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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.”

Expect a stellar floating, fishing season in Idaho this summer

heathersalmon

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.

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!