Moby Goes to Secesh Summit Lakes

Trail Lake: fishless, trailless, and burnt over.

So many lakes, so little time. Janene loves a good quest, preferably something that involves a lot of long distance hiking and suffering. She just loves to walk and walk and walk. I don’t mind suffering if there is a payoff at the end, but I am happy to do without most of the walking if possible. But I love solitude. So I came up with a brilliant compromise that Janene bought into. Our new quest is to hike to all the fish-bearing lakes in the McCall area that do NOT have a trail to them. This is going to take years.

20 Josephine Lake
Josephine Lake

OK, Josephine Lake didn’t count for the quest. Near the road over Secesh Pass, it had a wide, well trammeled trail into it, but it was right in the neighborhood so I had to hike in to check it out. It had fish, but was sorely lacking in solitude. There were about ten other people there.

21 Aug Snow

Even in August there were still snow banks along the trail in some shaded north facing pockets.

22 water bottle fill station

This one came with a water bottle filling station. Ice cold water, no less.

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 11.06.52 PM

For those of you who confuse Idaho with Iowa, here is a map. We have potatoes, they have corn.

23 Burnt route ahead

Not far from Josephine Lake is Nethker Lake. It is only about a mile off the road. But there is no trail to it. To get there I had to bushwhack across this valley through the burn area to reach the green forest and climb on over to the other side.


bushwhack     ˈbo͝oSHˌ(h)wak/    verb    “to force one’s way through a forested or overgrown area where no path exists.”
This is what uphill bushwhacking through a deadfall forest looks like. And I chose this route because it was the easiest way up the hill.

25 better

But once the green, unburnt forest is reached the walking was easy. But little did I know that just ahead a wild animal was about to attack.

26 stink eye post-attack
Dusky Grouse

a.k.a. Blue Grouse, these chicken-sized birds are also known as “fool hens” because they are unafraid of humans, and let you get very close. They often hide and fly away only just before you are about to step on them. But his one leapt up in the air and fluttered right in my face before landing a few feet away. And then she just stood right there. Why would she do that?

27 nest

Just a few feet away I spotted her nest in the Beargrass. Mama grouse defiantly stood her ground, and then about 20 feet away I noticed tiny little fluff ball chicks skittering away.

28 eggs

I don’t think they had been hatched out long.

29 -Nethker Lake
Nethker Lake

Burnt forests are hot, ugly, and hard to cross. But they sure are easy to see through. I thought I was getting close to Nethker, but couldn’t see it until I was on this cliff right above it.

30 unburnt

Nethker was green and lovely, unlike so many of the McCall area lakes that have burned over in the past decades. And I found solitude, with no sign of anyone being there this year. But it was a difficult lake to fish, surrounded by swamps and cliffs, and I found only a few small trout. I won’t be coming back.

30.1 Next up - Victor Creek trail

Another day, off on the quest for another lake. Trail #117 started out lush and green.

31 More burn uphill

But I soon broke out into the burnt over sort of forest that is all too common around McCall.


Trail #117. Nuked.

32 snags and smoke

The smoke from a current fire obscures the view of past fires. Sigh.

33 Wildlife photographer

Burnt forests are OK for ground squirrels like this one. Tree squirrels need forests.


These lumps and bumps are known as burls. This was a very burly tree.

34  snag n clouds

Nature is a fine sculptor. This is my kind of art museum.

35 Upper Victor Cr  burnt valley

After hiking east for a couple miles, and uphill nearly 2,000′ elevation gain, trail #117 led me to this view of the headwaters of Victor Creek. A raindrop landing here will make a couple hundred mile counterclockwise circuit through the Secesh River, the South Fork Salmon, and the Main Salmon before hitting the Snake River in lower Hells Canyon.  Another raindrop falling just behind me will will take an equally long but opposite clockwise circuit down the Payette River toward Boise and the Snake River through Hells Canyon.

36 Lake destination

From #117 it will be a long and ugly bushwhack to this next lake in the quest.

37 Final bushwhack arrowA serious bushwhack indeed. So ugly that I won’t give the real name of the lake that lies up in that bowl. I’ll call it “Burnt Bowl” Lake. Nice guy that I am, I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer like I did trying to find it.

38 secret lake
“Burnt Bowl” Lake

Only the firs right by the lake survived the fire.

39 N lake swim rock

This flat boulder made for a perfect sunning spot and swimming platform.

40 beach

“Burnt Bowl” even has sandy beaches.

41 ducks

These ducks were diving and finding little fish.

42.1 more fish porn

I did some fly casting and found some big fish.

42 N Lake Cutt

These Cutthroat trout had color on more than just their throats.

43 fly o day

Fish after fish fell for this little ant pattern. Not that the pattern probably mattered much. There was no sign that another human had been at the lake all summer. This ant may have been the first artificial fly these trout saw all year.

