STORY BY INLANDER STAFF & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & o one from The Inlander actually went wakeboarding. I left that to Skylar Nobbs, who allowed us to drag him repeatedly through Silver Lake while wearing a suit, tie, and toting a briefcase. Ben Tobin braved the sun, photographing Skylar while the boat lurched over choppy water (damn innertubers). I merely sat at the prow, serving as ballast to Skylar's waterlogged salaryman, occasionally reminding him to fix his collar as he bobbed in the lake.

I did, however, ask four of our writers to get out of the office and go on their own adventures. I sent Ann Colford to the winding rivers of North Idaho with two gentlemen she didn't know. I asked Luke Baumgarten to risk drowning, and politely requested that Michael Bowen conquer his fear of crashing to the earth from an enormous height. Joel Smith went flying, and couldn't find a single colleague to accompany him as he piloted his first airplane.

All of us spent an afternoon out of the office, away from work (or at least the not-fun parts of work), having an adventure. And we suspect that you could use a little of the same, which is why we've created this special section. So come on -- those vacation hours are accumulating and the year's already half done. If you take a day off now, you'll be no more behind in two months. Break out of your everyday, everysummer routine. Do something extraordinary.


This Bag Is a Gas


& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & 'm a bird. Gliding, drifting, skimming the tops of 80-foot pine trees. There's no turbulence because I'm at one with the breeze, a zephyr that lofts me gently, ferrying me wherever it goes. The setting sun casts long shadows. I'm gliding endlessly, free to supervise a domain of hills and meadows, until I notice the creaking of the wicker basket beneath my feet. And then propane burners blast me with heat -- it's like sticking the top of your head into the mouth of a furnace. My bird reverie evaporates.

I'm not flying with the eagles, I'm in a hot-air balloon floating over Spokane Valley, we're scoping out a landing spot on somebody's fenced-in pasture, and the ground sure seems to be coming up fast.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & 'd been told that one of the chief sensations of hot-air ballooning is the quiet -- the noiseless solitude as you move with the wind. No turbulence, no constant engine drone. Oh, I'd heard the propane burners' blast from afar. The furnace burns hot -- and it's just above your hairline. But you feel grateful for the uplifting surge that follows a short delay. Blast, wait, rise, level, droop, blast, wait, loft. We're sailing smoothly on a summer evening's miniscule breeze.

The hot air that makes a balloon rise has to be pretty warm on an 80-degree evening -- oven-hot. In fact, inside the "envelope," all that furnace-blasting keeps it at around 250 degrees. But I wasn't worried. Having performed extensive research on Wikipedia, I knew that nylon doesn't melt until it hits 450 degrees.

I parade my knowledge to my fellow passengers and Forey Walter, owner-operator of Avian Balloon, who glances over and says, "482, to be exact." I can tell I'm in good hands: Walter's been flying balloons for 37 years. He builds and tests most of the balloons that you might see flying in the Spokane area. And if he'd gone up in a balloon thousands of times, what were the chances that on this one particular night, our balloon would end up as flaming, plummeting wreckage?

I felt pretty good about our chances, though I kept forcing the flaming-plummeting part out of my mind.

Actually, the sheer size of the contraption from which you're dangling is reassuring. Really. I'd helped out back at the takeoff meadow, unfurling the envelope, holding it open as two fans inflated it, watching it get upright as propane burners heated the contents. It's 80 feet tall, filled with lots of hot air, and way smoother than any airplane. (When we lifted off, I happened to be fiddling with the memory card on my camera -- and the takeoff was so smooth, we'd gone 300 feet into the air before I really took notice.)

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & ere's a fun factoid: A cubic foot of air weighs 0.062 lbs -- just 62 thousandths of a pound. And why am I telling you this?

Because our entire bright-yellow balloon tonight -- the envelope itself with its riggings, the basket, the burner and fuel tanks, and four passengers or so -- weighs roughly three-quarters of a ton. Sounds like a lot to get off the ground. But if, as Walter informed me, this balloon's capacity is 140,000 cubic feet of air, then do the math, Mr. Wizard. You'll come up with well over four tons of hot air propelling us up over the dirt roads and pickup trucks of rural Spokane Valley. This enormous thing that's carrying us? It really is mostly made out of hot air.

