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Deep mountain snow gets outfitters excited about Idaho whitewater season

Pipeline Rapids, Lochsa River 2016 photo by Dani Smith Three Rivers Rafting

Lochsa Falls on the Lochsa River (courtesy Three Rivers Rafting)

BOISE — (March 14, 2017) – Mother Nature blessed Idaho with deep snow in the mountains this winter, ranging from 98 percent to 180 percent of normal statewide, setting up an outstanding year for fishing and whitewater boating on Idaho’s world-class rivers.

“We’re pretty excited! Things are shaping up to have one of the best seasons in a long time,” said Erik Weiseth with Orange Torpedo river trips, which offers multi-day trips on the Salmon and Owyhee rivers in Idaho. “This is going to be a season for the record books.”

In a year with robust snow, all of Idaho’s key river basins, including the Salmon, Snake, Lochsa, Owyhee, Bruneau, Payette, Henrys Fork, St. Joe and Moyie will have a full season. Idaho is known as the “whitewater” state with hundreds of miles of fun rapids and scenic canyons.

Jon Barker, owner of Barker River Expeditions, is booking Owyhee and Jarbidge-Bruneau trips through April and May right now. The desert canyons are spectacular, but they don’t always have enough snow for a long season. Right now, the Owyhee has 117 percent of normal snowpack and the Bruneau has 120 percent.

“I think it’s looking really great,” Barker says.

Owyhee River

Owyhee River (courtesy Barker River Expeditions)

Barker takes customers on the river, and he also offers multi-day guided canyoneering trips in the Owyhee Canyonlands. Idaho Public Television recently tagged along for program titled “Canyonlands Calling.” IPTV called the canyons “some of the wildest and most beautiful country in the West.”

This year, Barker is offering a 17-day, 206-mile trip down the full length of the Owyhee River, from top of the East Fork Owyhee River to the Middle Owyhee and the Lower Owyhee. “I’ve always wanted to offer that trip, and this year is the perfect time to do it,” he says.

Hells Canyon Adventures runs jet boat and float boat trips in Hells Canyon. They take families, reunions, business groups and tour bus groups down the mighty Snake River through big and fun rapids like Wild Sheep and Granite Creek. “I’m pretty pleased, the water looks really good and our bookings are strong,” says Mark Yates, jet boat captain.

Popular day trip rivers like the Lochsa in North Idaho, the Salmon in Stanley and Riggins, and the Payette will offer whitewater trips as the snowmelt comes off in the spring, and the deep snow will make for a very long season.

Snowpack in the Clearwater River Basin, for example, is about 112 percent of normal, just slightly above average. “We like average, average is what we want,” says Marty Smith, owner of Three Rivers rafting company in Lowell. “We should have good flows into June this year. We’re hoping we’ll also have a longer season on the Selway for trips into July.”

Middle Fork 2

Fishing the Middle Fork Salmon River … (courtesy Idaho River Adventures)

The Payette River looks to have a long season, and it’s already running strong with initial snowmelt happening now. “We’ve had an awesome amount of snow,” says J.B. Lawler, owner of Idaho Whitewater Unlimited. “We should have some really fun, big whitewater, and a long summer season.”

On the fishing side of things, the guides at Three Rivers Ranch in Eastern Idaho are expecting a great year. “A good water year means it’s going to be good for bug hatches,” says B.J. Gerhart, a fishing guide for Three Rivers. Insect hatches are important for fly fishing, and the Henrys Fork, South Fork Snake River, Teton River and other streams in the area are super popular for fly fishing.

Henrys Fork

Big rainbow caught on the Henrys Fork … Wow! (Courtesy Three Rivers Ranch)

The flows coming out of Island Park Reservoir are ideal for rainbow trout spawning right now, Gerhart says. Anglers can book fishing trips and stay at Three Rivers Ranch for a week to sample all of the different rivers in the area for fishing.

Spring flows on the Snake River are starting to happen in the Middle Snake region this week, as the Bureau of Reclamation releases flows from Upper Snake reservoirs for flood control. That has brought 212-foot Shoshone Falls to life, with flows ranging from 7,000-10,000 cfs, and that also means there are flows in the Murtaugh section of the Snake for whitewater rafting.

Idaho Guide Service offers trips on the Murtaugh section, the Hagerman reach of the Snake, the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and on the Salmon River.

