Kelly Creek Report
Just got back from Idaho a couple weeks ago. Here is the report. My friend writes a better report than I so I am just copying it here:
As Sean Ransom and I stood at Hoodoo Pass at the top of the Bitteroots last Thursday afternoon, the upper NF Clearwater below us flowed via the Snake and then the Columbia to the Pacific.
Billed as one of the top ten trout fishing destinations in Idaho, Kelly Creek is a poster boy for a thriving west slope cutthroat population after construction of Dworshak dam 50 miles or so downstream wiped out steelhead and salmon spawning runs to the headwater streams high in the mountains. The NF Clearwater quickly grows in size as big, brawling feeder creeks rapidly increase it to roughly the same size as the MF Snoqualamie where it joins with Kelly Creek at Kelly Forks, 30 miles below the pass. This being the end of an especially dry year, we weren't quite sure what to expect when we first saw Kelly Creek but it's large size (bigger than the NF Clearwater when they join) vastly exceeded our expectations.
We'd come for the famous October caddis hatch and we weren't disappointed. In the first long glide we fished late Thursday afternoon just upstream from Kelly Forks campground, cutts were literally jumping out of the water trying to snatch the ovipositing caddis out of the air while others stalked crimson spawning kokanee that swarmed at our feet, ready to snap up any stray eggs. In the gathering darkness, we coaxed several cutts to hand with stimulators and parachute Adams before returning to Kelly Forks to set up camp.
Friday was our first full day of fishing so we decided to follow the road ten miles up Kelly Creek to the old USFS Work Center and hike upstream from there. Kelly Creek flows through a steep-walled canyon along the road and only receives direct sun briefly during midday. But the canyon broadened out as we approached the Work Center and the river (oops, I mean creek :-) changed from a series of boulder-choked white water chutes and deep connecting plunge pools to long wide, skinny water flowing over a cobbled bottom. We parked at the bridge over Kelly Creek and worked our way upstream, finally connecting with fish once we got to water in the sunlight.
I located a pod of fish near a submerged rock below a riffle a half mile upstream. Swinging a size 18 BH pheasant tail near the rock picked up the alpha fish on the second or third cast, a thick 14-15 incher, buttery gold with vivid slashes that put a serious bend in my 3wt. I hooked up with five more smaller fish the same way over the next half hour. Despite a reputation for dogging and diving instead of jumping like their rainbow cousins, I did have a couple of leapers shake my hook that afternoon. Sean was working a long glide a few hundred yards upstream and was picking up fish on a parachute Adams when a fisher materialized out of the woods along the opposite shore and put the pool down.
Reports from as recently as the week before suggesting that Kelly Creek wasn't getting much pressure from competing fishers were dead wrong. The high 70 and low 80 degree days and the October caddis proved to be a fisher magnet as we saw dozens of competing fishers including one group of 25 from Kootenay county staying at Kelly Forks. Hiking a couple miles upstream found more skinny water and few fish so we connected with a parallel trail and hiked back to fish the first two holes again for another few fish before heading back to the truck.
Driving back through the canyon, we spoke with a couple guys who were successfully fishing the plunge pools and pocket water with big stimulators or 'anything orange'. Trying the same tactic in the darkness yielded another half dozen fish, one over 14" and lifted out spirits considerably.
The two guys reported that at one point a pickup had stopped along the road above them and the driver appeared to be aiming a video camera at them while his plump female passenger danced and paraded topless in a jungle thong beside the truck, displaying her ample assets to the incredulous fishers below. And I thought I'd already heard it all :-)
On Saturday, we decided to avoid Kelly Creek and drove the seven mile road over the ridge from the old Work Center to try our hand at Cayuse Creek below the USFS emergency landing strip. We were surprised to find Cayuse was nearly as large as Kelly Creek and even more surprised to find a parked car with a Kirkland license plate frame belonging three guys we'd seen the day before. As we hiked downstream and into the canyon, their wet footprint suggested they were at most a half hour ahead of us. The fish were down as we worked our way downstream, having been recently been harassed by the guys ahead of us. We caught up with each of the three guys separately before finally finding fish. The big fish of the trip for me was a 16+ inch brute who fell for one of Don Johnson's Miracle Caddis patterns dropped into an eddy between two chutes at the head of a small, shallow pool. We fished down to within perhaps a half mile of where Cayuse joins Kelly Creek (rousting a bear from a gravel bar a hundred yards or so downstream) before turning back. We failed to find the fisherman's trail along Cayuse and had to retrace our steps back through the canyon before it got too dark. We stopped along the Kelly Creek canyon on the way back and picked up another half dozen fish before calling it a day.
On Sunday we headed down the NF Clearwater from Kelly Forks and found it to be a mostly wide, skinny river with tough fishing between obvious holding areas. Stopping at several impromptu camping sites along the road, we found some terrific fishing at one called Broken Toe Camp. Although the fish weren't as large as the Cayuse Creek ones, they willingly came up for dries. We fished at various spots to about 12 miles below Kelly Forks and found the water became more fishable the further we got downstream.
There was a steady stream of trucks and campers with trailers and 4 wheelers heading out along the NF road all day Sunday. We got back to Kelly Forks to find we were the only ones left - even the host had left. We quickly packed and left at 5:30pm, arriving at Superior at 7:15.
Kelly Creek easily lived up to its reputation. In three days we hooked perhaps 15 to 20 west slope cutts each per day, plus a couple of whitfish and three rainbows in the NF Clearwater for good measure. We just scratched the surface and there was certainly a lot more water left to explore. I'd go there again but sure do hope to find a lot fewer people the next time.
But even that's a small price to pay for the privilege of fishing the holy water.
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