Starting at the confluence of Bear Valley and Marsh creeks in the River of No Return Wilderness, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is one of Idaho's great outdoor adventure attractions-and the fishing is an added bonus. From the historic relics that dot the area to the stories of the people who put those relics there, the Middle Fork offers much more than a wild whitewater ride of a lifetime. Aside from the opportunity to fish for native cutthroat trout, day trips off the waterway offer an insight to a time when the world moved at a slower pace.
Although no one can be sure who first navigated the Middle Fork early last century, Captain Harry Guleke in the 1920s certainly was one of the first. Since that time, countless rafters have made the exciting whitewater trip, not only for the excitement of boiling rapids and turbulent river runs, but also for the excellent cutthroat trout fishing.
Put-in is below Dagger Falls or at the Boundary Creek launch site in a narrow section of the river. At Indian Creek, the water slows down and flattens out, giving the rafters ample angling opportunity for native cutthroats. It remains gentle water until the Flying B Ranch, where the river descends and pulses quicken.
According to some outfitters, the best fishing is from Big Creek down to the mouth. Cutthroat trout are the primary species. At the right time, they will readily take a dry fly. When the summer sun warms the riparian areas and grasshoppers flit through the air, hopper imitations floated through riffles or along shoreline shallows can get you into fish. If you aren't getting any action on the surface, add some weight to your hopper and fish below the surface. A strike indicator will let you know when your hopper's been taken.
Besides the access below Dagger Falls, there are many mountain airstrips along the Middle Fork course. Morgan (private) is the first below Dagger Falls. Pistol Creek (private) is 27 miles downstream. The next four airstrips are U.S. Forest Service strips. They are Indian Creek, Thomas Creek, Mahoney, Lower Loon (Simplot) and beyond the private Flying B Ranch airstrip is the Bernard airfield. Flights into these airstrips require experienced pilots. Extreme precautions must be taken when flying into these mountain airstrips because weather conditions can change very quickly.
Many of the airstrips are used as a point of entry for hiking, hunting trips and float trips down the Middle Fork. For information regarding permits and general services, contact the U.S. Forest Service office in Challis, Idaho.
Joe Evancho is the author of Fishing Idaho, An Angler's Guide published by Cutthroat Press in 2004 (www.cutthroatpress.com).