• Trail Rides

    Front and Backcountry Journeys

    See the best of Idaho on a trail ride

IOGA hires tourism pro John May as Executive Director

Here’s John with a nice salmon caught on the Columbia River

BOISE, Idaho — (Sept. 27, 2013) — The Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association has hired John May, a longtime tourism and hospitality industry professional in Boise, as its new executive director. May will begin work for IOGA on Oct. 1.

May replaces Grant Simonds, who served with distinction as the executive director of IOGA for 28 years, and will continue service for IOGA as its governmental affairs liaison.

Rafting in Hells Canyon

May is the former general manager of the Owyhee Hotel, served for six years on the Idaho Travel Council, and held leadership positions on the Idaho Lodging and Restaurant Association and the Treasure Valley Lodging Association, among others. He’s also a native Idahoan who loves to play outdoors.

“It seems like a perfect job for me,” says a delighted and excited May. “I’m looking forward to bringing folks to Idaho to enjoy all of the outdoor adventure opportunities that we have out there in our beautiful mountains and rivers. I’ve made a lot of friends and contacts through my work on the Idaho Travel Council, and hopefully I’ll bring a few new ideas to the table to build on the long-time success of IOGA in the great state of Idaho.”

Jet boating near Riggins

Jeff Sayer, Director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, said, “We are thrilled with the appointment of John May as executive director for IOGA. John was an active and charismatic member of the Idaho Travel Council for six years. His intimate knowledge of our marketing and grant programs will ensure a smooth transition and even presents new synergies that we look forward to cultivating regarding recreation technology and outdoor recreation marketing.

Fishing in Garden Valley with daughters Brooke, center, and Karlee

“After 28 years of great leadership, Grant Simonds is leaving some large shoes to fill,” said Steve Burson, owner of Storm Creek Outfitters and president of the IOGA Board of Directors. “John May was selected from a very strong field of candidates.  John is a long-time Boise resident, and his personal interests include bird hunting, fishing, whitewater rafting, camping and motorcycle riding, among other things.

John with wife, Jenny, in Garden Valley

“His professional experience includes over 25 years operational and management experience in the hotel, hospitality and tourism industry. John’s skills, knowledge and strong ties at the Statehouse and throughout Idaho will make him a key asset as he helps move IOGA into our next 60 years.”

John with fellow Idaho Travel Council members Diane Newman, left, and J.J. Jaeger, in a Sun Valley gondola

IOGA is a nonprofit trade and marketing organization that has approximately 250 members in all corners of the state, including licensed outfitting businesses, professional licensed guides and associate members. IOGA-member outfitters lead trips on Idaho’s world-class rivers, big-game hunting trips, steelhead fishing trips, heli-ski and snowcat skiing trips, summer horseback rides and fishing trips, and more. For more information, see http://ioga.org.

Relaxing on a Salmon River beach …

Idaho mountain snowpack levels look favorable for 2013 whitewater season

Rafting on the Lochsa River with Bearpaw River Expeditions

Idaho mountain snowpack levels and anticipated streamflows in the popular Salmon, Snake, Lochsa and Payette river basins are hovering near 90 percent of normal, which should provide for a fun-filled whitewater river season, according to officials with the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association.

“The current levels in mid-March are looking excellent,” said Justin Walsh, owner of Bear Paw Expeditions, which runs day trips on the Lochsa River in North Idaho, east of Lewiston. Snowpack levels in the Clearwater Basin were 87 percent of normal as of mid-March, with more spring precipitation expected. “I’m really confident we’ll have plenty of water for a great season,” Walsh said.

Idaho is known nationally as the “whitewater state” with more than 3,000 miles of thrilling whitewater rapids, the most of any state in the lower 48. Now is the time when many families are planning their summer vacations; thousands will take week-long wilderness river vacations on the Salmon River, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the Selway River or Hells Canyon of the Snake with Idaho outfitters.

These trips are packed with fun and feature great people, magnificent scenery, delicious Dutch oven meals, entertaining river guides, wildlife, and more. By the end of the day on the river, guests kick back on sandy beaches, relax with a favorite beverage, and swap stories about their river day.

