Fly Fishing on the Middle Fork of Idaho's Salmon River
Join us for a life-changing fishing trip on Idaho's Middle Fork of the Salmon River, known as America's premier Blue Ribbon westslope cutthroat trout fishery. Few fly-fishing trips can compare to this wild beauty that boasts 100 miles of free-flowing river through the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness area. With its 2.3 million protected acres, the Frank Church is the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states. High in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, cast your fly into gin-clear riffles and deep transparent-green pools. These 5-6 day Salmon River fly fishing adventures are catch-and-release trips and typically offered from late-August through late-September.
Originating 20 miles northwest of Stanley, Idaho, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River flows 106 miles through one of America's premier Blue Ribbon fisheries before flowing into the Main Salmon River. Located in the Wilderness, there are no roads and few signs of humans making this one of the finest wilderness fly fishing trips in the country.
ROW's experienced guides will help you catch your fill of wild Idaho trout. Fish generally range from 10" to 22". The uniquely remote nature of a trip means there is not a lot of fishing pressure, and some of the fish you hook may have never seen an artificial presentation. Late August and September are great months for fishing because temperatures and water levels are low and the fish are active as they seek to gain weight for winter.
There's more to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River than just fishing and if you bring a partner not as keen on fishing as you, they will find plenty to love. As we float the river, we rest at beautiful, isolated camping spots. There are plenty of hiking trails, natural hot springs and cultural sites along the way. We can hike from camp and fish, visit a Native American pictograph site or pioneer homestead, or just relax and rest up for the following day of fly fishing. A 5 or 6-day Middle Fork wilderness fishing adventure is unlike any other in the West.
Images & Videos
Arrive in Salmon, Idaho
ROW has been operating trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon since 1989 and based on our historical data, we know that on most years we have to start flying in to Indian Creek by July 30 as the water gets too low to boat the first 23 miles from Boundary Creek to Indian Creek. Since our fishing trips are in late August and September, we meet you in Salmon, Idaho. Learn more in our "Before You ROW" section that explains these logistics. You can also read our blog on Middle Fork flows for more information.
Plan to arrive in Salmon by 7:00 pm MST. You meet ROW's team leader at the Stagecoach Inn for an orientation meeting to answer last minute questions and give you waterproof bags for your gear. Dinner on your own.
Let the Fishing Begin!
Meet your group of anglers early morning for a scenic flight from Salmon, Idaho to our put-in at Indian Creek. Landing at an elevation of about 4600’, the fresh air is scented with pine. But you’ll be drawn like a nail to a magnet to the crystal clear waters flowing by your feet.
Before we launch we have a safety orientation as there are rapids on this trip. We board either rafts or drift boats, depending on water levels and availability. In no time your line will be laid out across the water with cutthroat chasing your fly. We spend the day in glorious mountain scenery, casting, contemplating and wondering if life can get any better than this.
We aim to arrive in camp by 4 o’clockish so you have time to stretch your legs and if you want, cast into the river near camp or any nearby tributary. Hors d’oeuvres are served around 6:00 and dinner around 7:00. Dark nights invite a warm campfire and tales of the day.
Fish, Rapids, Indian Rock Art, and Pioneer Homesteads
We awake around 7:00am and enjoy fresh-brewed coffee. Breakfast is served and you pack up your personal gear. The boats are loaded and we depart from camp around 9:30 for an adventure-packed day of rapids, nibbles, bites and nets, magnificent scenery and fun.
The Middle Fork has a rich legacy of history including Native American rock art and during the trip we usually stop at one or two of these sites to give honor to the people that lived on these lands for thousands of years.
Today, and most days, offer a chance to see John Muir’s favorite bird, the American Dipper, a small gray bird that uses its strong grip to walk along the river bottom eating insects, and builds its nest above fast-flowing water.
