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Spring fishing is heating up in Idaho

A happy angler with a nice Chinook salmon caught in Lake Coeur d'Alene (courtesy Lake Charters)

A happy angler with a nice Chinook salmon caught in Lake Coeur d’Alene (courtesy Lake Charters)

By Steve Stuebner

Spring fishing is starting to heat up in Idaho after a long winter that brought plenty of snow and freshwater to Idaho’s rivers and reservoirs.

Idaho outfitters are fishing for Chinook salmon on Lake Coeur d’Alene, steelhead on the Salmon River near Salmon, cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout on the South Fork Snake River near Idaho Falls, and rainbows and browns on the Boise River and Owyhee River in Southwest Idaho.

Don Houk with Lake Charters in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is taking guests to catch chinook salmon right now, and in April and May, he’ll be fishing for northern pike, small-mouth bass and kokanee.

Chinook salmon fishing is best in the winter and spring months, Houk says. “When they’re on, they’re fun!”

The Chinook are big — daily bag limits are 2 fish over 20 inches. “When you hook one, they’ll peel off a lot of line,” he says. “We target them in the top 20 feet of water from the surface.”

Get some friends together to go fishing on beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene! Lake Charters charges $440 for 1-4 anglers for a half day, and $675 for 1-4 anglers for a full day. Contract Lake Charters at (208) 667-3474.

Catching steelhead on the Upper Salmon River near Salmon (Courtesy Rawhide Outfitters)

Catching steelhead on the Upper Salmon River near Salmon (Courtesy Rawhide Outfitters)

Steelhead fishing is starting to heat up in the Salmon area as the ocean-going rainbow trout move upstream to hatcheries and spawning areas. Riggins-area outfitters stopped fishing for steelhead in mid-March. The run is smaller this year for a variety of reasons. But anglers are catching fish as the water temperature warmed up above 40 degrees in the last couple of weeks.

Idaho Fish and Game reports showed that anglers were spending an average of 15 hours per steelhead caught downstream from North Fork, but only 6 hours per fish caught between North Fork and Salmon, and 13 hours per fish caught between Salmon and the Pahsimeroi River.

Aggipah River Trips and Rawhide Outfitters are fishing for steelhead this spring. “When the river stays clear, it’s very fishable,” says Bill Bernt, owner of Aggipah River Trips in Salmon.

Outfitters takes guests fishing in drift boats with a padded seat, a portable heater and hot drinks, making it as comfortable as possible for a spring steelhead trip on the Salmon River.

Good fishing conditions depend on local weather. When the weather is clear and the water is clear, the fishing is good. When it’s raining and the river gets muddy, it’s not as good.

“Last week, we had a guests who landed six fish in one day, and another group that landed four,” said Kathy Cranney of Rawhide Outfitters in Salmon. “Today, it’s raining and the river is muddy. It’s kind of hit and miss depending on the weather and the day.”

Spring steelhead trips range in price from $400-$430 for two people, including lunch and drinks on the boat.

Contact Rawhide Outfitters at 208-756-4276, Aggipah River Trips at 208-756-4167.

Fishing on the South Fork Snake River with Westbank Anglers

Fishing on the South Fork Snake River with Westbank Anglers

In Eastern Idaho, home to some of the finest fly fishing in the world, outfitters are taking guests spring fishing on the South Fork of the Snake River, where they are fishing for native cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, cut-bows and brown trout.

Will Cumberland, manager of Westbank Anglers, said most people book full-day trips so they can maximize their fishing experience. “Our guides really like spring fishing, and they’re itching to get out on the river all the time,” he said.

The South Fork is running about 7,000 cubic feet per second right now, which is a good flow for being able to access the side channels and river oxbows where some of the big fish may be hiding, he said. Anglers are fly fishing below the surface with nymphs and streamers most of the time. Occasionally, the weather may warm up enough for a dry fly hatch.

