Looking back on Kootenai Canyon Anglers’ 2021, we’re still a bit dizzy. The fishing was great, but we dodged quite a few curve balls getting there.
Early on in our season, both Johnny and I ended up in the emergency room (on different occasions) with injuries to our dominant hands that threatened to keep us off the oars.
I suffered an open fracture to my middle finger when that unlucky digit became the meat in a railroad tie-concrete sandwich, while Johnny mangled his hand and arm in a boat trailer mishap.
Despite the rocky start, we were both able to guide the rest of the season, if with a bit more pain at onset than usual. I was pleased to discover that once the open wound closed, rowing the drift boat didn’t hurt much. It was fighting fish on personal days that killed, and we didn’t get many of those. Johnny had more pain to push through, and did. Both injuries, as nasty as they were, ended up near misses. Which is starting to seem like our 2021 theme…
This sums it up pretty well
Next came the wildfires, on both sides of the Kootenai River. Spawned by early summer lightning over parched forest, the South Yaak Fire came right to our doorstep in late July and we were evacuated for several very scary weeks, during which we continued to guide on the river.
Exhausting and stressful as it was, we were grateful for the distraction. Even after all these years, watching fish eat flies hasn’t gotten old.And if you’ve ever haunted a river like guides and trout bums do, you’ll find that those million memories fused together can make a place feel like family. It’s not always dry flies and tug, sometimes you get the silent treatment-and undeserved to boot. But for better or worse, you’ve claimed one another. There is comfort in that, when your world is burning down.
South Yaak fire eventually burned 12,500 acres and really did come right to our property line, but we didn’t burn. Another near miss.
South Yaak Fire
Fishing, bugs, and the happier things
And now for the important stuff, all things fishing. Despite pandemic, injury, and wildfires, it was a good year on the Kootenai River, and for us. We are grateful for all the friends, old and new, who joined us for Kootenai Canyon Anglers’ 2021 season.
Talking bugs for just a minute: the hatches seem to keep getting better, on both the lower and upper river. Mayflies in particular were abundant, with all the usually timed events we’ve come to expect and then some that surprised us.
On the lower river (Idaho) we saw incredible numbers of Blue Winged Olives in July and August. We typically see those bugs in profusion later in the season, with the onset of cooler temps. To have such hatches in high sun in the middle of summer, with fish keying into them to the exclusion of all else, had me digging into the depths of my kit for 5x and the sort of flies we usually fish at different times and on different rivers. The sort of flies I now need glasses to be able to thread. In summer???!!!!
On the upper river (Montana) we had tan caddis pulses that once started, just wouldn’t quit. Fish liked them too.
As for the fish themselves, all good news. Plenty of bigger trout in the system, and plenty of the cookie cutters. Still a ton of cutthroat in the 12-15” inch range. There were a lot of trout acrobatics we won’t soon forget; some caught and the most memorable, not.But in this year of near misses, that seems in keeping with the theme.
Kootenai Green Drake
And the fish that love them
As for 2022, we’re looking forward. Personally and professionally, our goals are fairly humble. We’d be thrilled to stay out of the hospital and be able to be out on a healthy river with friends old and new, breathing pure mountain air unmarred by smoke.
On that last note, we are in great shape. As I write this, snowpack is at 116% and we are the snowiest place in the state of Montana. We’ve been pummeled by storms since the start of the water year October 1st. If you’d like to check up on our status yourself, this is a good site that we use: Montana Snowpack and Related Data
What does all this snow mean for our spring fishing? It’s really too early to tell, there are months of winter left. And just because there’s a ton of snow in the mountains doesn’t mean that pre-runoff fishing won’t be awesome. Spring fishing really is about spring weather, which is notoriously iffy and best suited to flexible and intrepid anglers.
Bottom line: water in any form is a good thing. With 20.5 inches of water in our snowpack going into January, we’re no longer feeling the least bit parched.
Sit tight everybody. Feel free to reach out for more up to date conditions as spring approaches. Contact info here, Drop a line!