We'll have plenty of fun rapids as the river continues its quick descent. We make camp around 4:00pm and enjoy hiking, more fishing or just relaxing. After dinner the night sky welcomes stargazers and, later on, the river lulls you to sleep.
Fishing, Floating, Exploring and Hot Springs
The river canyon opens up a bit more and as we drop elevation, nights become warmer. Slopes are dotted with ponderosa pine interspersed with sage, mountain mahogany and near the river, alder, willow and grasses. The crystal waters carry us swiftly along as the river channel widens and narrows, its path defined by rocks and cliffs.
Your technique may be challenged in some of the deeper pools. Typically, people reel in 20-50 fish a day on the Middle Fork. When your casting arm tires, learn the saga of Charlie Norton, a man of nerve. By later-afternoon camp welcomes us and we settle into a now-familiar routine. The night sky, crackling campfire and fresh mountain air will help you sleep like a baby.
Deep Canyons, Rapids, Feisty Fish
Today offers another great time as we float through one of the most spectacular river canyons on earth. We may see big horn sheep that come to the river’s edge to visit mineral licks. The fishing is bountiful and sometimes we hook into Rocky Mountain whitefish, bull trout, rainbows or cutbows.
Soaring above are golden eagles and falcons. We may stop at the hot spring at Hospital Bar, so named because early cattlemen let their stock rest and feed at this large flat and easy ford across the river. We visit Tappan Ranch, where Red and Daisey Paulsen-Tappen grazed cattle, nurtured a bountiful garden and raised their family in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Continuing on we run the Tappan rapids and exciting Tappan Falls. The last few miles to camp offer a chance to lean back and take in the monumental scenery of the River of No Return Wilderness.
Cutthroat Trout, Waterfall Creek, Veil Falls and Haystack Rapids
Haystack Rapid just below the Flying B Ranch is filled with giant boulders and is a slow-moving sensation of a rapid. In the past 20 years a couple of side creek “blow outs” have changed this rapid. Just below it the river narrows decidedly, and a series of deep pools and rapids mark the afternoon. Once we reach Survey Camp, we’re at the beginning of Impassable Canyon where the Middle Fork of the Salmon has cut into the biggest monolithic formation of granite in North America – the Idaho batholith. Some find the scenery reminiscent of Yosemite, but here the river rather than glaciers has carved the canyon.
From camp you gaze up on steep canyon walls living inside one of the world’s most wondrous scenes of natural art. Around the campfire tonight, tales of fish and future trips are likely to spin.
Last Casts, Whitewater, Confluence with the Main Salmon, Take Out
We float past the tiny cabin of Earl Parrot, known as the Hermit of Impassable Canyon. His story was chronicled by National Geographic in the 1930’s and adds another dimension to your Middle Fork experience. We float beneath neck-bending views of sky-piercing rock walls.
Our last lunch is a few miles above the Middle Fork's confluence with the Main Salmon. We continue to the takeout at Cache Bar, carry personal gear to the waiting bus, and settle back for a two-hour ride to the town of Salmon and the Stagecoach Inn.
Return Home or Extend Your Stay
If you want to explore more of Idaho, visit our own River Dance Lodge, set on the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River and within striking distance of beautiful fishing waters on the Lochsa.
ROW is proud to be an Equal Opportunity recreation service provider and employer under permit from Salmon, Payette, Boise and Challis National Forests. All our operations and facilities are operated on a non-disciminatory basis. ROW Inc. is bonded and licensed by the State of Idaho Outfitters & Guides Licensing Board.
Dates & Rates
6-Day Fishing Trip
- Departures: August 31, September 11, 19
- Adult Price: $3390
6-Day Private Fishing Trip
- Private Trip Rate = $40,680
- August 31, September 11, 19
- Maximum group size of 12
*Please note that prices are based on 2 fishers per raft or boat.
