By Chris Hunt
Several years ago, I hosted a colleague from D.C. here in Idaho in mid-September, a generally dependable time of year for decent weather, solid fishing and some of prettiest fall colors of the season, especially in the high country.
And it snowed. < /p>
Not just the little early-season squall—a full-on dump of heavy, wet snow. Tree branches, still sporting still-green leaves, cracked and broke. Folks who, a day before, had been wandering around town in shorts and flipflops, had to dig out the winter gear and just go about their lives. Idahoans grimmace through frequent unpredictable weather, but when summer is essentially interrupted by a reminder that winter in these parts can be downright cruel and generally show up whenever it feels like it, it was cold slap in the face.
My friend from D.C. was shocked.
“Is this normal?” he asked.
“Nothing is normal with the weather around here,” I replied, glaring into slate-gray the sky along the South Fork of the Snake. Seriously? Snow?
For the most part, I really love September. The heat is gone. The mosquitoes are gone. The smoke from the inevitable summer fires in the mountains has laid down thanks to chilly nights, higher humidy and maybe a light dose of autumn rain. The sky, on the perfect September day, can be the most unreal shade of blue. And the fishing might be the best of the year—those cooler nights give way to frosty mountain morings that eventually yield to shirt-sleeve days spent casting to fish that seem revived by autumn. Campgrounds are empty. The fishing is enhanced by the possibility of a forest grouse for dinner—I know where a few of them might be hanging out this time of year. And there’s no rush to hop out of the warm covers in the camper to hit the water. Nothing much happens until the sun hits the creek and kind of gets things moving. It makes for lazy mornings and a few contemplative cups of coffee. And naps. I love September naps with the windows open.
But I learned my lesson all those years ago. It’s why, when asked if September is a good time visit and go fishing, I generally reply, “Sure … if the weather holds.”
I’ve become a big fan of the online extended forecasts—you can generally depend on them, and it makes planning weekend journeys into the hills to fish and hunt a pretty predictable endeavor. But meteorology is an inexact science, and I’ve been caught off guard more than once in September. So when I pack for a camping trip this time of year, my bag is a bit heavier, replete with the shorts and flipflops I love to sport around camp, to the fleece and raingear I generally wear later in the year.
For fishing, it’s wader time again. And streamer time, too—in the Idaho high country, bull trout are on the move and this is the best time of year to go after them with big, butt-ugly, articulated monstrosities that are so much fun to tie. During the warm days, hoppers are still flitting about, giving cutthroats and rainbows top-water targets that smart anglers will replicate. And nothing is prettier than a September brook trout. Unless… maybe… an October brook trout.
But mostly, everything seems to be in a hurry to slow down and go dormant … to get ready for winter that can, and will, come sooner than any of us are ready for. I swear I can actually watch aspen leaves turn from green to gold. Rutting mulies are hustling harems over sage-covered slopes and bull elk light up the morning with bugles that let their rivals know where they are and that they’re ready for a fight.
I guess anglers this time of year are like that, too. We hustle into the mountains to enjoy the last of the really great weather, and feel pangs of guilt when we’re not out there casting to hungry trout among the gold of streamside willows and quakies. These are not the days to waste. They can be the best of the year.
So long as the weather holds.
Chris Hunt is the national digital direct for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls.