Fishing the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Middle Fork of the Salmon River review By Justin Pond:

Typical day on the Middle Fork:

“After fishing all day in a 12ft raft to rising Cutthroats we ate a gourmet meal of salmon and garlic potatoes. We then made the 1mile trek to soak ourselves in a perfectly heated natural hot pot with an equally warm waterfall acting as a shower up Loon Creek. The rest of the night consisted of a little Texas Hold Em and good conversation. As I retired to bed, I realized that we were witnessing a perfectly formed utopia where white water rafting met fantastic fishing; an outdoor paradise they call the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.”

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River flows 106 miles through some of the wildest country left in the lower 48 states, directly through the heart of Idaho’s 2.4 million acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Consequently there are no roads into the area; access is either gained by a hike, a horse ride, flight in by bush plane or by floating all or part of its 106 miles. However the effort exerted will be well worth it as the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of the premier fly fishing rivers in the Continental U.S. for native cutthroat and rainbow trout. In order to float this wild & scenic river, one either has to obtain a permit via the Idaho 4 River lottery system or go as a member of a commercially guided trip with any of many licensed outfitters. The Middle Fork Outfitters Association web page is a great reference tool to find an outfitter. Many of the outfitters offer fishing specific trips.

For those that wish to drive directly to the river, the Boundary Creek boat launch area and campground are approximately 50 miles from the town of Stanley. To get there from Stanley take SR 21 Northwest 20 miles to Bear Valley Rd (between mile post 109 and 110) then 26 miles on dirt road until you reach Boundary Creek. From Boundary Creek you can fish either up or down stream. (Dagger Falls is located just upstream. There is also another campground located at Dagger Falls.)

Fly Fishing on the Middle Fork is best from early July through September. (During an average water year, there will simply be too much water to fish effectively before mid July.) I prefer to float the river at water levels between 2 and 2.5 feet. These levels are typically found in late July/early August. Fish will range in size from 10-21 inches with the average fish being in the 12 to 15 inch range. If you float the river the fish will get bigger as the river increases its flow beneath Big Creek (Big Creek itself is a fantastic fishery). Assuming that the fish cooperate a little, it is not uncommon for the skilled angler to frequently catch more than 50 trout in a day. On this river, even a less than ideal cast can bring a vigorous rise and the crystal clear water allows the angler to watch the underwater action. The fish are willing to take flies on top of water weather there is hatch on or not. Consequently the Middle Fork Salmon River is an excellent place to introduce the young or novice angler to the sport of fly fishing.

Flies that work well on the Middle Fork include the following:

Parachute Adams

Elkhair Caddis

Royal Coachmen

Royal Wolff

Yellow Humpy

Black Gnat

Stimulator or Sofa Pillow

Dave’s Hopper

Chernobyl Ant

In the deeper waters of the lower canyon (known as Impassable Canyon) a Copper John dropper will fish lights out.

As far as the fish themselves, in addition to the many cutthroats, you also see some Rainbow trout and an occasional Dolly Varden, of course all are natives. You may also see some salmon or steelhead in the Middle Fork, but it is mainly a trout river.

There are tackle shops in the area that can outfit you for a successful trip and recommend dry flies for different months of the year. McCoy’s Tackle Shop in Stanley is a great place to pick up flies and check out current fishing reports. The Bent Rod Outdoors (208) 879-2500 is another choice located between Challis and Salmon on HWY 93.

All in all if you are looking for a near perfect outdoor experience, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is guaranteed to deliver. There are few places on this earth that can match its beauty and adventure.

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9 Responses to “Fishing the Middle Fork of the Salmon River”

  1. Chubbs Says:

    Yetter, great post. This river and this trip really is one of the best fishing trips i’ve ever been on.


  2. Big Hoss Says:

    great post Yetter, you going next year? I want in if you do.


    James Reply:

    We offer dates exclusively to fishing in September every year. This is a 4 or 7 day trip. Let me know if you have any questions.

    yours for fish, Ellsworth


  3. Dr Gillespie Says:

    So is it hard to get a permit? What are the chance for 09? This sounds like it has Frenzy written all over it. Yetter I like the pic of you taking a shower in the one piece!!! Great write up, I was day dreaming I was running the river hooking up with hog cutties and Steals.

    Sat I might be hitting the hard deck if anyone wants to come along…Let me know


    Big Hoss Reply:

    we will have to all put in for a permit in Jan. See Chubbs’s comments:


  4. Chubbs Says:

    Dr. G, it is pretty dang hard to get a permit. You have to put your name in for the lottery. What we need to do the first part of January is all of us put our name in for a permit. That obviously increases our chances. It is tons of fun. Recommended attire all week is speedo, just speedo.


    Dr Gillespie Reply:

    Done deal, how many people per permit? Can I take my Woodie or is it a raft trip? With all this snow and crappy weather…I am wishing I was on the San Juan or Lee’s Ferry or in the Caribbean chasing big silvers…But until then I will just snowboard and fish tiny flies…Infact I’m leaving for the Mtn in 5 mins…Peace


  5. Tim Chandler Says:

    I’m going on a trip June 24 – 30 and am wondering if there are different flies that you use early in the year. I’ve never been on the Middle Fork, but hear great things about it. Thanks, Tim



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