- Services of our talented adventure consultants and professional guides
- All meals/beverages as indicated in the itinerary (including beer and wine)
- All rafting and camping gear,
- Transportation to and from river meeting points
- Fly fishing instruction and guidance as desired and needed
- Airfare/transportation beginning and ending points
- Rod, reel, and flies
- Fishing waiters, boots, and other personal gear
- Gratuities travel protection plan
- Pre-& post-trip hotel (ROW will make the reservations for you)
- Items of a personal nature
- Indian Creek ﬂights (if required)
FAQ & More
Late August and September are wonderful times to be on the river because few people are around and the colors of the hills become more radiant. This is also the best time to fish the Middle Fork.
If you fly, fly to Boise, Idaho. Air taxi transport to/from Boise is available. Or, drive to Stanley and set up a shuttle for your car to be transferred to the ending point in Salmon. If low or high water requires a flight into Indian Creek, there is an extra charge. Call 1-800-451-0841 for pricing.
If you fly, fly to Missoula, Montana. Car rentals are available at the Missoula Montana airport. It is a beautiful 2.5-hour drive to Salmon, Idaho.
In addition to the sweep boat that carries all the camping gear, we use two other kinds of river craft.
The traditional raft is a 16-foot self-bailing, oar-powered raft which a guide controls with two large oars. (Many companies use 18-22 foot rafts, which take a good deal of the fun out of the rapids.)
We also offer smaller 14-foot paddle rafts. Four to six people paddle while a guide steers.
Many people enjoy rotating between both crafts during a trip. On the few trips we operate with less than 13 guests, we may not have enough people to support a paddle raft.
On any river trips, the guides are the most important factor for your safety, enjoyment and the success of the trips. ROW guides are exceptional people with years of river experience.
We maintain a tobacco-free policy and most of our guides have taken interpretation courses from certified instructors. We look for guides who are willing and eager to share, teach, listen, learn, laugh, play, discuss and, above all, work hard to provide a safe, relaxed and spontaneous adventure.
While in camp two or three guides are preparing dinner while the others are free to spend time with you. They might show you the way to a nearby hot spring, give a fly-fishing lesson or just to sit and visit with the group. Our guides are the main reason many of our guests return to ROW time and time again. (References gladly provided.)
One of the reasons the Middle Fork is such a fabulous trip is due to the incredible variety of sites and activities along the way. ROW takes pride in historical interpretation and takes advantage of as many side excursions as possible.
- We fish, of course!
- We share stories of the early pioneers and hike to at least one old homestead cabin.
- We explore at least three different Native American pictograph sites.
- We stop to soak in hot springs and always try to camp at one of them.
- Our trip is planned so the fifth day doesn't have many river miles. We stop and explore Waterfall Creek and maybe lead a hike under the falls.
- After lunch, we hike to see Veil Falls and we have a few other 'secret' surprises.
- We strongly believe that understanding builds greater appreciation and we hope our love of this majestic canyon is contagious.
Forget those images of leaky tents and camp food out of a can. You’ll be amazed how comfortable camping can be when done the ROW way. On trips with 13 or more guests, we use a large 22-foot cargo raft to carry the bulk of the camping gear, food, etc. This allows our smaller oar-powered rafts to be lighter and more maneuverable.
The cargo raft, along with two- support crew, arrives at camp ahead of the group and gets the kitchen set up including dining tables and chairs. The crew also sets up the spacious two-person tents that ROW provides. When we arrive at camp all you have to do is carry your personal gear (stored in a ROW-provided easy-to-use waterproof bag) to the tent of your choice and roll out your sleeping bag, flannel liner, and thick, self-inflating foam sleeping pad (also provided by ROW). This gives you an extra half-hour of time for doing something you'd enjoy rather than setting up a tent. (Note: In rare circumstances, we may have a trip with less than 13 guests. In this case, due to economic and logistical reasons, we may not run our cargo raft. On these smaller trips guests and gear travel together down the river. Our guides are still happy to set up your tent if you like or you may enjoy doing it yourself.)