One of the best parts of river trips is hanging out in camp in the evening around the fire …

Whitewater enthusiasts also will book day trips with Idaho outfitters on the Payette, Snake, Salmon, Lochsa, St. Joe and Moyie rivers. Now is a great time to reserve your spot for a unique and unforgettable vacation, outfitters say.

Chuck Boyd of Salmon River Experience said he is glad to see snowpack levels hovering around 90 percent. “My best years are when it’s a little bit below normal,” Boyd said. “I like the snowpack right where it is.”

Side-hiking on the Salmon River quickly reveals how deep the canyon truly is …

When snowpack levels are super high, the Salmon River can surge to dangerous flood-stage levels for several weeks at a time when it’s unsafe to run raft trips or jet boat excursions, he said. With slightly lower flows, the Salmon River tends to peak a little earlier in May, providing a longer floating season from June – September, the water warms up sooner for swimming, and good fishing kicks in earlier.

Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said early, high-elevation snows in November and December set up Idaho’s mountains and rivers for a good season.

“We got a lot of snow above 7,000-foot elevation, it piled up several feet deep and that put us above normal,” Abramovich said. “We know there’s a lot of snow up there. That’s kind of the kicker for this river season. It may be a real bonus when it comes off.”

A few river basins in southwest Idaho are showing lower snowpack levels, such as the Boise at 68 percent of normal, and the Owyhee at 68 percent of normal. The Payette basin is at 77 percent of normal, but reservoir storage is 115 percent of average on the North Fork of the Payette, and the South Fork, elevating streamflow predictions to 88 percent of normal, Abramovich said. “The Payette Basin will be fine because of reservoir storage,” he said.

River floaters will have to watch the Owyhee gauge closely to time trips correctly, Abramovich said. “You’ll have to be quick to catch the Owyhee this year,” he said.

The spectacular Bruneau River, however, is hovering at about 90 percent of normal snowpack. Seth Tonsmeire of Wilderness River Outfitters near Salmon, said his company is hoping to run at least one guided trip on the Jarbidge and Bruneau rivers when the weather warms up. “We’re a little more optimistic about running the Bruneau this year, and we know the Salmon River is going to be great,” he said.

For more information about booking an Idaho whitewater river trip, go to the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association web site, http://ioga.org/rafting or call 208-342-1438.

Five reasons to hunt big game in Idaho

Now is the time when hunters, outfitters and state Fish and Game officials are flocking to sportsmen’s shows around the United States, and hunters are making decisions about where to hunt in 2013.

We want hunters to know about the advantages of hunting in Idaho … Here’s our list of 5 reasons to hunt big game in Idaho:

  1. Go with a Pro. Idaho outfitters and guides know the country, they know where the big game animals are, and they’ll take great care of you in elk camp.
  2. Solitude. Guided hunts in Idaho have a lot of elbow room in wilderness and roadless areas … no worries about getting buzzed by an ATV or seeing hundreds of other hunters while you’re out hunting. Go find your private Idaho.
  3. Big game bonanza. On a fall backcountry hunt, you can buy tags for and potentially harvest a mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, wolf, black bear and mountain lion during a week-long hunt. How much room do you have in your freezer?
  4. Best drawing odds for trophy species. No preference points or bonus points are needed to draw prized tags for bighorn sheep, mountain goat or moose. Central Idaho is a premium destination for these highly sought-after species.
  5. Introduce your kids to big game hunting for $1.75. Idaho has a new program for junior mentor tags. Adults with a big game license can buy a hunting passport for kids 8 and over for $1.75. No hunter education classes are required, either. The program also is open to adults who have never hunter before.

Here are some other benefits that Idaho outfitters and guides bring to the table …     

We need to underscore Point #2 … Idaho outfitters and guides are licensed with the state of Idaho. They must go through a rigorous process with a state licensing board to receive a license to outfit and guide hunters in Idaho. A number of states do not have this process, and unwitting hunters sometimes end up booking a trip with a fly-by-night outfitter who doesn’t have the skills, equipment and know-how to lead a quality successful hunt. That won’t happen to you in Idaho because of the licensing process. Idaho’s outfitters and guides are high-quality people who truly know the mountains and wildlife in their territory,  and they can be counted on to take care of your health, safety and welfare.

