Conquering the Cayuse

Hike-fishing streams where SUVs fear to tread.

"Cayuse Hookup" by Jack Hutson.

 

A moon-lit, early summer’s eve, the air crisp with a hint of wood smoke. Sounds of water tumbling over beds of stone. Kelly Creek, the home waters of North Idaho, we meet again. A trip that had its roots planted over a year previous, turned back by thundering skies and driving rain. This year our aggregation would try again. My son, Nate, and I join Todd and his son, Reese, and buddy Mark. We meet again, indeed.

The “Cayuse Loop”—our term—begins on USFS road No. 581, crawling up to a mountain airstrip. Leaving the SUV, we pack, fish, and clamber down Cayuse Canyon to where it meets Kelly Creek. After crossing Kelly, we hike back downstream to Moose Creek base camp and the other vehicle.

The flat strip runs generally east-west along the mid-reaches of Cayuse Creek. In vast contrast, the Cayuse bores a valley, steep and deep, between two ridges from the eastern end of the strip down to Kelly. Broad waters are choked by rock, eerily carved into ghostly shapes, roiling into scattered lucid pools as we enter the canyon.

There is a lightly used trail, No. 532, along the north (left) side of Cayuse for most of the route. Fishing as we do, it’s just easier to stay in the creek. During our journey a female otter and her three pups joined our fishing fellowship. While we looked on, she would glide through the deepest reaches, snatching small west-slope cutthroat trout from the leeward side of submerged boulders. They remained our companions for several miles.

There are many fine drifts and pools that offer excellent fishing and ripe huckleberries as we leap-frogged our way down to Spider Bar. It earned its name that night of the incredible thunderstorm, a night of fearful lightning and torrential rains that forced us into our tents to ride it out. Seeking shelter as well, spiders dangled from webs inside our pack-tents. Huge, round bodies with legs equal to carrying them. Harmless, perhaps, but certainly unwelcome.

This night, a calm evening, provided sound sleep on our spider-free gravel bar. Todd had a morning fire burning, and a hot meal was in the near future—coffee first! Live entertainment provided by one of—no, the best fly fisherman I know. Todd, who could catch a fish in a parking lot, caught several large cutthroat. When he landed an aggressively feeding fish, like a gold rush, the group clambered for fly rods, and the cast was on!

A few more trout came to be released, and soon it was time to continue our trek. There are wondrous pools and riffles to fish for a ways. Toward the end of a particularly broad stretch, the water tails out into a small pool caused by a mountainous boulder.

Releasing a nice trout, I turned to call, “Your turn, Reese!”

Like stone benches, there’s a collection of rocks nearby to sit. There, the group could spectate as fishers ply their skills against hungry trout. A pipe and close company for the pleasure of it all. Reese caught a few nice fish, and then Nate took a turn, and so on. Trout numbering in the 20s came from this single drift. Combined with a good pipe and good company, it was an unforgettable stop.

But there are other places to fish, and more fish were caught. Beyond that, the Cayuse, in anticlimactic fashion, rolls into bed with Kelly Creek. From there, it’s the Idaho Centennial Trail (No. 790) that brings us back to where our adventure began. A time to celebrate, the Cayuse now conquered.