Hike the Trail at Kelly Creek

The temperature is in the single digits this week. Frozen fog coats the bare branches of the trees out the window. I haven’t seen the sun in days.

So I am taking a break from my to-do list, and looking back at sunnier times. Scrolling through my folder of Kelly Creek pictures, I came across this one and decided to share it along with a little story. If you come to Kelly Creek via Superior, Montana you follow Moose Creek until you hit the road that winds along the creek. Instead of turning right to follow the river, if you turn left, there is a camping/parking area just before the bridge that leads you on to Cayuse Creek. That is also the trailhead to hike upstream along Kelly. If you are a back packer, you can follow it all the way to the junction with Cayuse and beyond.

Upstream from the bridge along Kelly Creek

Upstream along Kelly Creek (click to enlarge)

When I visit Kelly Creek, I always allow one day to fish the trail. The walk isn’t strenuous, the scenery is incredible and the fishing pressure decreases with each mile you hike. The water gets smaller as you go, but there is always nice fishable water. I’ve had some amazing days along that trail. This picture, taken 10/19/2010 is from the high point of the trail.

In the picture, you can see a small outcropping just above the riffle. Well about 10 years ago, I was hiking back down the trail at dusk. Like every other fly fisher I know, I watch the trail to see where I am going, but keep an eye on the water, because isn’t that what it’s all about?

It had been a long day with dozens of fish and hours of hiking and wading, but when I saw rising fish I stopped to watch. You can see in the photo that from the trail to the water is a steep drop. So it wasn’t an easy decision. I was tired and hungry, but there were rising fish. I gave in and skidded down to the river.

Stripping out some line, I made an awkward steeple cast to let my parachute Adams drift down riffle. Before the first strike, I heard a snort and the splash of a rock rolling into the water. Looking upstream fifteen feet to my left, a huge bull moose stared back at me.  Let me say that I didn’t waste much time reeling in my line and backing down stream. When I got far enough to feel safe, I scrambled up the bank to the trail and let my heart rate get back under a hundred and my breath down to normal.

Now every time I hike the trail, I pause at this spot and remember my adventure. It keeps me humble and reminds me we share these waters with each other and the native residents of the this wonderful country. You never know who or what you’ll see along the trail. Each trip is an adventure, but you want to make it home to share your tales.

Be safe.

Kelly Creek is Smokin'

Kelly Creek Drainage from Hoodoo Pass

Smokey vista from Hoodoo Pass

Back from my fall trip to Kelly Creek, Idaho. Once again it was great. Four days of blue skies and 65 degree temperatures. Of course, since it is October, the nights dropped into the low 20’s. The humidity was so low, that even along Moose Creek where I camp, there was almost no frost. Coming over from Superior, I stopped on the Idaho side of Hoodoo Pass to view the drainage. I knew that there would be smoke. Fires have been burning for two months. As you can see in the picture, the horizon showed the extent and range of the fires. I can’t imagine what it must be like fighting those blazes.

In recent years I’ve made my fall trip in September. So I was struck by several differences. The water was low. Without any rain for months there had been none of the usual spikes up in flow. So the discharge flow had steadily dropped from 1600 to 700 cfps. That is the lowest I’ve ever seen it.

Whether it was the low water, the cold nights, the time of the year, or maybe just me, the fishing was different also. Instead of the 25 – 30 fish per day I usually catch, this year it was 15 – 20. Still very good, when you remember the days are short. The water temperature was 40 degrees, so don’t try wet wading now! I didn’t start fishing until 11 am and quit by 4 pm.

The other difference was in which flies were effective. For the first time ever, I caught no flies on my Rusty Stim. That is usually my number one fly on Kelly. But this time, small and technical fishing caught the fish. My Biot Mahogany Dun in a #16 worked great, as did the Harrop’s Thorax Dun. Another good fly was a CDC emerger. I’ll tie one up for a step by step later. There was a spinner fall around 2:30 that I never did figure out, but it got fish up and feeding. Being fisherman friendly cutthroat, they took my flies pretty well even though I couldn’t match that hatch.

The scenery was incredible as always. The Kokanee spawn was nearly over. Some of the riverside trees were past their prime color, but the Aspen on the hill side were perfect. The crowds were gone (only three other rigs on the road each day). The food was great. I’ll have to post my favorite dinner sometime. As always, it was tough to pack up to come home. But isn’t that the way you want a fishing trip to be? If you are excited to leave, you picked the wrong place to go.

Hoodoo Colors

Wonderful Colors

My Rig on Hoodoo Pass

My Rig on Hoodoo Pass

Color on Hoodoo Pass

Color on Hoodoo Pass

Tamarack in Color

Tamarack in Color

pocket water

Pocket water

Cutthroat trout

Another great fish

Stars shine like diamonds in the night

Night Skies

Along the Road you can see the water

Roadside views

Dark Waters

Dark Waters



Kelly Creek water

Gin Clear Water

Afternoon Shadows

Short Days in October

Cold Mornings

Low of 23 degrees!

Beautiful Cutthroat troat

Beautiful Cutthroat at Kelly Creek

Fall Color

The hills in their prime color

Sunny Fall Days on Kelly Creek

Love those big pools!

October Caddis and Hoppers of Kelly Creek

I was looking through my pictures from Kelly Creek and came across these two photos. They aren’t particularly good shots, but I was going to sit down at the bench tonight and wanted to refresh my memory about the size of the hoppers I had seen there in the past.

Grasshopper from Kelly Creek

Kelly Creek Hopper


This little fellow was sitting on a tarp in front of my trailer door. I took the picture 9/31/11. The small squares are 10 to an inch, so he is about 3/4 inches long. The color is pretty accurate, so you can see he is a bright yellow-green shade.

