Thursday, July 11, 2013

Try floating, camping and fishing on the South Fork Snake River in E. Idaho; beautiful canyon!

Wendy, Lucas and Zach 
Huck, Drew and Steve 
Look at the size of this camp in Lufkin Bottom! Night 2
Wendy loves the South Fork because of all the bird activity! 
Steve has a fish on ... 
Courtesy of South Fork Anglers 
South Fork bald eagle 
Hi all,

This week's topic is about floating the South Fork of the Snake River, located about 30 minutes east of Idaho Falls. Wendy and I met some friends from Utah over there for a three-day float last week, and after I posted some Facebook pics, several people remarked that they'd never heard of boating on the South Fork Snake ... so here's the skinny.

We floated from Conant Boat Ramp in Swan Valley to the Byington takeout in Heise, a distance of 25 miles, including the prized South Fork roadless canyon. The canyon reach is the most spectacular portion of the whole river trip, because of the scenery and solitude, but the fishing can be good all the way from Palisades Dam to Byington.

What amazes me about the South Fork recreation and boating activity is that nearly all the locals zip through the canyon in a day, fishing, fishing, fishing, and hardly anyone camps overnight in the canyon, creating lots of space for the folks who are taking their time on a multi-day trip. This is a special place that deserves to be absorbed slowly, like a glass of fine wine.

Here's why it's special:

"The South Fork supports the largest riparian cottonwood gallery forest in the West and is among the most unique and diverse ecosystems in Idaho," according to the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the management of the South Fork. "It is also home to 126 bird species, including 21 raptors, meriting a "National Important Bird Area" designation. The river also supports the largest native cutthroat fishery outside of Yellowstone National Park. The corridor is home for an impressive array of other wildlife including moose, deer, elk, mountain goats, mountain lions, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, river otter, beaver, fox, and mink."

All told, I think the South Fork has 20+ bald eagle nesting territories along the cottonwood-lined river corridor. We saw bald eagles every day. 

Consider the South Fork as a great alternative place to do a multi-day river trip with the family and kids, or a group of friends. Take 3 or 4 days from Palisades Dam or Conant to Byington, and enjoy camping in these huge cottonwood groves adjacent to the river. In our three-day trip last week, we saw only one other party staying overnight anywhere in the canyon. It's an under-appreciated treasure! And there are tons of designated camps along the river sitting there empty. 

During the day, the river gets busy with lots of outfitters guiding fly fishing guests on the South Fork, so the native cutthroat trout and brown trout get fished hard every day. I stopped in the South Fork Outfitters fly shop to see what the fish are biting, and stocked up on the latest hot dry flies, my favorite way to fly fish. The South Fork Outfitters also do vehicle shuttles. Ours cost $30 from Conant to Byington. Not bad at all. 

It's fun to fish the South Fork because the fish bite on big flies, salmon flies, large caddis, pale morning duns, and a variety of big hoppers. Those big flies carry some weight on the end of your fly rod, and you can really cast a long ways to land the fly right next to the shoreline, and watch the gin-clear water for a fish rising up to take the fly. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Fish on! 

You have to pay close attention to your fly, and cast downstream as much as possible as you're floating along, because the South Fork rips! It's a big river, and lately, it's been running 13,700 cubic feet per second on a daily basis ... so it doesn't take long for the boat to zip by the eddies and bury your fly underwater.   

Even though the river runs fast and high, it's table-top flat the whole way, so it's a good float trip for families and kids. You can pick campsites with slow water next to camp so the small kids can play in the water safely. 

Another cool feature on the South Fork is that there are many islands along the way, and you'll see these narrow channels flowing next to the islands. Many of these are wide enough and deep enough for a boat full of gear, and they are quiet, intimate places to fish, plus see wildlife. I'll never forget pulling into one of those narrow oxbows one time, and around the corner, a huge bull moose was right there on the water's edge. Our springer spaniel was in the bow, with its paws up on the tubes. She got a real good look at that bull moose, and even "boofed" a timid little bark as we went by ... She could have been a lunch snack for the moose! :) 

How to get there: Take I-84 to Idaho Falls. Take Yellowstone Blvd. through town to Idaho Highway 26 to Swan Valley. After about 30 minutes, you'll see the South Fork Outfitters fly shop on the left hand side of the road as you're heading for Swan Valley. If you don't have your own boat, you can book a trip with these guys and you'll catch a lot of fish with their expert guides. Otherwise, you can choose from putting in below Palisades Dam (39 mile trip to Byington), Spring Creek by the highway bridge, or Conant. 

River map: I purchased a South Fork Snake River Boaters Guide from the BLM State Office in Boise in the map room for $7.

Equipment: Be sure to bring your fire pan and porta potty for overnight camping.

Permits: Self-issue permits for floating the South Fork and camping in the canyon are available at the put-in.

Information: See the BLM South Fork Snake River web site
In other outdoor news, Bogus Basin is hosting a clean up day on its Nordic trails on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Registration required. Contact Shelley Pursell at to sign up.

Don't miss the Boise Twilight Criterium on Saturday afternoon and evening!

Save the date: The annual wood-splitting weekend for the Idaho City Park n' Ski Yurts is set for July 26-28. Contact Leo Hennessy for more information:

Have fun!
- SS

1 comment:

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