44 next route, next time

My original plan was to fish “Burnt Bowl”, and then climb over this ridge and drop down to another lake on the other side. But I had had enough bushwhacking for one day. I’ll save that lake for next year, and save some suffering for when Janene can be along to enjoy it.

45 Victor trail route up

Once I get back across this canyon, #117 will lead me over this pass and back to Moby. Cold beer awaits in the fridge!

45.1  Victor bike trail

#117 is not exactly a well manicured path.

45.01 chain saw

This is not designated as a wilderness area, so trail crews are allowed to use chainsaws to help clear the trail.

46 Victor trail boulders

Non-wilderness also means #117 is open to bikes and motorcycles. It seems crazy rough for riding to me, but someone left some tire rubber on this boulder.

47.1 lil guy
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

If I took photography as seriously as I do fishing I might get some decent shots. As it is (other than the earlier fool hen photo) I usually come up with slightly out of focus pics like this. The best place for nature photography is in a park where the animals get fed all the time. On this hike I really did try to get a good shot of one of these little guys, but out of about ten attempts this was the best I could come up with. Out in the wild these little squirrels are always on the move, trying to avoid becoming some predator’s meal.

48  bear spot

A good wildlife photographer would carry their camera in hand, not in their shirt pocket like I do. With camera in hand and some quick reflexes I could have had a great shot right here as a startled black bear came shooting out of the trees and raced down the trail ahead of me. But realistically I was too startled to even think about a photo op, and the rest of the walk out I was certainly all ears for any  bearish noises in the brush.


Day three of my lake quest arrived with a very smoky sunrise. More Idaho forests were burning somewhere. Sigh.

50 20" lakeWhen I arrived in Idaho I was intrigued that there are many lakes with this sort of  harvest regulations. If one cannot keep any fish <20″ in length, I thought that implied that there were fish in such lakes that must be > 20″. That is a BIG trout. Alas, long story, but such is not the case. Basically it means such lakes are catch and release, as they rarely hold fish >20″.

51 rocks

None of my many maps showed a trail into this lake. I had planned on bushwhacking into it, which would have been ugly as the mountainside has immense boulderfields all along the way.  But luckily I ran across a nice unofficial path that ran one mile and 1,000′ straight uphill to the lake.

52 more rocks

Acres and acres of this sort of terrain on the way up lead me to give it the name “Boulder” Lake for the purpose of this blog.

53 Lake Rock Lake unburnt
“Boulder” Lake

The fish in this lake were eager biters. While standing on this one log I hooked about ten nice foot-long fish. These fish likely came from a planting done here in 2014.  These special regulation lakes do not get much fishing pressure, because most anglers want to kill and keep all the fish they catch.

Fellow anglers scouring my blogs for fishing information may be noticing a pattern. I name places where I didn’t catch much, but conceal the hot spots. But don’t despair. I have given some hints along the way, and if you look at a map of the area and do a bit of sleuthing  you might just figure out the real names of these lakes.

54 Skinny 19"er
18″ Cutthroat trout

But I did spot one big fish. It took about a half hour of stalking up and back along the shoreline and several casts, but finally I hooked it. But this Cutt was old and terribly skinny, with its head bigger than its body. “Snaky” we anglers call such a fish. This is not a compliment. It fought with all the gusto of a stick of wood, basically just rolling over and letting me pull it right in. “Boulder” Lake was also planted in 2011, so this fish was like one of those old-timers.

55 % lber

Only on one little bit of the shoreline did I find these lovely black and white rocks. This one would have put up way more of a fight than the 18″ Cutt I am sure.

57 curly tree

Trees are frequently damaged as little saplings, yet continue to grow albeit in an abnormal shape. This tree obviously took a serious hit early in life.

56 tree damaged

But it still managed to prosper and grow up tall like its cohorts.

58 luxury camp chair next time

Idahoans love their big fire rings.  Whoever made this one also built a nice log couch to go with it. There were a number of obviously well used campsites around the lake. “Boulder” Lake gets plenty of foot traffic I am sure, it wasn’t a bushwhack in, and it didn’t require much suffering to get to. So it didn’t fit the criteria of my quest. But it should be a great place to bring some grandkids backpacking. I’ll be back.

6 thoughts

  1. I think I figured “Boulder” lake from looking at a map and studying the fishing reports! I noticed they have stocked it a few more times since you wrote this! Can’t wait to check it out this summer. Thanks for the breadcrumbs.

    1. Nice job doing your homework, Shaggy. Glad the breadcrumbs helped. Email me a report once you check it out. I went back in 2019, but haven’t been back since then. I was thinking of taking the grandkids in there this summer on a little backpack.

  2. Great update! I have to admit to missing Janene’s snark, but Larry’s Fallen Over Mountains () writing will suffice.

  3. keep um coming. I am headed out to eastern oregon in june for some fly action. and in the meantime, your blog keeps me stoked.

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