Peter Brookes: Eye for Idaho trout

Peter Brookes

There’s a persistent, vicious rumor that says the only reason I married my wife was to get free room and board at the in-laws so I could fish northern Idaho and northwestern Montana, both top spots for trout.

That’s nonsense — well, at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

But if you’ve ever been to the Inland Northwest, especially Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, you’d understand how such conspiracy theory could get lit and continue to smolder long after you repeatedly try to smother it.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it was my wife who introduced me to fly fishing , which has become a serious passion (read: time and money sink) for my futile efforts to fool a fish with a make-believe meal.

Not surprisingly, that introduction to angling was clouded in a poorly veiled, Hollywood “B” movie-like attempt to lure me to the Rocky Mountain West from Washington, D.C., to meet her parents.

Needless to say: It was the beginning of a great love affair with fly, er, I mean, my lovely wife.

Indeed, this spring we made our annual trek to northern Idaho to bask in the warm glow of my wife’s extended family–on the non-negotiable condition that I get a kitchen pass to go fly fishing with “Joe.”

I don’t even have to mention Joe’s last name to my wife — just saying “Joe” is sufficient.

Joe, of course, is “Idaho Joe” Roope, owner of Castaway Fly Fishing Shop — www.castawayflyfishingshop.com. Joe is an Inland Northwest fly fishing legend, a tourney winner and has angled worldwide.

He’s also a patient and positive instructor on the water — an overall great guide.

In fact, Joe is also the guy who my then-future wife “hooked” me up with for my first fly fishing trip years ago. I’ve been fishing with him ever since.

The morning drop-off at the fly shop for a day of fishing usually includes the following exchange from Joe to my wife, “What time do I need to have him back?”

Two things are at play here: 1) He knows who’s the boss; and, 2) Joe will fish me until the cows come home.

Summer days are warm and long in Coeur d’Alene. While on Pacific Time, the city on the legendary lake is just south of the Canadian border and not far from the Mountain Time zone, meaning the sun sets late.

I did a float trip with Joe when I was out in Coeur d’Alene over Memorial Day, which can be a bit early in the season depending on snow run-off.

This past winter was unusually warm and largely snowless. As such, we opted to run the Coeur d’Alene River since the water levels were good, it was fishing well and it’s a lot closer than the Clark Fork River over in Northwestern Montana.

(The Clark Fork is awesome by the way … worth hitting sometime.)

A trip down the Coeur d’Alene River means hammering away at miles of native, head-tossing rainbow and cutthroat trout, including a chance at the Westslope Black Tail.

This Idaho fishery is believed to be the only place in the world to catch this cutthroat subspecies.

While I’m still skeptical of the story, Joe insists that I was one of the first people to catch the Black Tail, back when I was just a “newbie” angler and didn’t really know a cutthroat from a guppy.

At the time, we thought the fish was just a discolored or diseased “cuttie.” It turned out not to be the case.

This time I didn’t bring any Black Tails to hand, but I did spy some in deep pools as the drift boat slid through the gin-clear waters toward the pull-out, a few miles upstream of Coeur d’Alene Lake.

No matter: The other trout seemed to like the double (dry fly-wet fly) rig I was throwing. You can’t overstate the excitement of having both flies smashed simultaneously on the (very) outside chance that you might be able to land both fish — which I didn’t.


The May day ends a little early due to some “thunder-boomers” on the water, but I’m just shy of a 20-trout day after floating through breathtaking mountain landscape under robin egg blue skies.

Even if I have to have dinner with the out-laws, umm, the in-laws, they’ll be no complaining after a day like that.

Dr. Peter Brookes has a home in Fort Valley and scribbles about the great outdoors whenever he can. Email: ‎brookesoutdoors@gmail.com.