Whenever the subject of fishing in Utah comes up I’ve been known to say, Utah is that big thing you drive through to get to Idaho….the Utah locals usually express that they are just fine with that…
I have a real soft spot for Idaho.
I floated my first river here. I caught my first cutthroat here (or there?) I fished with my first guide here. I fell in love for the first time here….That was after my first divorce.
I spend most of my time in the southeast corner of the state, and why not. Henrys Fork, South Fork, the Teton, plus a dozen other waters that fish just as good. What’s not to love. Idaho is also the home of my absolute favorite trout river, the South Fork, and the overlook above Swan Valley is one of my all time favorite places on the planet.
I’ve floated this river a few times and my favorite trip is the canyon or middle section. An incredible fishery with braids, deep cuts, canyon walls, all mixed with giant riffles that absolutely stack up with fish during some incredible hatches in the afternoons. My only complaint is that I would catch more fish if I wasn’t distracted by the moose, deer and incredible scenery along the way. But on the other hand, its also one of those places you return from and friends ask how the fishing was…and you really don’t remember.
Usually we stop by my brothers place in Pocatello for a short visit to catch up and visit the kids…boy they sure have grow since last season….but this trip we had a reservation to meet. So we drove straight thru and pulled into the fly shop in the morning with half an hour to spare. We met up with our guides for the day, decided who was with who and in which boat and sorted out our gear. I headed straight for the complimentary shop coffee and tried to get my bloodshot eyes to stop seeing yellow highway lines.
Right off the boat launch I hooked into a really nice brown on a streamer. Lost it right at the boat. Thinking this day was going to be crazy good, I went without another fish for about a half hour until I changed out rigs. The canyon section is a beautiful float. I always say I’m going to come up and float this section with nothing but a camera….but that’s a lie I always tell.
About three miles from the put in, I made a perfect cast…as always….in tight against the bank. As we came around a sharp inside bend I heard the guide quietly mumble “Oh sh**” and felt the boat shift sideways and the oars pulled hard and deep in the water. Reluctant to tear my attention away from my perfectly drifting pattern…as always…I looked down river to see what the guide’s issue was. At first my view was blocked by the 2000 lbs of cow moose standing 20 yards off the bow directly in our drift path. But then I noticed the calf standing right next to her. I was already in the seat when the guide yelled “sit down and bring ‘em in…quick!” We used to have a saying in the Marines that panic has a purpose and with about forty oar stokes in five seconds the boat was turned sideways and out into the middle of the current, giving the mother moose a wide berth. She just looked at us and never moved. I don’t know how aggressive a cow moose can be with a drift boat, but apparently enough to make a seasoned guide not to pause for us to take pictures.
As it warmed up we got the hoppers and “big bugs” out and began the hopper dropper routine. You could probably fish this rig any day of the season on this river and do as well as anywhere. These fish love giant dries. You can be fishing salmon flies, golden stones and hopper patterns all in the same day…and get action on all of them.
Late in the afternoon, the mayflies were coming off like crazy so we pulled over on any of the several riffles where the cuts would stack up like wood and feed off the mayflies as they would tumble off the riffles and over the dropoffs. I lost count of how many fish were caught, or the biggest, or how many I missed..it was a lot…my bloodshot eyes never did straighten out completely. But as usual, the South Fork float always ends the same way. Too soon.
The next day found us on a tiny tributary that feeds into the South Fork. This is a great little stream in itself, but gets almost no attention, if any, because of its location. Its right next to the South Fork. I mean, c’mon. The South Fork is right there, why are we fishing this. You have to walk, and its brushy. But I always make time for at least a half day because its just so cool. The surprise is there are some quite large cuts hanging out under the undercuts and they are not so hard to catch. The scenery is awesome, the stream is the perfect size and except for the fact that a grizzly is spotted in the canyon every so often, its just about perfect. A couple miles of bushwhacking up this small water produced two 16” Yellowstone cuts and about two dozen more in the 8” to 12” range…all on beetles and hoppers. Again…it was over too soon. We climbed out of the bottom, got lost on the way twice, made it back to the truck and headed back to the highway to find a place to live for the night.