“If you hit it on the right day with nice weather, it’s great fishing,” Cumberland said.

To reach Westbank Anglers in Jackson Hole, Wyo., call 800-922-3474.

A nice brown trout caught and released in the Boise River (courtesy Three Rivers Ranch)

A nice brown trout caught and released in the Boise River (courtesy Three Rivers Ranch)

In the Boise area, Three Rivers Ranch Outfitters takes anglers walk-and-wade fly fishing on the Boise River and Owyhee River below Owyhee Dam. “This winter has been pretty mild, so the fishing has been really good,” says Mike Raymondi, a guide for Three Rivers Ranch in Eagle. “We’ve been fishing more in town than usual, and we’re finding lots of really nice, big fish — a couple of big browns and some nice rainbows.”

Some of the fat browns have measured 25-28 inches in length, he said.

Fishing on the Owyhee River has been productive as well. They’re catching rainbow trout and brown trout on the Boise and Owyhee rivers. The guides help guests select the best flies to catch fish — typically nymphs and streamers at this time of year, fishing below the surface.

“Our guides work hard to find those big fish for our guests,” Raymondi says.

To go on a guided fishing trip with Three Rivers Ranch on the Boise River, it costs $275 for a half day, and $400 for a full day of fishing for two anglers. On the Owyhee River, it costs $445 for two anglers. Contact Three Rivers Ranch in Eagle at 208-939-6065.

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.”

Expect a stellar floating, fishing season in Idaho this summer


Heather hooks a nice Chinook salmon on the Salmon River (courtesy Mountain River Outfitters)

By Steve Stuebner

Fishing and floating outfitters are hard to catch right now because they’re really busy showing their guests a great time fishing for Chinook salmon on the Clearwater and Salmon rivers, or floating rivers all over the state of Idaho.

Following a robust winter that brought bountiful powder snow for skiing and snowmobiling, all of that snow is running down the mountains into Idaho’s world-class rivers now, translating to a long summer of whitewater rafting, jet boating and ideal water levels for fishing and floating.

Some might say we live in the land of “milk and honey.” For adventure seekers, it’s going to be an endless summer of fun rapids, camping under the stars and catching lots of fish!

Get the whole family involved in a fishing trip!

Get the whole family involved in a fishing trip!

“It’s definitely looking like a great summer season,” says Jared Hopkinson, owner of Sawtooth Adventure Company in Stanley, a Middle Fork and Salmon River outfitter. “A lot of our Middle Fork trips are filling up for the summer, and we’re got a ton of bookings for day trips on the Salmon River.”

“We’re having a great season!” adds Olin Gardner, owner of Idaho Guide Service in Hagerman. Gardner has been leading raft trips in the Hagerman reach, SUP trips on the mid-Snake, birds of prey tours on the Snake River, and early-season Salmon River trips.

The Salmon and Clearwater rivers have been dropping from peak flows just in time for the relatively short Chinook salmon season that’s under way right now. “The river is coming down super fast, so the fishing is going to be good while it lasts,” says Jess Baugh, owner of Mountain River Outfitters and Salmon River Tours.

The rapids on the Salmon River should be big fun and playful this summer. (Courtesy Sawtooth Adventure Co.)

The rapids on the Salmon River should be big fun and playful this summer. (Courtesy Sawtooth Adventure Co.)

The salmon fishing hasn’t been a “barn-burner,” fishing guides say, but anglers are catching up to 2-4 fish per day, sometimes just one a day. But even one Chinook salmon is, undoubtedly, a beautiful prize! The fish run over 10 pounds, and once they’re filleted, they provide a tasty feast.

“There’s nothing better than fresh-caught salmon,” Baugh says.

In North Idaho, the classic Memorial Day rendezvous occurred on the Lochsa River with flows in the 5-foot range, a perfect level for big fun and big wave action, especially in Lochsa Falls, a Class 4 rapids, where people cheer on the river bank next to U.S. 12.

