Trip Report South Fork Snake River July 17-18

Tom P.

Tom P.
The summer trip this year was to another place I had never visited, SE Idaho and the South fork of the Snake River. It’s such a noted stream with so much written about it that I was hesitant to write a report. Then, thought the experience from from someone fishing it for the first time would be useful. Fished the Canyon section two days with guides out of The Lodge at Palisades, Steve Mock on day one, Tanner Lewis day two. They were terrific. Home base was a hotel in Idaho Falls.

First off below Palisades dam it’s a big freaking river. When we fished flows had just dropped from 13000 to around 11000 fps. I saw no personal watercraft or pontoons during our float and think they would not be a good idea. All the fishing was close to the bank very similar to the Yakima canyon in summer but with a river 3-4X as large. Yellowstone cutthroat, rainbows, brown, and whitefish are the game. Idaho F&G encourages anglers to harvest all rainbows, something we we did not do.

Day 1 was the lower canyon section and fishing was, well, kinda slow and tough. Picked up a handful of smaller cuts, a couple of browns and rainbows, and a great 20+ in cutbow. We seemed to never get locked in as there was such a variety of bugs out that one small area would be feeding on PMD, or caddis, or golden stones, or….whatever where 20 yards later the fish were on something else. We changed flies, both dry and dropper, a lot. Saw very few salmonflies. I suspect the recent flow change also had something to do with it. At the takeout (Byington I think) we were license checked by Idaho F&G who also said the day really was generally a slow one. Not quite what I expected from the SF.

Day 2 we launched at Conant to fish the upper canyon and right off the bat I spot a couple of salmonflies in the air and my chubby gets crushed. That was the day two story. The upper canyon still had salmonflies going off. After a couple more fish we ditched the dropper put on a more realistic salmonfly pattern and proceed to pound the banks, overhanging brush, buckets, and riffles. Game on! As day 1, most were cutthroats, with rainbows and browns. Largest fish was a rainbow over 20 and the cutthroat were all 12-16.

When I first met my day one guide Steve asked what gear I brought. I said a couple of 5wt’s and a 4wt, 5X, 4X and 3X leaders. He replied “ Leave the 4wt, 4X and 5X in the car. Don’t bring a knife to gunfight”. Good advice. A 6wt is a good idea to bring along. Both guides had them in the boat. During the day wind will be an issue sometime somewhere. The canyon offers some protection but if you need calm conditions to cast this can be a tough place. Ditto for poor casters. The best dry fly fishing is tight to the banks, under overhanging brush and in quick hit buckets. Good casting into tight quarters =many more fish. The alternative is indicator nymphing in deeper water, which works really well but was something I chose not to do.

Lastly, if you are in this area a stop at Grand Teton National Park should be on your schedule. As fun as fishing the South Fork is with its’ scenery (And the scenery is gorgeous!), Grand Teton is breathtaking!
River view 1.jpgRiver view 2.jpgRiver view 3 (Table Rock).jpgTom fishing.jpgYellowstone cutthroat 1.jpgRainbow.jpgRiver view 4.jpgRiver view 5.jpgRiver view 6.jpgSalmonfly.jpgYellowstone cutthroat 2.jpgTeton 1.jpgTeton 2.jpgTeton 3.jpgTeton 4.jpg
 

Jim Ficklin

Genuine Montana Fossil
Great report & that is nice country. Thanks for sharing! I fished there a bit later in the season back the mid-eighties while I was on-loan to the TRA Facility on the Idaho Falls nuke site. We caught all Cutties both on the Snake & the Big Lost. It was a fun per diem assignment, the best of many I went on over the years. Much more enjoyable than my stint in Amarillo, which treated me to a tornado . . .
 

surfnsully

Active Member
Great report, thanks. That is on my bucket list and would like to take my boat down it in early August sometime.
 

Upton O

Blind hog fisherman
Thanks for the report! I’ve fished the South Fork three times, each time a different section. I fished in May with big flies and October with tiny flies. It’s a great place, wonderful fish, too. Most of my fish were cutts with ‘bows here and there plus one really huge whitefish. Wish I lived closer so I could do it again.
 

BWBratt

Active Member
Thanks for the report and such great pics--was there 3 days after you, and totally impressed with the Snake, as I had not fished it since I was a 12-year old. This is a perfect trout spey river as well--there are so many runs/gravel bars/channels. If you go back, spend a day wading on the Gros Ventre, which is a really fun little river with great access for WY and several different styles of fishing depending on the section.
 

holtad

Active Member
Great report! I grew up in Idaho Falls, so this is my home river (my profile pic is from last fall). I was there the weekend after you and had some amazing riffle fishing. We had consistent action for 4-5 hrs casing small dries to 16-20+ inch fish. My pops has a jet-boat so we typically motor up from Byington to fish the lower half of the canyon, both banks & riffles, before all the guides get there coming down from the top :)

But... my real question is about the Rainbow/CutBow retention policy. I've heard that guides are not following it so I'm curious what their rationale is. The concern from residents, like my dad, is that if we (the collective "we") don't help get the rainbows out of the river the risk to the cutties may put the overall fishing opportunities at risk down the road. It seems very counter-intuitive to me that the guides wouldn't be following that policy to protect their future business.

