12 LB. buck hit right as we were getting off. Released right after the photo.
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After last years Kootenay trip, I was leaning toward a trip back to Pend Oreille this fall. There was a decline in bigger gerrards up there that was evident and then confirmed during the fall derbies and also later that winter the guides weren’t seeing any of the 20 LB.+ rainbows during the peak fall to spring months. With Pend Oreille coming on, after several years of many fishery issues, it was rounding back to a form not seen in a long time and I was excited to go. After 8 years away, I was looking forward to a return trip to one of my favorite lakes.
I remember, when at my 20 year high school class reunion back in 1987, meeting up with an old buddy, John Dennington. He knew I was into chasing after big trout and told me he lived up at Sandpoint, Id. on the lake and wondered if I would like to come up and fish it some time. In the fall of 1990, I headed up that way to sample this famous rainbow fishery that had produced the 37 LB. World Record rainbow back in 1947. It was the start of a love affair that may never end until I leave this earth.
It was looking like I might not get to go when a buddy pulled out and then replacing him was much harder than I thought. With the amount of time left to fit in a “prime time” fall trip it wasn’t easy to get someone with the interest, money and time to put in 8 days at PO on short notice. I was finally able to get a friend from Church, Eric Norgaard, to join me.
As luck would have it, a nasty storm was heading our way just as we should be heading out. With two days of snow and really cold temps dropping in on Central Oregon, it was looking “iffy” on pulling this off. When he was able to get off work a little earlier, we thought our best move was to try and get out ahead of it. We pulled out of town around 10:30 a.m. on Thurs. morning with snow sticking and building up. By the time we got just north of Madras, the roads were getting dicey with ice and snow/slush. If we could just make it up to Biggs Junction on the Washington/Oregon border, we would probably be north of the worst of it as forecasted.
A few miles north of Madras, we were coming down a very slight but icy hill and when I touched the brakes, we started a slow slide. With the boat on the back, the “tail was wagging the dog” and I was steering back into the slide over and over again from left to right and back again!! Knowing not to touch the brakes or gas, I was able to finally bring the whole rig back under control. The big rig truck in front of me was then on his brakes and so using my transmission, I was able to down shift and engine brake us into a “safe landing!” After some high fives, checking our shorts and catching our breaths, we were rolling along again. Within another couple of miles, we would then set for over an hour behind a long line of cars awaiting the chance to get moving again. When we did, we saw 3 big rigs that had slid off the road and then came upon a car/truck collision that totaled both.
When we finally arrived at Biggs Junction about 140 miles north of Bend, 6 hours had elapsed when it normally takes 2.5 hours. The road conditions had improved so we pushed on to Umatilla before I was finally out of gas (me, not the truck!) around 6:30 that night and rented a room. Looking back, it was the right move to leave when we did as we probably wouldn’t have been able to get out of town that weekend if we waited one more day....the worst of the snow came the next day!
We finally arrived safely on Fri. afternoon and got into our accommodations at Pend Oreille Shores Resort in Ellisport Bay right out from Hope, Id. After grocery shopping for the week and a great meal at the “Panhandlers” restaurant, we headed back to the room for the night. The next day we were on for a comped day with guide, Ed Dickson, of Diamond Charters.
The temps had dropped to single digit lows and highs only in the 20’s so we agreed to meet Ed later that morning at his 32 foot Carver docked right next door to us. Ed and I had developed a relationship the last couple of years through correspondence and my website. We were looking forward to getting out with one of the best guides on the lake with almost 30 years of experience on PO. It was a full sun day with little chop but we did manage a half dozen “shaker bows” on a run over to the Monarchs and back. Best of all, we were educated to some of the nuances of fishing this fickle lake. Ed probably knows as much about this big body of water as anyone.....a wealth of information and many derby winners over the years. We had a great time fishing with him!
The next day was our first outing in my boat. After a bunch of shakers out by the islands early, we made the run to the Monarchs mid-morning. As we were just getting into a western run along the shore, my rod went off and, as we decided earlier, I wanted Eric to take the first fish that gets it out of the release and takes some line. This wasn’t the big screamer we had hoped for but was a nice trout for sure. After a good tussle with her, he gets the rainbow hen close enough for me to net. Discounting my 4 Lb. net weight, she was a strong 9 LB. hen and beautiful as you can see in the photo.
At the end of the day, we were finishing up right out from between Warren and Pearl Islands. Eric had cleared his rods and I was down to my last one in fading light. As I got the release up to the boat and was unclipping my line, the trout hits the fly and I let it go and set the hook. The fight was on! Right before the last light was gone we get a glimpse of him on top and net him. Turned out to be a nice buck pushing to almost 12 LB. on the Boga. After a couple of photos I drop him back......as you can see these rainbows are gorgeous fish! He and Eric’s hen hit the same fly that day!
At this point let me back up to a phone call a couple of years ago when we were “snowbirding” that winter in Porterville. I think it was late March and Jan and I would soon be heading back to Bend. The guy on the phone says “ Is this the Rick Arnold that went to Eisenhower High School back in the 60’s?” I said “yes, it is.....who is this?” He said “it is John Moerhle” and wanted to talk about fishing for the big rainbows up at Pend Oreille. He had moved to the area years before and found my website on line. I couldn’t believe it.....we hadn’t seen each other since he went into the service back in 1966. We must have talked for an hour and I suggested at the time that he hire a guide to “get his feet wet” on the drill for that lake. Fast forward to this fall a couple of weeks ago. I asked Eric if he minded if an old friend of mine could join us. Being the nice guy that he is, he said sure have him join us. A few days later I called John and told him we would be up there and asked if he wanted to join us for a day.
It was really cool when we met that Wed. morning and I said “So what have you been up to for the last 47 years!?” It was a fun day of reminiscing and working on getting him at least a limit to take home and hopefully to get to hang onto a big boy if we got lucky! Well, we came close on the limit with 5 of 6 in a trash bag when he got off the boat that evening. The big boy will have to be another trip!
The weather was not really what we would have hoped for that week but you get what you get on a trip. It was sunny and record cold for that early in November. It didn’t get over freezing until the end of the trip. The water temps had already dropped down to the low to mid 40’s. We could easily bang a bunch of shakers each day averaging 8-10 fish most days but the big fish were another story for us this year. Eric did pop a 6 LB. rainbow hen late one evening and our surprise catch of the week was an 11 LB. laker that hit a fly right on top off the boards near Windy Point. Only the third laker we have taken on top over the course of lots of trips to PO.
I did have a couple of friends from Montana that came the same week. Don Linder and Tom Huggs have fished with Dink and I on a couple of Kootenay trips and we rented a house together at Schroeder Creek last year. Don did hit a 14 LB. buck for the best of their trip. We agreed that we would likely meet back up PO next year as it seems Kootenay may have serious kokanee problems that is effecting the gerrard size and numbers. We will all know more next year about that.
I will end with saying that it brought back a lot of fond memories as we pulled out on Sat. morning and the start of the Thanksgiving Derby. Speaking of which, I got a text from Ed Sat. night saying that the derby leader the first day was a 23 LB. buck. That is enough to get me back next year......I still have room on my living room wall for a big buck gerrard mount in the 20 LB. class!