Whitewater trips on the Lochsa River are always a blast! (Courtesy ROW Adventures)

Whitewater trips on the Lochsa River are always a blast! (Courtesy ROW Adventures)

ROW Adventures will continue to run trips on the Lochsa into June, and trips on the St. Joe River start the first week of June, according to Candy Bening, sales manager for ROW Adventures in Coeur d’Alene.

“We’re so excited about our river trips this year,” Bening says. “People are pumped about the bigger water. It’s going to be an awesome season.”

A number of Idaho outfitters have been busy running rare trips on the Owyhee River and Jarbidge/Bruneau rivers this year because of deep snow. ROW Adventures notched three Bruneau trips in a row and one Owyhee, while Wilderness River Outfitters ran an East Fork Owyhee, Middle Owyhee and three trips on the Jarbidge and Bruneau rivers, a week-long adventure in a narrow, spectacular box canyon. Inquire with ROW and WRO about catching those trips next year.

The Owyhee River is a spectacular place ... (courtesy ROW Adventures)

The Owyhee River is a spectacular place … (courtesy ROW Adventures)

“To have a run on the Owyhee and Bruneau river systems like that was just incredible. We haven’t had a spring like that in a long time,” said Seth Tonsmeire, WRO operations manager and guide. “Even people who have gone on Middle Fork Salmon trips with us said they thought the scenery in the Bruneau Canyon was even more spectacular. To visit that canyon multiple weeks in a row was a real treat.”

Because of the solid river flows expected, fishing outfitters in Eastern Idaho are gearing up for a long productive season on the Henrys Fork and South Fork Snake River. The same is true of outfitters who offer fishing trips on the Salmon and Snake River in Hells Canyon.

Guest cabins at China Bar allow guests to sleep in a real bed and enjoy the Frank Church Wilderness.

Guest cabins at China Bar allow guests to sleep in a real bed, enjoy home-cooked meals and enjoy the Frank Church Wilderness.

Mountain River Outfitters/Salmon River Tours has a lodge at China Bar in the wilderness section of the River of No Return, allowing people to book multi-day trips. “We’re calling it a 2- to 3-day wilderness retreat,” Baugh says. “People can fish, go sight-seeing or hang out in the wilderness. If you’re a corporate person, this is a great place to get away and de-stress in the Frank Church Wilderness.”

Guests can hop in the jet boat to fish the mouth of a productive creek, or visit the Jim Moore homestead and hike around a century-old orchard. Or, they can head downriver to visit Buckskin Bill’s place, home of a quirky mountain man, buy souvenirs and an ice cream bar, or visit the Polly Bemis ranch. Inquire with Mountain River Outfitters about pricing.

Jim Moore PlaceIn Hells Canyon, the nation’s deepest gorge, Idaho outfitters offer scenic tours, fishing trips on jet boats, and multi-day whitewater rafting trips on the biggest river in Idaho. You can fish for sturgeon, bass and trout during the summer and fall Chinook and steelhead in the fall.

“The fishing in Hells Canyon should be consistently good,” Baugh says. “The small-mouth are constantly on the bite. And the fall Chinook fishery is getting better and better every year.”

For more information, go to Fish Idaho, Raft Idaho or the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association web site.

Americans love to visit Idaho for outdoorsy activities

Playing in the Sawtooth Mountains in Central Idaho (Courtesy Idaho Statesman)

By Steve Stuebner

American travel and tourism trends show that Idaho is growing in popularity as a primo destination for outdoorsy visitors, and contrary to national trends, people are staying longer on overnight trips to enjoy quality outdoor-adventure activities.

Visitors are twice as likely to come to Idaho to engage in outdoor activities, compared to national norms, where folks may travel to go shopping or visit friends and relatives.

And when people come to Idaho, they like to go hiking, whitewater rafting, camping, fishing, swimming, hunting, birding, and relax on the beach or in a comfy cabin, according to a recent study by Longwoods International.

