by George Jacox

Great fishing stories are told on the list, some true, and there is some
dense discussion about rods and reels and such, but some of the best talk
is about the things that surround our sport and enhance it, and not about
the unadorned act of catching fish with feathers and steel.

Otherwise sober men and women speak poetry when they describe the allure of
cane rods--a pleasure and addiction indulged by only a few of us.  I
sometimes think the lovers of cane love even the smell of cane rods--laquer
and cork, nickel and steel, and the odor of the cane itself--an antique
oriental scent, like chests of tea.

Whiskey (or whisky, depending upon one's national preference) and the
tipples of choice that gladden hearts a world away spin threads that weave,
in part, the fabric of our conversations--amber corn aged well, and single
malt grown smoky with years, turned in a slow glass lit within by
firelight, fellowship, and tales of rivers.

Even fewer than the lovers of cane or fine whiskey are the Grailers for
native trout.  We're here though, and we're a pathetic bunch who own
sagging pickup trucks overlaid with dust.  Our gasoline credit card bills
are horrible.

Another of the lotus eaters (we hide our shame in correspondence off-list)
once told me that he was deadly tempted to chuck it all, throw a shell on
the back of the pickup truck, and wander for years along the far headwaters
of distant rivers searching for native trout.  Even at a discount for the
discontents of middle age, I understood what he was saying and half agreed
with it.  It was terrifying.

Like most obsessions, mine began innocently enough.  Years ago, I caught an
odd-looking rainbow trout in the high headwaters of a watershed in
west-central Idaho, an adult trout with parr marks and a faint "cutthroat"
slash.  Later reading revealed it to be a redband, an inland rainbow native
to the river.  I wanted to catch more of them, and so I did and stepped
squarely on the road to ruin.

The first thing to go was an appreciation for hatchery trout.  I quit
fishing for the things altogether, and could hardly stand the sight of
them.  I started fishing for wild trout only, and my bills for gasoline
began to climb.

Then I discovered the rivers of central Idaho--thousands of miles of them.
They wind through forests and wilderness areas and empty east and north
into the Salmon River and thence to the lower Snake or run south and west
to become larger rivers that empty into the agricultural Snake River of
south-central and southwest Idaho.  It was a wealth of rivers--more streams
than I could fish in a lifetime, and all of them--all of them held
westslope cutthroats or bull trout or redbands.  I parked at the ends of
rutted paths that could hardly be called "roads" and walked wilderness
miles to seek out natives.

Recently, the wild descendants of introduced trout have begun to look a bit
less desirable.  The subtle rainbows and browns of Silver Creek are a
mighty challenge and lovely to look upon, but at bottom they're beginning
to seem fat porkers that are merely "okay".

I hardly know where this vexing fixation will end.  I've begun to look over
the watersheds of Owyhee County in extreme southwest Idaho, haunt of the
desert redband, and I see that there are further hundreds of miles to
explore, and the tantalizing possibility of Yellowstone cutthroats (early
invaders of these watersheds) isolated behind barrier falls from the
depredations of redbands, against whom they do not compete well.

I want to travel to Thomas Creek off the Bear River in southeast Idaho,
even though it's closed to fishing, just to see if I can get a look at a
Bonneville cutthroat.

Fishing at Mann Lake in Oregon for Lahontan cutthroats is fine, but I feel
the entire time I am there the near magnetic pull of the Alvord and
Whitehorse Basins--closed basins with no outlet streams (which means
isolate populations).  Is the Alvord cutthroat really extinct?  This is a
burning question to me.

I recently learned that there are 126 such closed basins in the
Intermountain west, and at least 20 of them have not even had an accurate
geological survey.  This is very serious news.

The lovers of cane and the lovers of ancient whiskey find satisfaction in
the trappings that surround fly fishing, and many will accept nothing less
than the finest expressions of their chosen obsessions.  It would dilute
their pleasure.  Some wouldn't fish if they had to use a graphite rod.
Others wouldn't drink whiskey if it was younger than they were.  Some
people might scoff at them for snobs.  Not me.

I'm in peril of becoming a trout snob.  The real danger to trout snobbery
is that it's ultimately more expensive than cane or whiskey.  Like any
grail-seeking, it requires that the seeker throw over everything, load up
the horse (or the pickup truck) and wander the wilderness for years in holy

....Anyone know where I can get a good deal on a camper shell?