“We were just out on the Murtaugh last weekend – it was awesome,” says Olin Gardner, owner of Idaho Guide Service. “Now we need some warm weather so people want to go rafting.”

Now’s the time to catch a big steelhead in Idaho!

idaho-steelhead-jetboat2-mro

Salmon River steelhead courtesy Mountain River Outfitters

By Steve Stuebner

It’s late fall, and steelhead season is kicking into high gear in Idaho! The fish are moving upstream into the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers as we speak. Now is the time to book a steelhead trip with an fishing outfitter to catch a big one with your friends and family.

Late fall also means the IOGA annual meeting is coming up! It’s scheduled for Dec. 13-15 at the Riverside Hotel in Boise, including the super-fun fund-raiser, silent/live auction, raffles and live music on Thursday night, Dec. 15. Save the date! More about that in a moment …

The big highlight with this year’s steelhead season, according to experts, is an abundance of B-run steelhead (i.e. big fish) to catch, but not as many A-run fish (smaller fish that only went to the ocean for one year) in the river.

“The good news is that we’ve got a great run of B-run steelhead this year,” says Jess Baugh of Mountain River Outfitters in Riggins. “These are some of the best-lookin’ fish we’ve seen in years. There won’t be as many fish in the river this year, but the quality of the fish is so high they’ll be wall-mounters.”

idaho-steelhead-jetboat1-mroIndeed, the fish counts, according to Idaho Department of Fish and Game, are down, compared to the five-year, average. But so far, more than 89,440 steelhead have passed Lower Granite Dam, and they’re heading to the Snake, Clearwater and Salmon rivers for anglers to catch. The catch-and-keep season on the Clearwater started on Oct. 15 and runs through the spring.

People are catching fish in Riggins and in Central Idaho on the Salmon River as well right now. “The whole river system is full of fish now,” Baugh says.

Anglers can choose from booking day trips with guides on float boats or jet boats, or they can choose a more deluxe option and book a multiday trip and stay in river-side lodging accommodations. That’s what we did with Idaho Adventures on the Salmon River, staying in a different lodge every night, where you can look forward to a hearty hot meal and a warm place to sleep. That’s a welcome treat after a full day of fishing on the river in cold-weather conditions.

Mountain River Outfitters has a fishing lodge at China Bar on the Salmon River and at Mackay Bar. At the  Flying B Ranch near Kamiah, take the top-shelf experience and drift-fish for steelhead, and then go bird-hunting or deer hunting on their vast private hunting preserve. That’s quite a full-meal deal for the fishing and hunting enthusiast!

For the most fun, gather up some friends or family members for a memorable steelhead fishing adventure. Day trips typically range from $195 to $250 per person (minimum two people) for drift boats or jet boats, and trips with overnight lodging (including meals) range from $450/night to $1,800 to $2,500 for a 5-day trip with lodging.

bob-and-mary

The IOGA fund-raiser is always a great time. The event is open to the public.

Now, back to the IOGA meeting. The public is invited and encouraged to attend the fund-raiser, silent/live auction, raffles and live music on Thursday night, Dec. 15, at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City. The fun kicks off at 5:30 p.m. and runs through 10 p.m.

The IOGA annual meeting is well attended by Idaho outfitters, guides and agency personnel including the Forest Service, BLM, Idaho Fish & Game and the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Licensing Board. On Wednesday, Dec. 14, about 28 outdoor equipment manufacturers will be displaying their goods from 2-5 p.m. that afternoon at the Riverside.

Highlights from meeting presentations include the opening general session with comments about the state of the Idaho outfitting and guiding industry from Steve Burson, IOGA president, Grant Simonds, IOGA Government Affairs Liaison, and Janey Bruesch, IOGA office manager.

David Brown, executive director of the America Outdoors Association, will give an update on the state of the national outfitting and guiding industry, overall recreation trends and regulatory issues that may affect outfitting businesses across America. This presentation is scheduled for Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.

gun

The live auction always has some excellent values for sale including firearms, outdoor gear and outfitted trips!

On Wednesday, Dec. 14 at lunchtime, Bruce Reichert, executive producer of the award-winning program, “Outdoor Idaho,” will present “The Outfitters,” which prominently features long-time IOGA member and Salmon-based outfitter Bill Bernt, owner of Aggipah River Trips, among outfitters profiled.

On Thursday morning, Dec. 15, experts will talk about key topics of interest for the operations side of running an outfitting business – technology, what the meaning of “may” mean in the Wilderness Act relative to wilderness outfitter operations, guiding philosophies, relationships between guides and outfitters, and wilderness regulations.

