Some consider Southeastern Idaho as the trout Mecca of the West. You can watch a thousand YouTube videos covering fishing on the fabled rivers of Eastern Idaho. For someone seeking solitude and big fish, however, Idaho rivers seem overrun with more anglers and boats than fish, especially during the famous hatches.
This makes adventurers like myself and, my good friend, Matt Lucia, want to seek out less pressured waters, or even waters that some may consider as forsaken. Take for example the Bear River, which is arguably the most degraded river in Southeastern Idaho, a place where no self-respecting angler would go to for quality fishing. In his book, Idaho Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide, John Shewey said of the Bear River: “The Bear River is a stream that has long been used for the needs of agriculture with little regard for anything else.” As you travel the length of the Bear River, this statement pretty much sums up what most people see: A silty, degraded river that is better suited for trash fish than trophy trout. But, as the saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Matt Lucia and I grew up along the banks of the Bear River and learned to love the river and all that it has to offer at a young age. We both passionately work in the area of conservation for the Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust of Pocatello, Idaho: Matt, as the Executive Director, and me, as the attorney for the land trust. The land trust covers the Bear River region of southeastern Idaho and one of its main objectives is to protect and restore the Bear River. There is so much to do, but it is a labor of love, for sure.
While you can catch trout in various stretches of the Bear River, many stretches mostly hold a healthy population of common carp, which many consider to be nothing but trash fish. Admittedly, carp do thrive in degraded waters and they can have a negative impact on the environment. However, they can be tremendously fun on the fly. On a float early last summer, we targeted trout and smallmouth bass in the upper stretches and had some success, but further downstream we began to see many tailing carp and they became our focus. We found them to be super challenging and addicting.
This led us to plan other adventures upriver. We decided to float rarely-touched stretches of the Bear River by raft, but knew we would find no guide books for such an endeavor. On our first outing near Dingle, Idaho, we put in at a public access point not far from the Wyoming border, which is no boat launch, by any means. The truth is, there are none on this stretch of river because it is not a destination water. We had to navigate this river, the put-in, the obstructions, and the take-out solely based upon online scouting via Google Earth.
Like true adventurers, we took on this trip not knowing what exactly we would find on this forsaken water. What we found, however, was beauty, fun, sometimes treacherous places where we had to portage, and most importantly, hungry carp that were willing to eat a fly.
The river was high and off color and on the main stem we found only one carp willing to play. I spied the first fish near the bank rooting around like a water pig and when I cast the black and red leech in front of his face, he sucked it in.
But the excellent fishing came when we found a channel into a cattail slough with clear water and tons of hungry carp. Matt paddled me around the slough where we stalked these Golden Bones with great success. This cattail slough made the trip for us and made the long portage of the raft at the take out totally worth it.
Our next adventure was during the first part of July downstream near Ovid, Idaho. We talked my brother, Shawn Wayment, into joining the dark side and coming carp fishing with us.
While still off color, the river had dropped some and we found numerous carp eating in the grassy flats along the river. We found these fish to be very cooperative. One even came out of the water to eat my leech pattern.
We even got Shawn into his first carp, when we heard a carp slurping right next to the bank. Shawn resisted trout setting and hooked into easily a 10 pounder.
The bottom line is that we found beauty, solitude, fun, and big challenging fish on all of our outings to this forsaken water. We will be back for more this year.
I share this blog to help others understand that the Bear River is worth experiencing and it is definitely worth saving. You cannot love what you don’t know, and most people will not save what they do not love. We are raising the conservation banner for the Bear River and request that others get behind saving it.