Here’s a video that shows what a guided elk hunt in Idaho is all about:watch?v=FKXjntnJliY

Here’s another top list from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game …Top 5 Reasons To Hunt in Idaho …

1. Buying big game tags is simple. Hunters can buy big game tags through their outfitter and go hunting. Idaho Fish and Game reserves a number of deer and elk set-aside and allocated big game elk tags for the outfitted public. A key advantage is that those tags can be purchased through Idaho outfitters long after other states have sold out.

2. We give you variety. Go elk hunting and bring steelhead home, too. We call it “cast and blast.” Combination fishing and bird-hunting trips are available, too.

3. Wide open spaces. Vast public lands provide variety, opportunity and fair chase.

4. We are always open. Hunt and fish 365 days a year.

5. Easy on the pocket book. Tap into the discount for a nonresident junior license and tags to mentor a young hunter.

Never heard of Idaho? Or just heard of it because of our famous potatoes? Well, former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, a lifelong hunter, puts it this way: “Idaho is what America was.”

Enjoy this video titled “Dreaming of Idaho” and you’ll see that we’re about …watch?v=EYMxW-5_390

Come hunt with us in Idaho. To select a hunting outfitter in Idaho, visit our web site for a full listing of outfitters and guides

Thanks for visiting.
- IOGA

Elk hunting with Bear Creek Outfitters – “Trip of a Lifetime”

Ken Francisco BBQ’s some fresh elk back straps after a client harvested a 6×6 bull elk in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness this year.

We woke up around 6 a.m., as usual, drank some coffee and hot chocolate in the heated wall tent, and saddled up the horses to go hunting. It was just starting to get light as we rode out of camp on Oct. 25, with snow falling ever-so-quietly in the cedar trees surrounding our camp.

We rode for an hour, tied up the horses and started walking up a meadow. It had snowed several inches overnight, and it was still snowing, making it easy to walk quietly. We hadn’t walked more than 50 yards when my guide, Jim, whispered, “Did you hear that? I just heard a bull bugle.”

We hid behind a scrawny tree and noticed that at least 5-6 cow elk were bedded down low on the mountainside about 150 yards in front of us. Whoa-baby! My big chance! We figured there might be a bull among the group, bedded down out of view. “Get down by that rock, and get ready to shoot,” Jim said.

The Bear Creek drainage is rugged and heavily forested in the bottom of the canyon. The elk were hanging out in the higher elevations during our hunt in late October.

I laid flat in the snow, got my rifle balanced on top of the big rock slab, and looked into the scope to line up the shot. I was excited. Heavy breathing fogged up my scope. I took a deep breath off to the side, wiped the scope clean with my bandanna, and lined up the shot on one of the cows lying there in the brush. I was ready. We waited. And waited … for more than an hour. Finally, one of the cows stood up, shook the snow off her tan-colored winter coat, and started to amble up the mountain.

“Get ready,” Jim whispered. I had my eye trained in the scope, and watched as about a dozen cows and calves got in a line and walked up the slope. I was ready to fire at the first bull I saw, but I never saw a rack. They were all cows and calves. Dang!

In a week-long elk and deer hunt with Bear Creek Outfitters in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho, that morning was my closest moment to pulling the trigger on a trophy bull. We saw quite a few cows and calves, and numerous deer tracks, but we never saw a bull during our hunt in late October.

Curtis Coonce of Missouri got his bull during a late September rifle hunt. Guide Jim Daine is on the left.

In a late-September rifle hunt during the rut, Todd Ward from Jackson, Mo., had a different experience. “We saw or heard bulls every day,” Ward said. “On the third day, my hunting partner shot a 6×6, and on the last day, my guide Jesse bugled in a 4-point bull. It was the closest shot I’ve ever had in my life. We were in the brush, and he was 10 yards away. The hardest thing was finding him in my scope.”

Ward and his friend, Curtis Coonce, were hunting the first time with Bear Creek Outfitters. They had researched 15 different outfitters in several western states, and settled on Ken  and Barb Francisco’s outfit after checking multiple references. “These guys are the real deal,” Ward says. “Our trip was everything I expected and then some. It was a trip of a lifetime for me.”

