August is a time of year when guiding fly fishers slows a bit in Northern California which provides an opportunity to travel and fish in beautiful places far from home. When Craig received an invitation to host a trip with long time friend Glen Goodsell and his family in Idaho, the answer was easy! Our friends Dan and Jennie offered to share their beautiful home on the banks of the South Fork of the Snake River in Swan Valley and we began dreaming of casting hoppers tight to the banks for trophy trout and getting the rivers famous ‘Bows, Browns and big Cutthroats to sip emerging mayflies in the gentle riffs.
Sometimes it takes a 2500 mile drive to appreciate how good the fishing can be at home. By the second week in August, flows in the Rockies are typically at a summer low and the fish can get finicky. This season they were in the midst of a record runoff. At least we arrived at the time the South Fork finally became fishable, but there was little to no dry fly action. Hatches were either very, very late or never went off. A few of the local guides at South Fork Outfitters and The Lodge at Palisades Creek expressed concern that the bug life had been washed downstream in the high flows or buried in the heavy silt.
We did manage to find several fish side drifting indicators and nymph rigs but the vast majority were Whitefish. Our most productive set up was a black or brown size 6 or 8 Superfloss Rubberleg Stone with a Beadhead Flashback PT dropper in a 16. By the end of the week flows dropped and cleared enough that we managed a few fine trout on nymphs dropped under a dry fly, again the PT was the top producer. The good news is that a couple young folks new to fly fishing, Dane & Karina each caught their first fish on flies! On our final day on the South Fork, Dan and Glen took turns on the oars as Craig encouraged their new found skills from the back of the boat where he enjoyed a rare opportunity to cast and fish!
On the last day of the trip, we explored the headwaters of the Snake just over the border in Wyoming. The Salt River was still very high and while we got a couple grabs, it was difficult to find fishable water from shore. As a result we decided to check out the Little and Big Grey Reef Rivers and again the high flows made if very difficult to find wadable and fishable water. Well upstream on both rivers we finally found some low gradient meadow sections and caught a few small Cutts on hopper dropper rigs, a scenic and very pleasurable experience but with very little other fishable water in the area and a good number of fellow anglers we weren’t able to enjoy much solitude.
The drive out to the South Fork Snake did produce some good fishing along the way. To break up the drive, Craig stopped to sample the Owyhee in Oregon for the first time. Fortunately fellow local guide Fred Gordon had just returned and got Craig dialed with a hopper-dropper rig cast tight to the banks. All other anglers on the river seemed to be casting small and tiny flies to rising fish in big soft water runs and reported poor fishing and small fish. In an evening and morning Craig landed a bit over a dozen brown trout with about half of them twenty inches or more including three big ‘uns that were a couple feet long! Arriving at Silver Creek, Idaho the next day, the shop report was the same, tiny flies and sparse hatches with mostly small fish. Walking out to the river with his newly purchased BWO and Trico emergers, Craig ran into some returning anglers who said they had fished hoppers with some success. Without changing his rig, Craig found that the same small foam hopper he fished on the Owyhee was the preferred item for the fussy Silver Creek Browns! Returning from Idaho, it was tempting to fish Silver Creek and the Owyhee again but instead Craig opted to check out the Donner-Blitzen in the remote Steen Mountains of Oregon. The big Redband Rainbows could not be more pleased with hopper and dropper that worked so well on Owyhee and Silver Creek as they jumped many times after being hooked! The pattern is a new one for us, recommended by our good friend and phenomenal tier Ken Morrish at Fly Water Travel. You may want to consider stocking up on some of Morrish’s Hopper’s distributed by Idylwild Flies before your next trip!