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!
“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 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.
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.
“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.
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.
In 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.”