A big commercial balloon like this one, says Walter -- basket, burners, everything, but without a fancy paint job -- goes for about $36,000, good for perhaps up to about 600 hours of flying. For a one-hour flight, Walter charges $150 per person. At the peak of summer, like now -- "the weather around here doesn't really settle down until after the Fourth of July," he says -- "we can fly with 10-mile-per-hour winds. But if it's 10 to 15, we want to hear from Tom Sherry that it's likely to settle down this evening."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne of my co-passengers asks how I'm doing. (I may have confessed to some pre-flight jitters.) "Oh, fine."

Funny, you're 800 feet up in the air, it's quiet, there's just the four of you; it's like an hour-long elevator ride; you feel the need to make conversation. So I ask Walter if he's doing OK. "I was until we got off the ground," he says, deadpan. "I'm getting dizzy and lightheaded, and I can't see. But that's all right -- I'll be fine once we hit the ground."

Everybody's a comedian. I'll show him: I'm not afraid. I peer down over the basket railing and notice a guy on his ATV. He and his dogs look tiny. We sure are pretty far up here.

Deciding to test our altitude with a scientific experiment, I lean over the basket railing and spit. I count to 12, slowly, before I lose sight of my creation. Not even a thousand feet, you say? It still seems like we're pretty high up here.

Walter picks up on my solemn mood. "There's something I want you to have in case of emergency," he announces. Then he hands each of us a half-inch plastic soldier. The little guy is attached to a tiny parachute. Thanks, Forey.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & alter sticks the landing. It's amazing: We seem to be coming down fairly fast, and then he toggles the propane burners on and off, pulls on some ropes to make the entire balloon rotate, lines up the broad side of the basket into a slight uphill rise -- and the impact is like stepping off a ladder's bottom rung. Smooth.

The guy in the chase vehicle moseys over to ask permission for a landing that had already taken place. But Shar Brownson, whose property we'd just plopped down on, seems sort of amused. Balloons "land around here all the time," she says. "I was driving home, and I looked up and thought, 'That thing sure is low. It's pretty close to our house.'"

It's not every day that an 80-foot balloon carrying four complete strangers lands 40 yards from your balcony.

Brownson's black Lab, Ebby, was calming down after being a bit skittish. "She can hear 'em," says Brownson. "She hears the propane tanks burning before she sees them."

I was just glad they'd kept burning. While I'm a bookish guy -- always reading and writing -- flying up, up and away in a pretty yellow balloon didn't make me anxious so much as it put me back in touch with more restful, primal, non-verbal sensations. Up there in the early-evening breeze, our lives seemed more precarious, sure, but also more scenic, more adventuresome.

It gave me a new perspective, literally. All those earth-bound conversations and interactions seem pretty small. The stuff we read down here, you can't see from up there.

Balloon rides:

Forey Walter


Spokane Valley

Morning Star Hot Air Balloon Co.

(360) 887-2388

Ridgefield, Wash.

Boise Hot Air Balloon Rides

(800) 791-5867

Balloon Depot

(877) 881-9699

Carnation, Wash.

Classic Ballooning

(509) 526-7666

Walla Walla, Wash.

Hot-Air Balloon Festivals:

Walla Walla Hot Air Balloon Stampede

mid-May, featuring the Saturday Nite Glow Show with nearly 40 balloons

(509) 525-0850 ext. 201

Prosser Great Balloon Rally

Sept. 28-30, 2007

Prosser, Wash.

A River Mild

by Luke Baumgarten

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's tough to find words to describe the feeling I got last week, swaying gently in a blunt-nosed whitewater kayak on a broad, placid section of the Spokane River bathed in warm sun.

Terror is one -- bowel-loosening terror.

Panic is another.

Water and I aren't great friends, though we've had a tense peace for years. I'm a decent swimmer, though I don't swim much. I do a little fishing once in a great while. I drink water, bathe in it, launder with it and otherwise leave it alone. In return for this wide berth, all I ask is that it stay clear of my lungs.

Kayaking, in hindsight, was a wanton breach of treaty.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & J & lt;/span & on Wilmot, owner of Flow Adventures, and I had made Fourth of July plans to meet at Boulder Beach for a lesson. The day of, though, Wilmot called and said he was worried the holiday sun would have the Minnehaha area choked with people, turning my first kayak lesson into a human slalom. He suggested a change of venue to a more secluded spot downriver, directing me to a turnout about a mile west of the T.J. Meenach Bridge along Downriver Drive.

