North Fork Clearwater River, ID
Fishing is Part of the Adventure
By Bryan Dufresne
Below a monstrous logjam, the North Fork Clearwater River forms a spectacular pool. Kneeling on a log at the head of the pool, Bryan Dufresne fights a westslope cutthroat trout. PHOTO BY NATHAN PAUL
Beginning with a foothold in Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains, the North Fork Clearwater River takes a 135-mile journey through a 2,462-square-mile watershed that moves back in the time the farther upriver you travel. With 135 miles to play with, anglers can find a remarkable variety of fishing.
Traveling back in time was on the agenda as lifelong fishing friends Nathan Paul, Keith Seppel, and I loaded a truck to spend four days plying the upper stretch of the North Fork. The river reaches deep into the mountains and turns back the clock, revealing native flora and fauna—including westslope cutthroat, redband trout, bull trout, and mountain whitefish.
Months in advance, to ensure the days off, we had locked our dates—the last four days in June. Day one we would drive from Montana over Hoodoo Pass into Idaho with hopes of camping at Cedars Campground and fishing the hiking trail section of the North Fork Clearwater. By camping near the bridge over the North Fork, we would be able to end our fishing day by wading directly to our campsite. Day two would involve a 32-mile dirt-road drive to Weitas Creek, where we would walk the trail for a few miles, and fish our way out. None of us had fished Weitas, and we were excited to learn its secrets. Day three would be spent doubling back and fishing the North Fork Clearwater River between Cedars and Kelly Forks Campgrounds. Day four we would pack up and head home, unless the fishing dictated that we needed to wake early to squeeze in some more time on the water. The hope was to toss big dry flies at eager native cutthroat.