October Caddis is the dessert of the bug season. After midges, March Browns, Mother’s Day Caddis, stone flies, the spring and summer series of mayflies and all the rest, the final course before winter is the October Caddis. And these mountain cutthroat are eager for a snack.

October caddis found at Kelly Creek Idaho

October caddis found at Kelly Creek Idaho


I scooped this guy out of the water for a quick picture on 10/19/2010. You can see that although we think of them as orange, they really are more yellow. No matter what color, they are tasty. I use my Rusty Stim pattern all the time at Kelly. Even though it is a rusty orange color, the fish let me know they like it. Maybe I’ll tie some up in a yellow to try this fall. That is the joy of tying your own flies. Tie some up and try them. The fish will be your judge and jury.

Return to Kelly Creek

blues and golds at Kelley Creek

Fall colors on Kelley Creek, Idaho

It’s the middle of July with temperatures in the mid 90’s and I am dreaming of October. I’ve set aside a week to go back to Kelly Creek again this fall. Is there anything better than cool nights, warm days, brilliant colors and solitary trout streams? The crowds are gone and the fish are hungry. Flies and mosquitoes have burned away or been frosted for the year.

Snow covered Lolo pass in September

You never know what the weather will bring in the fall

This is a picture of Hoodoo Pass taken September 27th, 2001. I was a bit concerned, driving through 6 inches of snow. Not certain what I would find on the river I worried that at the end of the trip I would be driving the long way back through Lewiston. Fortunately the weather held and although chilly, the pass stayed clear. It dropped down into the 20’s, but the days got up into the high 60’s.

Foggy fall morning on Moose CreekWith the frosty mornings, I never start fishing too early in the day. The edges of the stream has a little shelf of ice. And with the steep valley walls, it takes the low lying sun a long time to get down to the river. So I usually linger over a warm breakfast. Boy does that first cup of coffee taste good!

Larch changing in the fall

Larch needles show great color in autumn

You can see the frost from my campsite along Moose Creek that by 9 am, the sun still has a ways to go to reach the water. Often there is some fog to burn off before things start to warm up. Usually I make my way to the river by 11 am and fish till 4 or 5 pm. It gets dark early, so it’s nice to get a campfire going before full dark. Then time to start on dinner.

Compared to summer fishing, that is a pretty short day. But I don’t need a huge number of fish to make me happy. On a good day, I’ll catch over 30. On a poor day, maybe only 15. But when you consider the short day and the time spent hopping from hole to hole, the fishing is great.

I’ve been slipping down to my vise in the last few weeks, tying up a few new flies and topping off my box of favorites. Fall fishing at Kelley is not match-the-hatch for the most part. Last fall, on one day I only used three flies all day. My Rusty Stim on fast water; Harrops thorax dun on quiet water; and a bead head, soft hackle pheasant tail as a dropper when the others weren’t drawing any attention.


Kelley Creek in September

September 21st at Kelley Creek in Idaho


I think this is enough to keep me happy for a while. I have more pictures, so I may make another post before I my trip. We’ll see how the time goes….




Kelly Creek Idaho

Kelly Creek in North Idaho

Click to Enlarge

These pictures are a stroll down memory lane for me. I took them in mid-September of 2000. It was my second trip to Kelly Creek and this was my first digital camera. After reading stories of 20″ fish and fly fishing heaven, I had to try my luck.

Kelly Creek 2

Click to Enlarge

Since then, I’ve made it to Kelly at least once every year. It has never let me down. So in honor of my favorite stream, all the pictures in this post are from 2000.

I’ve learned that while there are 20″ fish, and I have caught some, most of the fish are smaller. Your typical fish is usually around 10 inches. 12-15 inch fish are not uncommon.

Kelly Creek 3

Click to Enlarge

I usually camp near the bridge at the south-east end of the road access. Then day hike up the trail and fish. Another day I’ll cruise along the frontage road, hopping from hole to hole. Sometimes I explore Moose Creek or the Little North Fork of the Clearwater. The picture on the right shows the trail above the bridge.

I remember a magical day, fishing my way up stream, catching dozens and dozens of fish and never changing my fly all day.

I’ve been to Kelly in June, August, September and October.  September is my favorite time. The crowds have departed. You might even have the river to yourself. That time in October I was tent camping and it got down to 21 degrees. Just a little too nippy for my thinning blood.

Kelly Creek 4

Click to Enlarge

This picture was taken 9/15/2000. You can see the Kokanee had made it up there to spawn. They add color and interest to the stream. And the bear love them. I’ve never had a bear problem, but have seen them from a nice distance.

Kelly Creek 6

Click to Enlarge

On the right, you can see the bridge. The road leads over to Cayuse Creek. It is smaller than Kelly and runs into Kelly upstream. There is a primitive landing strip at the camp ground at Cayuse, so if you know someone with a plane…

Kelly Creek 7

Click to Enlarge

Even in the heat of mid September, the mornings can be foggy and damp. The mist adds to the atmosphere of the river.

I can’t wait to go back to the river again this year. Each time brings new treasures to discover. The river changes a little every visit. Some holes disappear, others are created.

I’ve seen moose, bear, deer, mink, beaver, martin, coyote, elk, lots of different birds and of course, lots of fish. I find my pulse speeding up as I come down the hill from Lolo Pass. Not just the switchbacks in the road. It is the anticipation of another time at my favorite stream.

My favorite view of the drive is the top of HooDoo Pass, especially in September with the fall colors. This isn’t the best picture I have of it, but I had to stay true to the rule of the day. Only pictures from 2000. Tight lines.

Lolo Pass

Click to Enlarge