The Best Fly Fishing in the World All to Ourselves- By Gabe Cross

My greatest guiding and fishing memory on the Norfork Tailwater

People do not believe me when I tell them that there are literally thousands of ways in which water release scenarios can play out on any given day on White River Basin tailwater trout fisheries, and each different mode of operation at the dams affects the fishing in different ways. A perfect example occurred six or seven years ago on the Norfork during a guide trip, and what my client and I experienced was 100% unique. It was late February, and there had been some shad coming through Norfork Dam for about a month prior to our excursion. On this particular day, I guided one guy who was part of a big group – his fishing partner was ill, and boy did he miss out. If every day played out close to like this one did, I would still be guiding in Arkansas instead of typing in Idaho.

At the time of this memorable trip, I did not have a vehicle to pull my boat. For the most part, everything worked out because Charlie of Charlie’s Rainbow Resort right below Norfork Dam let me tie up at his dock for several months while I made arrangements to get an SUV. The group was staying at Charlie’s, so I got over there at 8am to meet with my client, Reggie. I knew that one unit had started up at 7am, and when I exited my car, another horn blew signaling that the second generator was ready to start. Since my boat was right there, we hopped in and started drifting right away. At first, there were a few shad on the water – we picked up a small brown on the first drift. When the heavy water hit us, millions of shad started pouring through, and Reggie and I had a good laugh about how we would have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a take on our fly. Still, we kept drifting and enjoyed being a part of such a surreal phenomenon on a breathtaking morning.

I suppose that I thought that we would be drifting for at least several hours, but just after 9am, the water shut down completely. Releases end abruptly all the time, but rarely do they crank up both units for just an hour and then cut everything off. Even more extraordinary was how many shad poured through over such a short period of time – that had to be a tease to the fish. While the water was falling, we drifted through Gene’s Hole stripping shad patterns, and we picked up a small cutthroat and brook trout. Obviously, the fish by the dam were stuffed. After an hour of very few strikes, we docked the boat, got in my car and headed down to the Handicap/Bill Ackerman Access to fish until lunch.

The water was still up pretty high when we got to the parking lot, and I was expecting typical fishing where we start with big nymphs and worms and then work down to small midges as the water falls out. Since we had the high-water shad rig on Reggie’s rod already, I just took off the strike-indicator and the fly to start. I figured we might as well try a white streamer since all those shad came through earlier; maybe the trout would be aggressively looking for this food source. After trudging our way up to Cook’s Island, Reggie fired a cast into the fast-flowing water on the small side. The shad pattern started to fly through the water immediately, and within seconds the fly line was swinging 15 feet below us at what seemed like 100 miles per hour – time for another cast, I thought. Then, out of nowhere, a fat, 18-inch rainbow grabs the fly, and a short, tough battle ensued. We hardly gave it a thought that Reggie’s first four fish of the morning made up an “Arkansas Grand Slam” (a brook, brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout all landed on the same day), and strangely enough, the rainbow came last.

For the next two hours, Reggie hooked into a nice fish on virtually every cast. Most were browns in the 18 to 22-inch range, but we did have several encounters with bigger fish. At one point, Reggie’s arm got tired, so he wanted me to make a few casts while he took a quick break. Within minutes, I was hooked into a 25-inch male brown that gave me quite a battle, and that fish ended up being the biggest of the day. The best part of the whole experience was that the sun combined with the bright white shad pattern made it so we could see the fly in the water at all times. These fish would come out of nowhere, inhale the fly and the fight was ‘on’, and all this happened within clear view. We primarily fished the small side of the island, and the action was non-stop up until around 12:30pm.

At this point, the water and our adrenaline were dropping fast, so we decided to try some slow water on the way out; it did not matter if we caught another fish all day. I made three casts into a choppy pool, and each time, the fly was promptly smacked on the surface by an 18-inch brown. After the third fish, I handed the rod back to Reggie, and he had two ‘smacks’ in a row that he went on to land. On his third cast, he hooked up with another nice brown and said, “Gabe, this is too much.” We both laughed. After not getting a take on his next cast, we both decided to put a cap on this unbelievable morning and go have some lunch.

During that amazing session, we did not encounter any other people fishing – the boats we saw quickly passed through on the falling out water. As we left the area we had fished, the first other anglers were just arriving – I did not feel right telling them all that they missed, so we just said that it had been “good”. I was hoping that I had discovered something I could take advantage of if this situation ever duplicated itself, but nothing even came close over my next five or six years out on the water as a guide. It turned out that this day with Reggie was just a “had to be there” type of deal, and I feel blessed that I could witness such insane shad kill fishing – and on lower water, to boot.

