Fathers, sons, and generational differences were, appropriately, at the forefront of our minds as my good friend Keith Seppel and I departed for Thompson Falls in the pre-morning dark for trip 45 of our mission to fish together once a month for as long as time allows us.
My father’s formative years were spent fishing the Clark Fork in Thompson Falls. The river was his childhood canvas. He spent hours in the pursuit of the giant bull trout and pike minnows that owned the river at that time, tossing thousands upon thousands of casts into the river, with each cast brushing up against that powerful human emotion - hope. When the fishing would slow or the summer sun became too oppressive, he would put down his pole and plunge into the cool waters of the Clark Fork.
Trips to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Thompson Falls were a staple of my childhood. As I grew, and Grandpa grew older, my easiest conversations with Louis involved fishing. Despite the enormous generational difference between someone who was raised during the Great Depression and someone who was raised during the onset of computers and gaming systems, fishing connected us.
I can’t hear the name of the town of Thompson Falls without thinking of my grandfather, or my father, and without some memory flickering on like a street light in the night.
Furthermore, on the morning of July 31 at 9:11 a.m., Keith's wife Rachael gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Strangely, we talk of newborn babies and fish landed in the same terms - measurements. Baby Seppel was 20 1/2 inches, and weighed a whopping 10 pounds 13 ounces. His name, appropriately, is Fisher Rae Seppel.
So it was, squeezing in our August trip at the end of the month, we cut through the silence of the morning heading north, and our usual talk of trout, bass and pike didn’t fill the hours of travel. It was the bond between grandfathers, fathers, and sons that owned the discussion.
While Keith and my adventures often inspire me to take my son on a mirrored journey, August’s trip was the reverse. Two weeks before Keith and I headed to Thompson Falls, I spent a couple days in town with my family and my in-laws. Finn and Lila spent hours together on the banks of river, Finn, shirtless, sporting a pair of muddy swimming trunks, and Lila in a multi-colored, blue and pink one-piece swimsuit featuring a huge zebra on the front. They fished together, chatting and smiling, yanking fish out of the water as fast as I could keep their hooks baited. When the fishing slowed, like my father more than 50 years before them, they’d toss down their poles and plunge into the water to refresh.
Bordered by the Clark Fork River, with fishing accesses throughout town, Thompson Falls offers wonderful fishing variety for adults and kids alike. The river has evolved into a warm water fishery since my father’s time, boasting a healthy population of pike, bass, pumpkinseed, and perch, as well as the occasional walleye. You will find the pike, bass, pumpkinseed, and perch eager to eat in August, aggressively chasing plastic baits, spinners and streamers. Mixed in with the warm water fish, especially at the mouth of the cold flowing Thompson River or Prospect Creek, you will also find a population of trout. The trout, as is their nature, are little more finicky, but if you are patient at the mouth of one the cool mountain streams, you can coax them to hit both dries and nymphs alike.
Thompson Falls offers wonderful access to fishing right in town at Island Park off Maiden Lane. The island sits between the dams. From the island the trail leads to an old trestle style bridge that used to serve as the only access across the river to the Prospect Creek area. It provides a breathtaking view of the Clark Fork and a small section of the canyon the huge river has carved over the millennia.
As Keith and I crossed this walking bridge toward our day of fishing, my mind traveled back to stories of my grandfather and father driving the bridge during hunting season. My father said at times the rear wheels of their ’61 yellow Ford, Ol’ Yeller, would slip off the planks, and in the split second of drop his heart would skip a beat.
Keith and I fished together for nearly eight hours. Sticking with tradition, we too used a cool dip in the Clark Fork to beat the Thompson Falls summer heat. We wandered the banks in all directions, catching fish nearly everywhere we went.
Near the end of the day’s adventure, as I watched Keith, rod tip bent under the scorching sun, battling another northern pike, I had a prescient vision.
I am standing next to the same waters that my grandfather and father fished, that my son and I have fished. I am watching Fisher Rae Seppel, rod tip bent in battle against a toothy northern. He is focused, determination etched across his brow. Keith, the ever hopeful father, is watching in earnest a few feet away, prepared to help if need be, hoping his son lands the fish. After a tense battle, he does. Fisher reaches down excitedly to grab the flopping pike. He lifts the fish, cradling it against its protests. His eyes meet his father’s. He shows his dad his catch. A proud joy spreads across Fisher’s face. That joy is magnified tenfold by his father next to him. Keith crouches down, extends a hand to Fisher’s shoulder and says a few words I cannot hear, yet I know exactly what they mean.