Following that presentation, outfitting experts will present “Guide Tracks” — educational discussions on a new state law that allows outfitters and guides to administer epinephrine to guests in the field (training required), how to handle tips, and minimum wage and overtime law.

For more information about the IOGA meeting, go to http://ioga.org/meetings-events.

Outdoor writer and author Steve Stuebner is a regular contributor to the IOGA blog.  

Fall Fishing – The Bite is On!

Amy Sinclair of Exodus Wilderness Adventures with a nice fall chinook she caught last week in Hells Canyon.

The calendar has flipped into October, and that means fall steelhead fishing is coming right up on the Clearwater, Snake and Salmon rivers in Idaho. Do you have your trip booked yet?

“We had three ladies with us on Sept. 27th on a day trip from Pittsburg Landing to the Salmon River confluence, and they caught six steelhead and three salmon,” says Heather Killgore, co-owner of Killgore Adventures. “They’ve never caught steelhead before. They were quite excited!”

A happy guest with Wapiti River Guides caught a beautiful steelhead near Spring Bar.

Fish are biting on the Clearwater River as well, says Evelyn Kaide, owner of Clearwater Drifters and  Guide Shop in Orofino. “Our guys are doing fine – they’re catching fish. Everyone has been really happy,” she says.

Steelhead are just starting to move upriver from Lewiston, Kaide says, and once they get to Orofino, there will be competition for guided trips and hotel rooms as is often typical in the fall. “We’ve got a lot of trips booked well into November, ” she said.

Here’s a fall chinook passing through Lower Granite Dam, courtesy IDFG

A big bonus on the Snake River this year is that 30,000 adult fall chinook have passed through Lower Granite Dam, and they’re heading upriver in Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America. Fall chinook are big hogs – they can run up to 30-40 pounds apiece. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has set a bag limit of six fish per day for adults, and no limit on Jacks.

Fall is a premium time for cast-and-blast trips on the Lower Salmon and Hells Canyon. These are super-fun outings where you can fish as you float downriver, and then when you hear chukar partridges sounding off on the river bank, you stop and pursue chukars.  Anecdotal reports indicate that chukar numbers are robust on the banks of Hells Canyon and the Salmon River.

Fall cast-and-blast trips combine the sporting challenge of chukar hunting with catching steelhead, fall chinook, trout and bass on the Salmon and Snake Rivers.

Amy Sinclair, owner of Exodus Wilderness Adventures, just completed a private trip with some friends in lower Hells Canyon. They were catching lots of fall chinook and limiting out on chukars every day. “It’s kind of exciting that the fall chinook fishery is coming back,” she says. “We’ve got a pretty big run this year.”

Exodus offers steelhead fishing trips near Riggins via drift boat or jet boat, and they also offer two-, four-or five-day cast-and-blast trips on the Lower Salmon River, and two-day fishing or cast-and-blast trips with an overnight stay at a guest lodge on the Main Salmon River. Sinclair says people are excited to go fishing, and bookings are strong for the core steelhead season from mid-October to late November. “Some weekends are totally booked already,” she said.

Another possibility is to go on a multi-day steelhead fishing trip on the Main Salmon River with Salmon River Tours, owners of China Bar Lodge. Guests can go fishing and/or chukar hunting during the day, and then return to China Bar Lodge for a hot meal and comfy sleeping quarters.

Owner Mike McLain has been watching the steelhead counts at Lower Granite Dam, and he’s pleased to see that the fish are on the move. “I think the fish are going to come, but because we’ve got low water, they may be a little late,” he says. “I think we’ll have a good season. We may not have as many fish this year as in the last couple years, but there will be plenty of opportunity. As my fishermen say, the fishing trip is worth the price of admission, and catching fish is a bonus.”

If you live near Twin Falls, Pocatello or Idaho Falls, you may want to fish the Upper Salmon River near Salmon since it’s closer to home. Bill Bernt, owner of Aggipah River Trips, says he is gearing up for a productive steelhead fishing season.  “My fishing is often dependent on gas prices, and even though we have fairly high gas prices, we’ve got a significant part of the fall season booked up,” he says. “I think people are excited to go fishing.”

For more information on fall fishing, see the IOGA salmon and steelhead fishing pages, including outfitter listings by river. http://ioga.org/

Have fun!