You could see the looks of jealousy and disbelief on the faces of the other anglers in Reggie’s group upon hearing our stories, and my fellow guides were all kicking themselves for not keeping a closer eye on where I went after the water shut off. The guy who was supposed to fish with Reggie and I that morning made it out for a few hours in the afternoon, and he caught some decent fish on midges, but everything seemed anticlimactic by then. Reggie pretty much fished by himself and took streamside naps, no doubt dreaming of those countless trophy fish he hooked up with during his once-in-a-lifetime morning. I have been a part of many days that would have to be seen to be believed, but nothing tops that day with Reggie on the Norfork. No one in their right mind could have fantasized about such an outcome, and it just goes to show why there is a chance at greatness every time you fish the Norfork or White.


~ by troutdoctor101 on March 29, 2010.

2 Responses to “The Best Fly Fishing in the World All to Ourselves- By Gabe Cross”

  1. And now you want to rape the Owyhee….think twice my friend, you are cutting off your nose pretty quickly here in Boise

    • It has been a bit surprising to me that I haven’t received a borderline threatening comment like this since I started talking about the fly fishing in the Boise area on the blog a few weeks ago. I encountered similar resistance to the sharing of information when I moved here over a year ago, and it is completely understandable (and commendable) that Treasure Valley residents feel that they need to protect their resources at all costs. Unfortunately, lashing out anonymously on someone’s blog does little to create solidarity as a user group of anglers that cares about all coldwater resources. There is no doubt that the regional population spike experienced over the last 20 years has many “locals” on edge, but facts are facts – growth is here to stay, and trying to intimidate and stifle the flow of information will do little to provide a long term, viable conservation approach. A lot of times it is not what you say, but rather, how you say it. A comment like this reflects poorly on the Boise fly fishing contingency as a whole, but in reality, this group has been very welcoming and gracious towards me. With so many outside threats to rivers everywhere, it makes little sense to try and polarize the fly fishing community, but I guess that some folks think that this will serve a productive purpose.

      I am in no way interested in “raping” the Owyhee, and I’m not sure how this opinion was formulated – to some people, fishing legally, ethically and having a good time constitutes a ‘raping’, I suppose. The “cutting my nose off” comment could be perceived as a veiled threat considering that I really have no personal ambitions regarding starting a business – what is he going to do? Restrict my right to fish? Violence? If fly fishing gets a guy this worked up, it’s no longer a healthy activity, and it’s time to look for something to do where the enjoyment of others can be embraced not scorned.

      On my blog, I do like to talk about my favorite rivers, and I have been kicking around the idea of putting together hosted trips to Boise (utilizing local and licensed Owyhee guides – NOT ME) with a friend of mine. The purpose of such excursions is fun, camaraderie and to help the local economy – I have no profit motive, and it is doubtful that anything I do or say will have a visible and detrimental affect. If I find that I do indeed have that type of ‘power’, I promise to reevaluate my words. Otherwise, I will take the fact that this is the first negative comment out of several glowing accolades as reflective of an interest in what I am saying.

      To Steve, the writer of this comment:

      I welcome lively discussion, and your discord with the blog is understandable. Looking at this from your point-of-view, I’m just another wannabee expert looking for new fisheries to exploit. On the surface, appearances can be deceiving, and I moved to Boise to try and remove myself from the politics and other annoyances of working in the fly fishing industry. Obviously, I keep getting sucked back in at one level or another, but it is highly unlikely that anyone will ever see me guide again in my life. The reasoning behind this is primarily personal and more appropriately discussed in private. Conservation is my primary passion, and a major component of improving everyone’s experiences on the water is education. The purpose of the blog is to provide a venue for reliable information and to express the message of ethics that all true fly fishermen hold near and dear. Anglers are going to find out about the Owyhee and other Boise area rivers whether I write in a blog or not, and I hope that at least a few people recognize that I’m trying to do things the right way, while understanding that I am walking a very fine line – there is no way that everyone will be happy.

      Feel free to drop me a line anytime, and I totally respect your contention. Please just understand that I gave my role in this blog concept much thought before moving forward, and the general consensus was that something like this should be beneficial to the area and its rivers. Of course, some will adamantly disagree, and “beneficial” is a very subjective term.

      Jeremy and I welcome respectful debate on the blog, but ‘real’ threats and downright nasty and negative comments will not be posted. Keep in mind that the blog is strictly moderated.


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