Saturday, July 5, 2008

The North Fork Payette that's overlooked

We went back to one of my favorite flat-water river trips on Friday the 4th and paddled the North Fork of the Payette River in between McCall and Hartsell Bridge, north of Lake Cascade. I included this little-traveled section of the Payette in my book Paddling the Payette but it's been slow to catch on ... which is just fine.

It is a beautiful float by any definition -- there is bird life galore ... herons, kingfishers, ospreys everywhere, bald eagles soaring overhead, and many different types of songbirds -- we found some frogs on shore, the fishing is quite good, and many white-tailed deer hang out in the riparian zone along the river.

Some of the challenges associated with this trip is that it's a day-long paddle, 5-6 hours, with stops, at low water, you need to set up a shuttle before you go, and you need to portage around some big logs that block the river about two-thirds of the way along the journey.

But all of these obstacles are easily overcome. Damon Yerkes at West Mountain Gear & Grind in Donnelly arranged a shuttle driver for us, and we rented a hard-shell Jackson Sports Little Tripper for Ellie, Wendy's 14-year-old daughter, so she could paddle her own boat. The portage isn't that bad, if you take the right channel and scout your path from a perch above the river bank so you can find the easiest way through the maze.

Wendy and I paddled our 16-foot Mad River Explorer, which is a perfect boat for this river section. At 250 cfs, the river was low, but there was enough cushion to make it through small riffles. You did have to pay attention to your lines through the riffles to stay in the deepest water (usually part of the tongue).

We stopped several times so I could cast in the deep dark pools for rainbow trout, and I caught a bunch. Unfortunately, I lost a big one when the fish leaped at least three feet out of the water to toss the hook. It looked like at least an 18-inch fat fish, and I tried to get it to bite again, but mature wiley rainbows are normally too smart to get hooked a second time in the same hole.

Anyway, it was a good time had by all. Our arms were tired of paddling by the time we reached Hartsell Bridge, and we were hungry for dinner. It's only an 8-mile trip, according to the USGS topo map, but with all of the oxbows and goose necks in the river, it seems like twice that long. I'll have to bring my GPS next time to confirm the distance.

Check out this unsung section of the North Fork sometime when you have a full day of time and good weather. It's a treat.

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