Ernest Hemingway’s son, the late Jack Hemingway, was an Idaho Fish and Game commissioner from 1971 to 1977 and is credited with enacting fly fishing and fly fishing regulations for various Gem State trout waters , including the Little Wood River.
While Hemingway deserves this recognition, I believe I should get at least a small portion of the credit. I’d be fine with a footnote or, as is the case these days, a hyperlink.
Hemingway was a resident of Ketchum in the Sun Valley. His time in the commission overlapped with my time living in Boise, where I worked for the Land Management Office. My good friend, Don Wright, was a conservationist from the Idaho Fish and Game department and was stationed in Shoshone. He and I were classmates at Utah State University and our families continued to visit for years.
It was Wright who introduced me to the Little Wood River, an extraordinary stream that turns and turns through the sage country of the plains of the Snake River. It didn’t take long to realize that the river had a large population of trout, including some very large browns, my favorite trout species.
I often fished the Piccolo Bosco, sometimes with Wright, sometimes alone.
During a solo trip I met Jack Hemingway.
It was a busy day. A freezing wind and high, slightly discolored water were part of the experience, but then I had good luck fishing in such conditions and that day was a perfect example. On my metal beam there were two brown trout within 20 inches.
Hemingway appeared from upstream. At first, I thought I was hallucinating. The fisherman was dressed in a tweed jacket and hat and carried a long fly rod. I wondered if he got lost while fishing for salmon in an eastern Canadian river and somehow found his way to Idaho.
We introduced ourselves.
“Any luck?” churches.
“I had a couple of big browns,” I replied, lifting the crossbar off the river.
Hemingway’s back stiffened.
“Do you kill them?” he questioned.
The question took me by surprise. I didn’t expect the conversation to take a direction, I wasn’t sure I understood.
“In the end,” I said.
Hemingway asked me what had hit the trout.
When my father and I fished smoke in West Virginia and someone asked him that question, he replied by saying “brown streamers”. That was Dad’s description of a several-inch nightcrawler.
So, that’s how I answered Hemingway’s question, while showing him the worm holder attached to my belt.
“Not very sporty,” he said.
OK. I thought it was probably not a good time to ask to meet Mariel or Marguax or to see if I could visit Ernest’s trophy room in Ketchum.
There weren’t many other talks and I never saw Hemingway again, even though I kept fishing on the Little Wood River.
What I saw the next time the fishing regulations were published was that Little Wood had only become open for fly fishing.
The new rules didn’t stop me from fishing there. I had caught around 2000 trout with flies at that time in my fishing life, so I just adapted, usually fishing with big streamers or spudlers and continuing to catch very respectable trout.
Sometimes I added enough weight to the line to sink the terminal equipment to the bottom of the Little Wood. So, like a sea bass fisherman throwing a big fish into a deep hole in the Cacapon River in West Virginia, I sit and wait, without moving the slush until the strike or it’s time to go home, whatever it came for first.
Such a plant is a great way to catch large trout. The muddler dances and holds the flow just slightly above the bottom of the flow as a real sculpin would. If a large trout occurs, a large strike will occur. When fishing in this way, always hold the rod, as the trout will approach from the rear or side before grasping the fly and turning downstream.
I doubt Mr. Hemingway would have approved my form of fly fishing. Although it was perfectly legal, it did not conform to his dry fly approach.
So until we moved out of Idaho, I kept tilting the Little Wood, but I refused to buy and wear a tweed jacket.
If you are ever in Idaho and you fish in the Little Wood River and you like the regulation on fly fishing only … you are welcome.
Mike Sawyers retired as an external editor of the Cumberland Times-News in 2018. His column now appears every two Saturdays. To order his book, “Native Queen, a celebration of the life of hunting and fishing”, send him a check for $ 15 at 16415 Lakewood Drive, Rawlings, MD 21557