I get that some customers probably have a very idealistic view of what their trip is going to be about, with every trout carefully C&R'd... and that killing/retaining some fish may impact their tips. But, if that isn't you (didn't get the sense that it is) why not keep the rainbows/cut-bows? Can you share what the guides told you? There has even been a Fish & Game program where you're supposed to cut the heads of retained fish & put them in F&G collection areas at the boat ramp. If you end up catching a fish that has been tagged you can win a cash prize.

All that said, we caught more big Cutts this year then I can remember in a long time! Hooked into a few healthy bows on the upper section and a ton of browns on the lower but we caught probably 2:1 Cutts to anything else which is WAAAY better than in years past. In past years I would have estimated it 1:3 the other way.

I'm all for C&R when it makes sense but it was sure nice to have fresh fish every night for dinner on my recent trip...
 

Tom P.

Tom P.
Great report! I grew up in Idaho Falls, so this is my home river (my profile pic is from last fall). I was there the weekend after you and had some amazing riffle fishing. We had consistent action for 4-5 hrs casing small dries to 16-20+ inch fish. My pops has a jet-boat so we typically motor up from Byington to fish the lower half of the canyon, both banks & riffles, before all the guides get there coming down from the top :)

But... my real question is about the Rainbow/CutBow retention policy. I've heard that guides are not following it so I'm curious what their rationale is. The concern from residents, like my dad, is that if we (the collective "we") don't help get the rainbows out of the river the risk to the cutties may put the overall fishing opportunities at risk down the road. It seems very counter-intuitive to me that the guides wouldn't be following that policy to protect their future business.

I get that some customers probably have a very idealistic view of what their trip is going to be about, with every trout carefully C&R'd... and that killing/retaining some fish may impact their tips. But, if that isn't you (didn't get the sense that it is) why not keep the rainbows/cut-bows? Can you share what the guides told you? There has even been a Fish & Game program where you're supposed to cut the heads of retained fish & put them in F&G collection areas at the boat ramp. If you end up catching a fish that has been tagged you can win a cash prize.

All that said, we caught more big Cutts this year then I can remember in a long time! Hooked into a few healthy bows on the upper section and a ton of browns on the lower but we caught probably 2:1 Cutts to anything else which is WAAAY better than in years past. In past years I would have estimated it 1:3 the other way.

I'm all for C&R when it makes sense but it was sure nice to have fresh fish every night for dinner on my recent trip...
Idaho Falls had some terrific food near our hotel: Bee’s Knees and Jakers

I had read about the retention policy for rainbows and cutbows before I booked. Made the decision beforehand to do all C&R but I think it’s a great idea to support the native cutthroat by selective harvest of non-native rainbows. In fact the major reason I choose the SF was the chance to fish for Yellowstone cutthroat. The Idaho F&G officer who license checked me also asked why didn’t we keep the rainbows. My big concern regarding retention was I had no idea how the locals felt about it especially if it was visitors from out of state doing the harvest. I have no qualms about fish meeting fillet knife and hot pan if that’s what the regs allow but think that in this case it’s best left to the locals.

My guides and I never discussed keeping any fish so not sure what their attitude is. I do know that the two largest fish caught were a cutbow and a rainbow and they were both awesome fun even though not native. The mix of cutthroat to rainbow to brown also made the trip unique. I suspect that most of their clients, like myself, are visitors staying in hotels or lodges and mainly interested in catching fish, photography, and fun, not necessarily in getting something for dinner so the guides just don’t do anything but C&R.

I hear you about fresh fish….Columbia river salmon trip is coming up and my fillet knife is sharp.
 

holtad

Active Member
Hey Tom, I really appreciate the reply. Very insightful! I guess I can only speak for "locals" from the perspective of my dad/our family, but interesting to think that you were assuming the opposite, that locals would be against retention of Rainbows or Hybrids, esp from a non-local.

I'm with you, for pure fishing excitement & numbers I love having rainbows in the system, and I also agree that rainbows/hybrids are often much bigger than the natives (the largest fish we've taken from that river was a cut-bow that we weighed out at 6 lbs!) but I'd sacrifice that to keep the cutts healthy & the river open.

Thanks for the discussion!
 

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