Boise is a great place to live if you like outdoor recreation. Regrettably, Boise is a long way from the sea. But if you like mountains, rivers, forests, and deserts, Boise has it all. McCall, a lovely tourist town on the shores of Payette Lake, is arguably Boise’s favorite summer destination.
In fact, Payette Lake was the scene of my first visit to Idaho at the age of three. That’s me with the big ears, wrapped in a towel with my lifelong buddy Sig. I was blessed with parents who had the sense of adventure to load up a car with three kids, a massive canvas tent, a little ski boat in tow, and head out to lakes around the west. We pretty much had the lakes and beaches to ourselves 50+ years ago. Things were a bit more crowded when I next saw Payette Lake after moving to Boise in 2012..
These days mostly I walk in the mountains seeking trout. But I find so much more along the way.
I seek trout, but I find lovely fields of Lupines.
I seek trout, but I find fields of Shooting Stars.
I seek trout, but I find mountain meadows with elk.
I seek trout, but I find mosquitoes. Janene and I hid and for about 30 minutes and watched a small herd of about a dozen elk. Two cows and two calves are in this photo. Their constant shaking, skin twitches, and ear flapping indicated they were as annoyed with the mosquitoes as we were.
I seek trout, but first I have to find the lakes. This one has no trail to it. It is unnamed on every map I own: unnamed on maps by the US Forest Service, US Geological Society, National Geographic, McCall Adventure Maps, Google Maps, and even Google Earth Pro. It will remain unnamed on this blog as well. I’ll just call it “Green” Lake, as it reflects the fir trees in this photo. On all those maps it appears as just a little unnamed spot of blue. Will it have trout?
Yes. From “Green” Lake I took a limit of nice Cutthroat. There will be more food now for the fish left behind, and the well-fed fish will be much bigger when I go back next year. Despite being unnamed on every map, I knew this lake would have trout.
I knew there would be trout because the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has a wonderful website, the Idaho Fishing Planner. Find it here: Idaho Fish and Game Fishing Planner. It contains a plethora of information for fish nuts like me. Most importantly, it lists every lake in which they stock fish, and how many, and which species. So on the IFG map this little speck of blue has a name, and IGF said it had been stocked (via helicopter) with 800 baby Cutthroat trout in 2015 and 500 Golden Trout in 2016. So I was pretty sure I would find fish there. And I was pretty sure I would find no one else fishing there, despite being just one mile from good road, and just a 30 minutes out of McCall.
John Muir hiked the mountains with minimal gear. As do Janene and I. At night he curled up next to a log and slept under his coat or a thin blanket. After day hiking to “Green” Lake we hiked back to Moby and spend the night nearby with all the comforts of home. Backpacking and tent camping is fine when going to places far from the road, but at the end of a day hike, Moby is luxury living.
We had a big day of bushwhacking ahead, so we departed Brundage Reservoir at o-dark-thirty. Well, maybe by 7 a.m. Which is damn early for us. Moby doesn’t roll until Janene has her coffee. Why rush when you are retired? Dictionaries list several definitions, but for us this day bushwhack meant “to force one’s way through a forested or overgrown area where no path exists.” There is no path to Horton Lake. While Horton is named on most maps, there is no path, just two miles of bushwhacking up a steep valley.
I am a lucky man. I have a wife who loves the outdoors, one who would rather spend the night in a van in the forest than at a crowded resort back in McCall. Janene doesn’t like to fish, but she does love to look for fish. She generally hikes the lakes ahead of me. By the time I got to this spot on Horton Lake, she said “a minute ago I saw a trout rise out between the two big boulders.” So that is where I cast my fly.
Janene was right.
Lovely Cutthroat Trout like this should fear Janene. But there was only one more this size she spotted for me in Horton Lake.
Why bushwhack through a burnt forest rather than get to one via a perfectly nice trail? Because I love solitude. I was blessed to grow up on the bank of a river and spent most of my youth wandering the woods and creeks and boating alone.
Beargrass thrives in this burntover forest.
Bumblebees love their blossoms. Beargrass isn’t actually grass, nor are bears all that fond of it. They do sometimes eat the new shoots in the spring.
From Horton it was a short half mile bushwhack over to Ellis. The burnt forests are sad and ugly, and all the fallen trees are a hassle to climb over. But it certainly is easy to spot the lakes once you get close.
“Over by that big rock” said my guide. “About 20 feet out, just past the drop-off”.
Always have confidence in your fly. And never doubt your guide.