It was unbearably hot in the sun, but the canopy above left the turnout dappled with shade -- turning the 100-degree broil of the direct afternoon sun into an indirect, enveloping 90-degree swelter. While we waited for his young son, Kai, who would be demonstrating maneuvers as Wilmot explained them, Wilmot fitted me for a boat and helmet. I was given the biggest boat and the largest helmet.

Later, in the downtime waiting for our final kayaker, the guy who'd driven Kai -- also relatively lanky, also named Luke -- remarked that tall people capsize easier. Having always been the clumsy kid, this seemed funny and routine.

Wilmot handed out water bottles, life jackets, skirts and paddles, then directed us into the middle of the disc golf course. "Watch out for Frisbees," he said, pointing out the tees and baskets and remarking upon the course's general excellence. The terrain was rocky. The kayak, slung on my shoulder, was cumbersome. I immediately wished I'd worn sandals rather than flip-flops.

At the shore, Wilmot had us put on our skirts and stow the rest of the gear in the hollow behind our seats. We'd need to row across to get to the eddy. The crossing was simple but awkward, the boat spinning wildly under the force of my strokes. Once across, we tossed our water bottles, shoes and dry bags ashore. "All right," Wilmot said, a mischievous glint in his boyish eyes, "first we're going to get you wet." He explained that he was going to teach us how to conduct a wet exit.

Demonstrating upright, Wilmot leaned forward and began pounding the hull of the boat. This would signal other kayakers. He then ran the outside of his hands along the broad sides of the kayak to feel for other boats. If we felt a boat nudge us, we'd use it to right ourselves with something called a T-rescue. If not, we'd bail. To do that, he said, "just put your hands on the kayak behind your hips and push free."

Kai then demonstrated eagerly, throwing himself into the water, pounding his little play boat mercilessly, feeling for an imaginary rescuer and, finally, pulling free. That's about when I started to freak.

He'd been under for about 15 seconds. I'd be upside down for probably about 20. I imagined my equilibrium failing. I imagined water cascading in my nose. My stomach dropped. I imagined sputtering, hacking it up. Already briny with perspiration in the 103-degree heat, I felt a cold sweat break out underneath the warm one. Kai had noseplugs -- Wilmot had nose plugs, Luke did as well. I didn't.

This triggered two memories, both from early childhood. The first was a kayaker I'd seen on Sesame Street. He was a Marty Stouffer type, amiable and kind-looking though wild-eyed beneath his grizzled beard and bright orange helmet. At ease in his fey, powder blue kayak, he began a series of Eskimo rolls. Falling left, thrusting his head and upper body into the water, he rolled the craft over. Then he used his paddle to lever himself up on the other side. He didn't have nose plugs either. I remember marveling at how impossibly courageous that seemed.

That sent me back further, to a crappy old inflatable Tarzan-brand canoe on the normally placid surface of Loon Lake. I remembered a sinking feeling as air oozed out of the shoddily patched hull, then remembered how, no matter how hard I tried, I knew my stick arms would never make shore. I remember then just trying to keep my head above the surface. I remember the water getting in first through my nostrils. I remember breathing out hard to clear them and the impotence of not being able to. I opened my mouth to gasp and water filled it too. I went under and came back up, panicking. Water still in my mouth, I gasped instinctively for air, flooding my lungs. I don't remember being pushed to shore (by my mom, I'm told), but I do remember not returning to the water for years.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & flashed back to find that same alarm ringing in my ears. If Wilmot wanted me to use both hands to pound the hull, feel for other kayaks and finally to free myself, how the hell would I keep the water out?

"More importantly," the less animal part of my panic mechanism chimed, "what will the 10-year-olds, the college kids, and the oldish dude think when I say I'm scared of getting water up my nose?" This was a paradox I seriously couldn't resolve. I didn't want to die, obviously, but I wouldn't want to live with the humiliation either. My palms beaded up when Wilmot asked for volunteers. No one said anything. He glanced at all of us in turn before settling on the other beginner, who said, with practiced nonchalance, "Sure... but can I get some nose plugs?"

Wilmot motioned to Kai, "Give him your nose plugs." He surveyed the other kayakers, then looked at me. "You need them too?" I might have nodded. "Take mine." I let out a long sigh.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & verything after that was simpler. Learning to calm my panic underwater became a matter of pausing and taking stock. Each time my shoulders would tense and my neck would jerk around, eyes straining for light, I'd think, "You're upside down and you're not dying. Chill." The panic eased more with each attempt until it became almost theoretical. At that point, I found myself anticipating the next chance to capsize and save myself.

