The last fishing trip

August 4, 2009

By Dallas Cross

Dallas Cross

Dallas Cross

Before my father passed away at age 100, we took a nostalgic trip to Idaho to visit some of the places we had fished over a half-century earlier. We planned to include the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River and Williams Lake, and stop at Silver Creek and the Wood River on our return.

I picked him up before a long drive the next day. He had his fly rod and suitcase ready to go. As we crossed the narrow panhandle of Idaho, Dad confessed that a couple of days earlier, he had fallen and cracked his tailbone. This explained why he brought an inflatable doughnut to sit on. We arrived the next day at Last Chance, Idaho.

In the morning, we set out to drift the Box Canyon stretch, a branch of the Henry’s Fork that originates at the dam-controlled outlet of Henry’s Lake. Sitting on the doughnut in the guide’s drift boat, Dad could still skillfully cast the dry, hopper fly with a bead-head, prince nymph, plying the bottom beneath it. Unfortunately, the keepers of the dam reduced the flow right after we launched and the trout we were seeking dived under the moss beds.The guide worked to keep Dad fishing in promising water. Finally, success. Dad hooked and brought to net a nice rainbow trout after a struggle through alternating expressions of excitement and butt pain. I admired the trout as he released it and heard him say, “When you get really big, I’ll come back for you.” The guide looked at me over his sunglasses and I could hear his thoughts muttering, “That fish had better grow fast because this guy is 97 years old.”

As a youth, I looked forward every August to our fly-fishing and camping trip at Williams Lake, near Salmon, Idaho. Dad and I especially wanted to revisit the lake, because of the memories of fishing there with his father, my brother and uncle, all now deceased.

Back then, the best way to get to the lake was by ferrying people, supplies and gear across the Salmon River on an overhead cable car. The owners of a ranch near the outlet creek to the lake would load our gear on pack horses. We would all mount horses, and it took the rest of the morning to trail our caravan up some-thousand feet of altitude to the lake.

An ancient landslide created a dam across the canyon and Williams Lake is backed up behind it. Amazingly, the ranchers had horse-packed several row boats up to the lake shore. There, we loaded ourselves, a bird dog and all the gear into two of them. It was a long row, with regular stops for bailing, to a campground at the upper end of the lake. We made camp and caught lively, fat rainbow trout mostly on flies that imitate the abundant fresh water shrimp in the lake.

Knowing that a road had since been built to the lake and that there were boats for rent at the marina, I called the Williams Lake Resort and was told the entire complex had been recently purchased and made part of an expensive guest ranch. Their boats were now only available for use by guests. After I explained the purpose of our request, the manager relented. He offered a boat in the morning with a warmed-up engine at no charge to a couple of old guys fishing more for memories than trout.

Motoring slowly, we cruised the shoreline, remembering fish caught, nearly sinking in a storm and a trout grandfather hooked that jumped completely over the boat. We beached at our old campground and pleasantly found that it was relatively unchanged. The slanting boulder where many pans and coffee cups had fallen off was still there. We quietly sat on a log looking at the dark cliffs meeting the water, where the first sign of feeding fish had brought cries of, “They are jumping,” initiating a rush to the boats. Those were good times with happy memories.

Around the rest of the lake, there were now many summer cabins and the residents had lowered the lake level to reduce winter ice damage to their buildings.

On the way back to the dock, I caught only one trout. After I released it, Dad said, “That’s it.” I knew he was disheartened with the changes and was hurting. It was time to head directly for home.

Dad never fished again. The image of him catching his last trout in Henry’s Fork is not only in my photograph album, but also graphic in my remembrance of our family’s many good times.

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