Watercolor Stories

Coming Back to the Country

Story and Paintings by Phil Murdock

I’m a steelheader and for the past twenty years I have hazarded the spring weather between Rexburg and the Salmon River.  Each summer, the big fish work up the Columbia through a gauntlet of dams into the Snake and the Lower Salmon.

They overwinter below the Middle Fork Salmon, and then work upstream when the ice dam melts out at Deadman Hole on the Upper Salmon.

I intercept them in big water downstream from Salmon, which requires my boat.  I launch it in Salmon and float down to Carmen or Red Rock.  The Salmon float is a day trip from Rexburg, if you ignore Sharkey Hot Springs. 

But the fishing falls off as the steelhead climb the river. I track their movement online—looking at returns to the Pahsimeroi and Sawtooth hatcheries, and Idaho Fish and Game harvest reports, which tabulate hours per catch grouped by river stretch.

 Mid-March intelligence moves me upriver, to skinny water and serious rapids. I ditch the boat and begin wading.  Since the trip is no longer a day, I take my wall tent and wood stove.  I drive to Challis, turn southwest upstream, cross the East Fork of the Salmon, pass Sunbeam Dam, and drive into the snow near Stanley. 

If I am lucky, my favorite spot on a south-facing slope will have melted out enough for the tent.  For three glorious days I slog through snow, “sight-fish” steelhead in the shallower waters here, sleep warm at night, and read good books.

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Phil Murdock

About Phil Murdock

Phil Murdock retired in 2016 from Brigham Young University-Idaho, where he taught English. He lives in Rexburg, where he enjoys fishing, painting, and writing poetry.

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