The paddling instruction that came after was leisurely and technical and not nearly as satisfying. We learned the short strokes for rowing forward and reverse, then the yawning sweep strokes that allow for controlled turns. At one point, Wilmot told us to alternate forward sweep strokes on the right and reverse sweeps on the left, concentrating not on speed, but on rhythm and paddle placement. This got our snub-nosed boats spinning like tops. I paid careful attention to rhythm at first, then let my mind wander. Immediately the spinning became more erratic and the boat began to oscillate, rolling back and forth. The motion brought with it the sickening stab of panic, but it didn't pull me under. I realized once the boat stopped bobbing that I wish it had. I wanted another chance to prove capable of saving myself. Kayaking, for me, wasn't leisure. It was therapy.


Flow Adventures

P.O. Box 9824 (99209)

242-8699 or (866) 808-4940

Spokane Parks & amp; Recreation

808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd, 7th Floor


Spokane Canoe & amp; Kayak Club

P.O. Box 819 (99210)

Contact Tim Ahern: 244-8851

Wiley E. Waters

3024 S. Steinpreis Rd., Post Falls

(208) 457-1092 or (888) 502-1900

Kayak Coeur d'Alene

307 E. Locust Ave., Coeur d'Alene

(208) 676-1533

Full Spectrum Kayak Tours

321 N. Second Ave., Sandpoint, Idaho

(208) 263-5975

Pangaea River Rafting

18 S. Fork Nemote Creek Rd., Superior, Mont.

(877) 239-2392 or (406) 239-2392


Mountain Gear

2002 N. Division


Mountain Goat Outfitters

12 W. Sprague



1125 N. Monroe St.


NRS Home -- Kayak Outfitting

2009 S. Main St., Moscow, Idaho

(877) 677-4327

[Compiled by Tammy Marshall]

Such Great Heights


& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he whole idea behind Project Pilot is that, gosh, anybody can learn to fly to a plane. The new recruiting arm of the nonprofit Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is trying painfully hard to remake the face of flying. Its glossy Website shouts "you can fly" and "you can learn to fly" (a subtle distinction, I think) while intoning over pictures of Eurotrash and limousines that "some people think that flying is reserved for the elite, the wealthy, risk takers and classic over-achievers." Not so, they say. A few simple lessons and you'll be the jet-setting envy of all your peers, winging to remote campsites on the weekends, soaring above the gridlock.

Anybody can do it? Right.

But then I met the Spokane Airways pilot who was going to take me up in the school's four-seater Cessna. He didn't look any older than me. Just this plain-spoken 20-something dude in a baseball cap. I'd expected maybe that demented crop duster from the Capital One commercial, a grizzled old vet. But no: Pat Brennan, a student at Eastern. If this guy could fly -- let alone teach someone to fly -- then maybe I could, too.

That notion was underscored by my less-than-rigorous screening and training processes. I had planned on at least a criminal history check when I arrived at the office behind Spokane International. Maybe a collateral deposit, a vision test. Surely a vigorous pat-down. But nothing.

Instead, Pat and I sat down in one corner of the little office building, the air redolent of Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate chip cookies, some guy sprawled on a nearby couch watching golf on TV. My lesson consisted of a 15-minute explanation of what it takes to get your private pilot certificate. Usually about 55 hours of flight time and around $9,000, when you count the instruction, the flight time, books, etc. You can get a recreational certificate for less money and time, but it limits what, how, when and how far you can fly. A private certificate, on the other hand, offers the full range of pilot privileges.

That was my pre-flight training. No yaw, no pitch, no roll. No exciting flight simulators. We simply walked out onto the tarmac and checked up on the plane. Which was a lesson in itself. We inspected the flaps, the ailerons, the rudder, the pitot, the wheels, the propeller, the rivets on the wings. At one point, Pat stopped and asked me, as if by way of assuring himself that I was getting all this, "So, you write for some kind of aviation publication?" Uh, no. I write about condos and pollution and politics. I crack jokes about solid waste disposal.