The Lochsa River provides oodles of fun. (Courtesy Bear Paw Outfitters)

This makes sense for a state that’s known as the “whitewater capital” of the United States with popular kayaking and rafting destinations such as the Salmon River, Hells Canyon, Payette and Lochsa, and nationally known fishing destinations such as Silver Creek, the Henrys Fork and South Fork of the Snake River. Plus, nearly two-thirds of Idaho is comprised of national forest and public lands where people can go skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, hunting, mountain climbing, rock climbing and more.

Idaho outfitters provide guided trips to all of these activities for people who don’t have the equipment, know-how or experience to do it on their own. See ioga.org and raftidaho.org for a menu of outfitters to contact about outdoorsy trips.

Hanging out around the campfire is one of the bonuses of going on a multi-day outdoor adventure …

Diane Norton, Manager of the Idaho Tourism Division for the Idaho Department of Commerce, said she’s not surprised by the findings of the Longwoods study. “We’re above the national norm on all of the outdoor activities,” Norton said. “It’s what we’re known for.”

An America Outdoors report on national outfitted travel trends shows that the top activities in outdoor travel in 2013 were lodging and cabin rentals, Standup Paddle (SUP) boarding, and canoe and kayak rentals. Guided trips of shorter duration were more popular on a national basis, than longer trips, said David Brown, executive director of America Outdoors.

Stand up paddle boarding, SUP for short, is one of the most popular outdoor recreation activities nationwide. In Idaho, you can SUP on lakes and rivers. (Courtesy Gregg Mizuta)

“Lower risk trips close to metro areas are growing dramatically,” Brown says.

But in Idaho, the length of stay is increasing. “Our trips of 4-7 days are going up, which shows that people are buying a pre-packaged trip,” Norton says. “And our day trips are increasing, too.”

Plus, Idaho’s many river outfitters provide SUP experiences as part of day trips and multi-day trips.

On a national level, approximately 70 percent of outfitters saw their profit margins increase in 2014, a good sign indicating that the grip of the recession is ending when it comes to leisure and adventure travel, officials said.

Elk hunting trips are seeing a resurgence in growth in Idaho.

John May, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, said he’s hearing the same thing from Idaho outfitters. “The general trend is that Idaho is doing better than the national average,” May said. “We had a good whitewater season, fishing trips were up, our hunting trips were up with bookings increasing for next year, and our lodging trips were up.”

Idaho trips are increasing because the state didn’t suffer the effects of the recession as badly as some other states, tourism officials said. People coming to Idaho tend to come from adjoining states like Washington, Utah, California and Oregon. Visitors also came from Texas, Florida, Arizona, New York and Montana, the study showed.

Just from casual conversation with the owners of lodging businesses, people enjoy coming to stay in a lodge or a private cabin while they can go horseback riding, hiking and biking, May said. They like to do a mix of leisure activities and come back to a comfy bed in a heated quarters.

“They want to experience the West, but not necessarily in a hard-core way,” he says.

“Glamping” on the Salmon River. Looks pretty comfy! (Courtesy glampinghub.com)

Glamping” is another activity that outfitted guests enjoy, where the women are pampered with yoga and massage activities, gourmet food is served on fine china with cloth tablecloths and fine wine, and sleeping quarters are very comfortable with nice sheets and blankets on raised beds or cots in Safari-quality wall tents.

“This kind of activity is now on the urban dweller’s bucket list,” May said. “They now realize that they can go “rough it” outdoors and enjoy a surprising list of amenities.”

Another reason people come to Idaho, Norton says, is that “we’re a bargain” compared to many other destinations in terms of lodging and trip costs. Plus, many people know that they can enjoy outdoor activities in Idaho without feeling pinched by thousands of other tourists doing the same thing.

We call that the “Private Idaho” experience. Come visit and find out what that’s all about!

For more information, go to ioga.org, raftidaho.org or visitidaho.org.