Flyfishing the North Fork of the Clearwater River, Idaho

The gods do not deduct from man’s allotted span the hours spent in fishing.
~Babylonian Proverb

Once or twice a year I get out to visit my brother, Don, who lives in Sandpoint, Idaho.  We usually come out once in the winter to ski and once in the summer.  Stephanie loves picking raspberries, collecting wild huckleberries for baking, taking the dogs for a walk in  the woods and other outdoor stuff we can’t do in London.

And if we can, Don and I sneak off for a day or two of fishing.  This time we drove up into the Bitterroot Mountains and the Clearwater National Forest to fish the North Fork of the Clearwater River.  The Clearwater, besides its name describing what it looks like, is famous as one of the rivers that Lewis and Clark negotiated on their epic exploration of the uncharted American West between 1804 and 1806. Their story is a real life adventure of courage and vision and has been captivatingly described in the bestseller, Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose.

The Clearwater holds a native trout called the Westslope Cutthroat, which has a beautiful red-orange colored slash near its throat area. There are Rainbow trout in the river as well.  The river is fairly wide, clear and filled with rocks and boulders, good structure for fish to hide behind.  The river is teaming with caddis fly larvae and the riverbank is a haven for insects which fall into the river and are gobbled up by the ravenous trout.  Since this land is buried under 20 feet of snow for many months the feeding season for the trout is short and they feed voraciously.

We mostly fished with nymphs (imitations of insect larvae) and a few times used surface flies that imitated grasshoppers and large ants.  It is difficult, technically challenging fishing with the need to get the fly at the right depth in the river, moving at a natural speed and of course to be able to tell when a trout has inhaled your fly before he spits it out, since it isn’t a real meal.

The Grave Marker

As we were walking along the bank of the river looking for a good place to fish, we came upon a curious sight.  A wooden cross with an old straw hat stuck to the top piece and the initials DM written on the wood.  We were too far from the road for this to mark a car accident and after some discussion it occurred to us just what this stream side marker might represent.

It is our opinion that this shrine marks a much-loved section of the river to an avid flyfisher who put in his will that we wanted his ashes scattered near his favorite river.  We assume his fishing friends built and placed the cross and used his favorite hat.  It looked like new construction and would certainly not survive the winter snows and the spring high water.  We both looked at each other and the same thoughts passed through our minds. “Not bad for a final resting place”!

We left the river at 5pm and were back in Sandpoint by 11pm, a 6 hour drive, most of it on circuitous dirt roads built and maintained by the US Forest Service.  We were definitely exhausted, but more from the driving than the fishing.  Somehow the brisk mountain air, the soothing sounds of the river and the sight of the little grave marker had healed those parts of the soul that get bruised through city living.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E |      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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6 Responses to Flyfishing the North Fork of the Clearwater River, Idaho

  1. david schulz says:

    This will be my second year on northfork and I’ve fallen love. I host the washington and kelley creek campgrounds for the forest service with my standard poodles. Doesn’t get any better

    David Schulz Scottsdale


  2. Kim Feider says:

    John – this is the grave we left on the side of the Clearwater River to memorialize my dad who grew up fishing that river. We had 4 generations of family and close friends on that 4th of July weekend to spread his ashes just the way he wanted. All 4 generations have been going to the North Fork for years. We continue to go up and replace his marker as we know it won’t last from year to year. My dad had no happier place on earth.

    We lost my dad (Douglas Michael Young) to diabetes on April 5, 2011 and he has been greatly missed. Each year when we visit the North Fork, it brings us closer to him again. Of course we have a large number of avid fly fishers in the family.

    Thank you so much for this article.

    Kim Feider
    Pomeroy, WA


  3. Tammi says:

    I just received the link to this from my sister. Your story made me tear up. The grave that you came acrossed was my dads. He died April 5, 2011. Our family has been going up there for 50 years. He loved fly fishing and camping with our family and friends. Thank you for your beautiful words!


  4. Anonymous says:

    Sadly his mother and brother passed away last year and we are going back on a camping trip and spreading ashes and placing two more crosses. Our family had been going to this majestic spot since the 50’s…. people wanted to read your beautiful article so I shared it again.


  5. Reblogged this on John R Childress' Disruptive Business Insights and commented:

    I posted this many years ago about a grave marker on the North Fork of the Clearwater River in Idaho and got an email from the family related to the site. Can you please email me as I lost your email to me and would like to include this story in my new book.


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