Still, he let me crawl up on top of the plane and pour a little gas into the tank. And he seemed -- somehow -- to feel comfortable enough to let me take the pilot's seat inside the cockpit. We checked gauges, flipped switches, messed with the throttle, turned and pulled and twisted a lot of levers and dials that I didn't understand. It wasn't for wont of trying. There were just so many of them. All the while, Pat's cracking jokes like, "Don't worry, I'll close my door just before we take off; otherwise I'll die." Or, "If you don't shut off the fuel line before cutting the engine ... and if God hates you and all the stars align, it could just blow up the whole plane." He made me yell "clear propeller" out the window to nobody in particular, so as to head off a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style execution.

Not everybody can fly a plane -- just those who can take Pat's wry humor.

Fortunately, I had nerves of steel from years of obsessing over Top Gun as a kid. Because of a childhood predilection for pushing buttons and turning dials, and because of the several times I'd flown over the handlebars of my bicycle, I believed (around age 7) that I'd been born to be a fighter pilot.

Of course, the one thing Tom Cruise never taught me was how to taxi down the runway in a Cessna Skyhawk. Maverick never mentioned how you steer with your feet; he neglected to note how badly you want to grab the yoke in front of you and steer with your hands. This proved to be the most difficult part of the entire flight process. You simply push the left pedal to veer left and the right pedal to veer right, but each is attached to a spring, which gives quite a bit before it begins to respond. And then once it responds, it yanks the plane in one direction or another. Combine this with the fact that the upper parts of the same pedals act as brakes and you have the formula for me zig-zagging across the concourse like Harry Nilsson and John Lennon after a night at the Troubadour.

The radio control tower was kind enough not to note this when it instructed us to wait for a Horizon flight to pass by before we took off. Pat was kind enough to take over the steering once we hit the runway. He told me to ease the throttle forward, then -- when he gave the signal -- pull back lightly on the yoke and try to line the edge of the dashboard up with the distant horizon. I did all that. What it meant -- I realized about 30 seconds later -- was that I was flying.

It would have been a magical moment but for the terror in my heart. I was so focused on hitting that damn horizon that I missed that awe-inspiring feeling I always get when taking off on a commercial flight -- the feeling of peeling off the ground, the sudden whoosh of perspective.

At the same time, I was flying! And it was almost effortless. Certainly no more difficult than driving a car. We flew southwest toward the South Hill, where we sailed over my house, over the rose gardens at Manito and the ball fields at Ferris. Pat had me bank to the right, do a full 180 toward Steptoe Butte. Then another and another. The heat rising off the earth below shook the plane in mid-bank, giving me mild heart attacks. I think I tasted my spleen when he told me to dip down and feel the plane descending. Still, the little plane handled like a champ.

"That's about it," Pat told me after my last U-turn. Most people get the hang of flying in just a few sessions. There's a lot more knowledge to acquire before they become good pilots, but the feel of flight and the control of the aircraft are easy to learn. Landing is a little more difficult (and here Pat retook the controls after I got us back toward the airport), but he noted he had one student pilot who was able to land the plane on his first flight. He just got it.

I wouldn't have gotten it. Or I might have gotten it. It's just that once we kissed the ground, I would've zig-zagged us into a fireball. It doesn't take an ace to do that.

Project Pilot is a program of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association aimed at getting landlubbers into the air. The program offers deeply discounted flying lessons and acts as a directory to local flight schools. Visit

You can also contact these local flight schools directly:

Spokane Airways


Spokane Falls Community College


Felts Field Aviation


Moody Aviation

Department of Missionary Aviation Tech


Arrow H Aviation

Deer Park, Wash.


Tie One On


& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & mong my guy friends, fly fishing is an almost mythic quest, a rite of passage necessary for official Inland Northwest manhood -- and a darn good excuse to get out of town on a summer day. Their stories of epic fishing adventures often involve getting home later than expected and explaining their lateness to a spouse or girlfriend left at home, who is either understanding or shrewish, depending on the teller. Fly fishing, in their stories, is a male escape from the constraints of domesticity.

Oh, plenty of women go fly fishing, too, but their numbers are small by comparison. The Northwest trout stream is still very much a gendered space.

But I'm always up for a cross-cultural experience, so I phone up Ladin Langeman, host of Fishing With Ladin, which airs Saturday mornings on KQUP-24. Ladin and his brother-in-law Steve Ronholt travel from Alaska to Wyoming filming segments for the show, but their home base is here in Spokane. They graciously agree to take me up the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River to get a taste of the fly fishing experience.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & irst stop is Sportsman's Warehouse by the Spokane Valley Mall, where we buy our Idaho fishing licenses and some flies. Steve explains to me that the goal is to have a variety of flies on hand so the lure will mimic the insects on the river at that particular time. "Match the hatch," they intone in unison.

