Middle Fork of Salmon Experiences?

myt1

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I may have an opportunity to float/fish the Middle Fork of the Salamon River in Idaho this summer.

I just don't see how I can turn this down.

We will be on the river the last week of June.

I wish we were going a little later in the season, but beggars can't be choosers. It is my understanding that this can be a once in a lifetime draw.

Also, the trip might be somewhat rushed. I think we will be doing it in about a week, rather than 10 days.

I would love to hear the experiences of other members who may have done this trip.

Thanks.
 

salmo7000

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I floated the MF Salmon on a private trip in mid July a few years ago. I also live in central Idaho and have spent a lot of time rafting and fishing rivers like the MF Salmon. You're right, you need to do this trip, and late June is a great time to go. The river will probably be pretty high then, and hopefully you have some skilled folks on the oars because there is big, technical whitewater, and lots of it. Getting down the river safely needs to be your first priority at any time of year, but even more so in June. But the river is incredible, the scenery amazing, and you'll be able to experience wonderful hot springs and beautiful camps. FYI, spending 10 days on the river is not an option. 8 days and 7 nights is the maximum any group can be on the river, and that's only if the group has 10 people or less. Larger groups are limited to 6-7 days, depending on group size.

The whole system is tightly regulated, starting with everyone in your party will have to attend a wilderness orientation session at the put-in, then you'll be assigned all your camps. There are strict rules about required equipment, safety, and leave-no-trace camping. While this may seem overly burdensome, you will understand once you go. There are 7 launches a day with up to 24 people allowed, with a party in most of the camps every single night. There may also be hikers and backpackers. In other words, while this is a wilderness trip, there are lots of other people. However, the camps are amazingly clean, and you will likely not see any trash or human waste at any of them. The rules help everyone have a wonderful experience and maintain the river corridor in a pristine condition.

Regulations for floating the MF Salmon can be found here: Salmon-Challis National Forest - Water Activities

There are links on this page with a ton of useful information, and I highly recommend reading up before your trip.

As far as the fishing goes, in late June the river will still be high but not to worry. It will be clear, and the fish will be looking up and can be caught on dries. Because there are anglers in just about every party, the fish see a lot of flies. One advantage of going in June is they will have seen fewer than later in the season. You will be fishing for beautiful, native westslope cutthroat trout, and in high or moderate river flows they will be hanging out in back eddies, in slower water next to riffles and rapids, and generally near or above heavy substrate (i.e. boulders or large rocks), where the depth is at least 3 feet. If you watch the water closely, there will likely be caddis that get kegged up along the seams where 2 currents come together, and that's where the fish will be, especially if there is a foam line. Rises may be small and subtle or possibly a bit splashy, but the fish generally range up to 18", so don't be fooled into thinking a small or splashy rise is a small fish.

The MF Salmon can be dry fly fishing at its best, so come prepared with bushy hairwing dries (sizes #10 and #12) and bring plenty of caddis and stimulator type patterns in different colors. It's possible you'll see some large golden stones coming off, so don't be afraid to bring a few in the #6 - #8 size range too.

Best of luck, this is a great trip!!
 

myt1

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Thanks sooooo much.

My buddy is pretty experienced at the oars, but he said he will have to get out and study the Class IV's before taking them on.

I volunteered to row some of the slower sections so he will have a chance to fish.

I was worried the fishing wasn't going to be that great in June, but it sounds like it will be just fine.

Thanks again for your post.
 

salmo7000

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You're welcome Rick! And yes, definitely scout the Class IV's and maybe some of the bigger Class III's (e.g. Sulfur Slide). On the upper river, be prepared to stop and scout Velvet Falls... it comes up quick and you can't see it, but there is a big, pyramid-shaped boulder on river left right below where you pull in for the scout. If your buddy misses it, tell him to stay on the left as far as he can get and don't go out in the middle of the river. For sure, on the last day stop and scout Cramer Rapid, which is actually on the Main Salmon before the take out. That rapid can get really big at moderate flows.

There won't be many slow sections in late June, but good for you for offering to help row! Definitely plan on fishing while you're in camp, that way you can both take your time and thoroughly fish the spots you like. There will be a lot of action while you're on the boat dealing with the rapids, staying in the boat, and hanging on to your fly rod. The upper 10 miles below the Boundary put-in are pretty busy. But yes, as the trip progresses there should be some sections that are slower where you can fish off the boat when floating.

One last tip, plan your days so you have plenty of time in the afternoon and evenings in camp so you can relax and fish. Daylight lasts quite long in Idaho in late June, so make the most of it. Be on the river by mid-morning and off by mid-afternoon. When you choose your camps, you can plan the mileage between camps to make this strategy work. Since the river will be going pretty fast, you should be able to go at least 15 miles a day in 5 hours or less, depending on how many times you stop.

No matter what happens with the fishing, you'll be off on a grand adventure, so savor every moment!
 
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