The Selway River country produces some nice bull elk.

Idaho’s reputation as a premium elk hunting destination has been hurt in recent years because of concerns about Rocky Mountain gray wolves preying on the state’s elk herds. But Francisco and his guides continue to deliver for clients. Francisco hasn’t seen any wolves or wolf tracks this year. The walls of Ken and Barb’s log cabin, and the walls of their bunkhouse for hunters are crammed full of framed pictures of trophy bull elk harvested in the Selway River country, as well as bull moose, mountain lions, black bears and even a few wolves taken in recent years.

“As long as you have the good-quality elk habitat, the elk will take care of themselves,” Ken Francisco says. “We provide trophy elk hunts in a wilderness setting. You’re pursuing them on their own ground in a truly wild environment. It’s as sporting as it comes.”

Photos of bull elk taken by clients with Bear Creek Outfitters on the “wall of fame” in the hunters’ bunkhouse really get you psyched before the hunt.

After 30+ years of guiding hunters in his 200,000-acre hunting area in the 1.3-million-acre wilderness, Francisco and his guides know where the animals are likely to be hiding and hanging out, and when they come across a set of fresh tracks, they become totally focused on hot pursuit. “Ken and his guides are almost like professional athletes. Those guys are in such good shape,” Ward notes.

For $4,500 per person, Bear Creek takes hunters into the backcountry on horseback, with a number of pack mules carrying their gear, and shuttles them into one of several base camps for 8 days of hunting. Bear Creek offers one-on-one hunts — one guide for each hunter — or two-on-one hunts, one guide for two hunters. The hunting guides wear multiple hats — they cook, handle the horses and pack stock, tell jokes, and take care of hunters’ every need.

The best hunting camp locations depend on the weather and the year. Typically, Francisco has numerous camp locations to choose from.

This year, however, the 14,500-acre Pettibone wildfire burned over the top of their normal base camp location at the junction of Cub Creek and Bear Creek, a couple of miles from the Selway River. Numerous burned trees fell down over the Bear Creek trail during and after the fire, making it impossible for Francisco to even reach his base camp. The Pettibone fire didn’t get extinguished until rain and snow storms arrived in mid- to late-October. “The fires came pretty close to shutting us down,” he says.

Hunters ride horseback into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to hunting camp, and then most of the hunting is done on foot.

But because Bear Creek has a large operating area permitted through the U.S. Forest Service, Francisco had options farther up the Bear Creek drainage. He set up camps next to Granite Creek and Wahoo Creek, and hunted those areas instead. During our week in the area, we never saw another hunter. Pretty much the classic “private Idaho” experience.

Two hunters from Pennsylvania stayed in the Wahoo Creek base camp the week I was hunting with Bear Creek, and they were wowed by the whole experience. “Just being here was absolutely fantastic,” said Bob Herrold of Spring Mills, Pa. “The food was fantastic. It’s impressive what these guys go through to let us hunt in this country.”

“I can’t wait to get back home and show my friend some of my pictures,” adds Larry Lingle of Bellefont, Pa. “We hiked a couple of thousand feet into the mountains every day, looking for elk and deer. The cowboy thing riding into camp was really cool, and the heated tent-camping was a lot of fun. This is the real deal!”

In fall hunts in the Selway-Bitterroot, hunters can buy tags to harvest an elk, deer, mountain lion, black bear and wolves. That provides lots of options for hunters.

Larry and Bob didn’t get a chance to shoot an elk this year. Bob had a cow elk and a calf walk right up to him while he was hiding out, watching for a bull or a buck. “She came up to within about 10 feet of me, trying to figure out what I was,” Bob said. “I was hoping that a bull might come up behind her.”

“We saw a lot of tracks, but it just wasn’t meant to be this time,” Lingle says. “But it wasn’t for lack of effort. It was the ultimate hunting experience.”

Bear Creek also offers mountain lion hunts in the winter, spring black bear hunts and summer trail rides.

For more information on hunting with Bear Creek Outfitters, go to http://www.bearcreekoutfittersonline.com/

For more information on big game hunting in Idaho, go to the Idaho Outfitter and Guides Association hunting page: http://ioga.org/hunting/

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!