On the road, they tell me a little about how they got into fly fishing. Steve grew up in Alaska and learned fly fishing from his father. Ladin is from Bellingham originally, but hadn't done much fishing until he met Steve. Both are schoolteachers, giving them plenty of free time in the summer for fishing. They don't consider themselves professional fly fishers -- just avid and studious hobbyists.

Past Fourth of July Pass, we take the Kingston exit and angle northward. The paved Forest Service road follows the course of the river, curving and arcing with each tumbling bend. We see float tubes on the lower part of the river, but further up it's only fishermen.

Steve and Ladin tell me about the fishing hole they're trying to find: It's a ways up the road, but still on the paved section; off on a side creek that feeds into the main river; on a bend in the road, near a grove of trees. They fished there last year once, with great success, and they think it'll be the perfect place for my adventure.

Only one problem: They can't remember the name of the side creek.

After a couple of false turns followed by quick retreats, they both point to the road beside Shoshone Creek -- as we drive past it. We turn around and drive up the side road, traveling for maybe another mile or so before pulling into a shady parking area off the edge of the road.

It's a spectacularly gorgeous day -- sunny, puffy white clouds in a cerulean sky, temps in the mid-70s -- the kind of day that chambers of commerce and visitors' bureaus love to promote to people from away. As we haul out the gear and I pull on borrowed waders and wading boots, I ask them what they look for and how they originally selected this spot.

"Two things," Steve explains. "It's bend in the road, so the river is going to bend. Sometimes on a bend, there are better holes. There's rock, which creates a better place for fish. The other is that people don't tend to walk very much, so they'll stop at a place that's right next to the road. Whereas this is a little ways off [the road] -- you can't see it for sure."

After a five-minute walk through the trees, we emerge on the bank of a creek that's maybe 30 feet across. Steve points out the difference between the fast-moving water of a riffle -- what he calls the "feeding station" -- and the deeper, languid water of a pool. He and Ladin spot insects on the water's surface -- mayflies and caddis, they tell me, information that's important for that "match the hatch" rule. A splash in the current catches our attention.

"That," says Ladin, "is a rising fish."

The guys strategize which flies to use and prepare two rods. "It's a lot harder to tie your flies on when the fish are rising," Ladin says. "You get all excited to get out there."

I wade a few feet into the creek with Ladin as he demonstrates how to cast. My first try ends in a tangle, but then I get the line out into the current, as Ladin explains how to set the hook and land the fish.

That'll be a long time coming, I think.

Then I feel a tug. "You've got one!" Ladin says.

Now, I like to think that I'm good in a crisis -- calm, level-headed, matter-of-fact -- but I happen to catch the next few moments on my voice recorder, and let's just say that "calm" is not the word that leaps to mind:

"Oh! Oh! Oh! Wow! Omigod, what do I do now? Oh, my God, look at that fish! Woo! Oh! It's beautiful! Oh my God! Aggh!"

Ah, there's nothing like a veteran writer capturing the story.

Steve and Ladin coach me through the landing of the fish -- a nice cutthroat trout maybe a foot long -- then Ladin removes the fly and we do the obligatory photos. They're devoted catch-and-release guys, so I slip the trout back under the water, let it recover for a moment, give it a little nudge, and off it goes -- shaken, but perhaps a bit more wily.

After the excitement, Ladin leans in and says, "The worst thing you can do is catch a fish on the first cast."

But I don't care.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & or the next two hours, I continue to cast and drift, cast and drift. Looks like the curse of the first cast is haunting me. Once, I hook another cutthroat, but it slips off the fly before I can reel it in. A couple of others rise to my lure, but I'm unable to set the hook in time.

Still, I get more comfortable with my casting. I get into a rhythm with a kind of sidearm cast that works well for me. Ladin tells me my casts look good and I'm getting nice drift. I say thank you.

The burble of moving water lulls me into a dreamy state. I learn another essential lesson about fly fishing: It's fun even when you're not catching fish. Standing knee-deep in a rushing mountain stream, a light breeze teasing my face, the scent of cedar and pine heavy in the shadows, I find contentment. Up, back, cast, drift. Up, back, cast, drift. Doesn't matter if another fish rises. I feel gratitude.

