I had hoped that one of the “secrets” my friend Chris Hunt reveals in Fly Fishing Idaho's Secret Waters
is that they are, in fact, not in Idaho at all, but surreptitiously hidden in some out-of-the-way corner of North Carolina. I was disappointed, of course. But, short of that one minor geographical issue, the book stood up to my every expectation. And I expected a lot.
But before we get started, let’s address one pressing issue. Giving away secrets, especially secret fishin’ holes, is frowned upon in many circles. We, fly fishermen, are as tight-lipped a lot as you’ll find and don’t cotton much to having our honey-holes exposed. Early on, Chris takes faces the music:
… our backcountry and backcountry trout deserve the appreciation of anglers who, without a bit of encouragement, might not venture very far from the blacktop to chase fish. The more anglers who experience the backcountry, the more allies our wild fish have when it comes time to beat back a bad idea or stand up to those who don’t share our conservation values. Anglers – and hunters – are more and more important in the conservation discussion all across America… If it gives one angler the motivation to write a letter to Congress or craft a letter to the editor of his local paper when that action is needed to protect the backcountry and our Idaho way of life, it’s worth it.
That being said, Chris doesn’t really give away the keys to the kingdom. There’s no maps with Xs where the trout are or detailed descriptions of trailheads or highlighted pathways into the backcountry. Instead, he gives the reader a starting point; or, as he describes it, a short head start on their own journey to discover backcountry treasures filled with wild fish and experiences we all thrive to uncover. At the end of each chapter (the book being divided primarily by region) Chris gets as close to “giving it away” as he will by providing a page reference in the Delorme’s Idaho Atlas & Gazetteer and an invitation to explore the small blue lines found therein. But, paired with the vivid descriptions and stories surrounding each of the Idaho gems, it’s a hell of a start for those with a true desire.
It’s appropriate that Secret Waters is published by History Press because it’s the history that the book contains that makes it so fascinating. The first two chapters put Idaho and its storied fishery in perspective. Papa Hemmingway, his son Jack, the incredible conservative contributions of Ted Trueblood, Carter H. Harrison. The stories Henry’s Fork, Salmon, Silver Creek, South Fork of the Snake. The Ranch.
But it’s the smaller waters, and smaller histories that make this book special. Each tiny creek and hidden tributary that Chris describes has its own stories to be told. And Chris tells them well. From geological origins to native American inhabitants to Louis and Clark’s explorations; Western outlaws to local politics to more recent legislative battles. Chris gives you the background. A trout is a trout, if you’ll pardon the generality, but it’s the places that sing to the seasoned fisherman. Knowing the past gives perspective - a look into the soul of a waterway that connects a man with his surroundings in a way that sticks forever.
And the history that’s the most comfortably relayed is Chris’s own, his personal memories of each blue line. The folks that he fished with, the color of the sky that particular day, the things that made each splash special to him. Family and friends brought together by a fly rod. This book is personal, not just a dry how-to; appreciated, here, for I feel the most boring part of fishing literature is usually the fishing itself.
And the book's far from boring, especially visually. It’s lovely to page through; full of colorful and inspiring photography. Grand vistas and tiny plunge pools. Wildlife and streamsides. Idaho in its glory. You can easily see the pull of the place.
Okay. A confession, I suppose, is in order. The realization that these streams are not in North Carolina was not my only disappointment upon opening these pages. There was another. After the first few pages of Fly Fishing Idaho's Secret Waters, I found myself disappointed that I was unable to jump a westbound jet, right then and there, to explore some of these hidden gems for myself.
Someday, Mr. Hunt. Someday.