ROW is firmly committed to the responsible stewardship of the rivers we run and the earth at large. In our office, at our warehouses, and on the river, we abide by the 3 R's - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. On the river, we take every possible precaution to minimize our impact. Everything we carry in, we carry out. We build our fires in metal fire pans and carry out the ashes.
ROW makes this easy... You bring the clothes you want to wear at camp and on the river. Then, once you make a reservation ROW will send you a complete packing list. ROW provides the camping equipment, food, and beverages.
On many of our summer trips, frequent swimming leaves you feeling clean. For those who want to soap up, we always do so well above the river's high water line (not even "bio-degradable" soap goes in the river). We also take sun-showers on many of our trips and the hot water is great for shampooing and taking a sponge bath. Buckets of river water help with the process.
At each camp we set up a special, private tent with a portable toilet inside, which works just like yours at home, without the flush. This is available from the time we get to camp until we leave the next morning. The views from our toilet locations are simply inspiring. Nearby we set up a handwashing system. During the day, liquid waste goes in the river by simply wading into the water or going for a swim. A day-use toilet is available too for solid waste. If you have any other questions or concerns please call our adventure consultants.
For feminine hygiene, come prepared with some small zip-lock bags. These are useful for disposal during the day while on the river and can be put into our trash containers at camp. Along with our toilet supplies, ROW will have extra pads and tampons available. Using portable toilets allows us to carry out all human waste.
Yes! Everyone on a ROW trip wears a Coast Guard-approved PFD (personal flotation device). These are designed to keep you afloat in the event that you find yourself in the river. Many non-swimmers go on rafting trips and they have a great time. It is more important that you are not afraid of the water. Non-swimmers should not go on class IV+ or class V trips. Please call us if you have any concerns about this.
Wilderness travel and whitewater rafting have inherent risks and ROW does a number of things to manage these risks. It begins when you first contact us. We'll help you select a trip that matches your experience and abilities. On the river you will find that our guides are carefully chosen, skilled professionals with the appropriate training and experience. We use the best available equipment and give a thorough safety briefing prior to all departures. If you're nervous about whitewater, you might want to start off on our Missouri River canoe trip along the Lewis and Clark Trail in Montana or a milder whitewater trip such as the Grande Ronde.
All our guides are certified in first aid and river rescue. Many have had advanced training specific to the wilderness environment in which we operate and are certified as Wilderness First Responders or Emergency Medical Technicians. Thus we are able to cope with most on-river accidents. If in our judgment, evacuation is deemed necessary we have several options depending on weather and our location. Sometimes we are near remote ranches or roads that we can use to evacuate. We carry a satellite telephone along with a GPS on trips lasting three or more days. (Cell phones don't work in the remote areas where we travel.) We can use these to contact emergency transport, including helicopters. Evacuation, if needed, can take from as little as a couple of hours to as many as 24 hours, or in extreme cases, longer than this depending on the situation, weather and location.
It's important to drink plenty when you're outdoors so ROW provides fresh drinking water at all times. In camp, there's also juice, herbal tea, black tea, coffee, and cocoa. We provide two complimentary sodas and two beers per person, per day and complimentary wine with dinner. If you wish to bring more sodas, beer, or other alcoholic drinks to enjoy in the evening, bring them along. We'll have cocktail ice.
Full course meals from lunch the first day through lunch the last day. Trips lasting four or more days, except lodge-based trips, include a post-trip dinner as well. One-day trips include lunch only. Professional river equipment including rafts and their accessories, Coast Guard-approved life jackets, waterproof bags for personal gear, waterproof boxes for cameras, sleeping bags, sleeping bag liners, pillows, thick foam self-inflating mattresses, tents and ground cloths. Wetsuits and booties are provided on all cold water trips in May and June. Also, transportation to and from the river from a designated meeting place as indicated on the trips schedule. Prior to your trip, we'll send you a complete packing list of appropriate clothing and optional items such as cameras, water bottles, etc.