by Mark Littleton
02/01/2003: DEEP IN THE HEART OF IDAHO by Randal Sumner
01/01/2003: TOP TEN by Mark Littleton
12/01/2002: SAN MIGUEL by Randal Sumner
11/01/2002: DISNEYLAND by Randal Sumner
10/01/2002: CAMPING by Mark Littleton
09/01/2002: MMMM MAYFLIES by Mark Littleton
08/01/2002: CARNEGIE HALL by Randal Sumner
07/01/2002: CRAWFISH PIE by Randal Sumner
06/01/2002: Sons and Pals by Mark Littleton
03/01/2002: Visitation by Randal Sumner
02/01/2002: Ouch by Mark Littleton
01/01/2002: Death by Randal Sumner
11/01/2001: Leakers by Randal Sumner
09/01/2001: Poser by Randal Sumner
08/01/2001: It's Hard by Mark Littleton
07/01/2001: Etiqutte by Randal Sumner
06/01/2001: June by Mark Littleton
05/01/2001: Road Trip to Paradise by Randal Sumner
04/01/2001: What Are They Doing Up There? by Mark Littleton
03/01/2001: Gear by Randal Sumner
02/01/2001: Soft Hackles by Mark Littleton
01/25/2001: Motivation by Randal Sumner
12/28/2000: Winter Fishing by Mark Littleton
11/30/2000: Old Blackie by Randal Sumner