Like any recreational pursuit, fly fishing requires a certain amount of gear, but the investment isn't overwhelming. Starting from scratch, a raw greenhorn like me could get outfitted for about $300, with entry-level equipment.

Locally, Northwest Outfitters in Coeur d'Alene and Sportsman's Warehouse in Spokane Valley have fully stocked fishing departments; smaller local fly shops carry rods and reels, flies, lines and other supplies. Here's what I would need to get started:

Fly rod ($50-$500)

Reel ($40-$250)

Line, leader and backing ($30-$100)

Fly rods vary in length and weight, depending on the type of fishing you'll be doing. They also vary tremendously in cost: High-end rods from specialty retailers may run into the thousands. For beginners, fly fishing suppliers often offer package deals, which include a rod, reel and line, plus initial assembly and sometimes even a lesson in casting. And you don't need a fancy expensive rod to catch fish -- on our trip, the fish didn't discriminate between the $50 rod and the $400 model.

Flies ($30-$100)

Figuring out which flies you'll need -- and which one to use at any given time -- is the heart of fly fishing. Since you're trying to tempt the fish with something resembling food, you need to know what the fish are eating. The staff at any local fly shop will be able to tell you what the fish are likely to be eating, and they might even tell you which flies have been successful for other fly fishers.

Flies are remarkably sturdy, but you'll always lose some -- to fish, to shrubs, to the river. On our fishing adventure, the guys brought along maybe a dozen flies each: different sizes and styles to mimic the most common insects of our destination. Northwest Outfitters sells a "North Idaho Fly Collection" for $30, with 14 seasonally appropriate dry flies for Panhandle rivers, or you can just buy them individually. For many veteran fly fishers, tying their own flies is part of the mystique, but it's certainly not necessary for beginners.

Net ($20-$60)

Whether you're keeping or releasing your fish, you'll need a net to land the slippery devil. It doesn't have to be pricey, but it does have to be big enough to hold the biggest fish you expect to catch.

Waders ($80-$300)

Wading shoes/boots ($0-$150)

In our mountain streams, the water stays cool even in the summer, making waders almost a necessity on all but the hottest of days. With stocking-foot waders, your feet will stay nice and dry swathed in neoprene, but you'll also need wading boots or shoes. Specialized wading boots have felt soles to give more secure footing on rocky river beds -- and believe me, those rocks are slick -- but at the beginning, you can always use a beat-up pair of sport shoes that you don't mind getting wet.

Fishing license ($8-$82)

If you want to fish in Washington or Idaho, you'll need a fishing license from the state. You can buy a license for the day or for the season. In Washington, a one-day freshwater fishing license is $7.50 for residents, while a season license costs $21.90 ($43.80 for nonresidents). In Idaho, one day of fishing costs $11.50, while a season license is yours for $25.75 (nonresidents pay $82). Visit or

Snips and Forceps ($20-$40)

You'll need these little metal tools to snip the knots, to bend down the barbs on the fly hook when you're fishing catch-and-release, and to remove the fly from the fish.

Vest ($30-$100)

A multi-pocketed vest isn't essential to fly fishing, but it's certainly part of the uniform. I didn't wear a vest on my adventure -- but I wasn't carrying the flies, the net, the extra line and leaders, the snips and forceps, and so on. A vest may not be critical when you're first learning, but it's a step toward self-sufficiency.

Additionally, a brimmed hat and sunglasses will cut the sun's glare as well as providing critical eye protection from flying hooks. If you're keeping your catch -- check the local regulations first -- you'll need a creel and a good utility knife. And don't forget the sunscreen and bug spray.

If you're not lucky enough to have friends or family willing to show you the basics -- or if you choose to avoid those interpersonal dynamics -- several local outfitters offer classes and guided trips for beginners. Among them, Northwest Outfitters (208-772-1497) hosts the two-day Orvis-endorsed fly fishing school in Coeur d'Alene; the Silver Bow Fly Shop in Spokane Valley (924-9998) offers classes and guide services; and Castaway Fly Shop in Coeur d'Alene (208-765-3133) does guided trips.


Outdoor European Christmas Market @ McIntire Family Park

Fri., Dec. 3, 4-8 p.m. and Sat., Dec. 4, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
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