CUTTHROAT TROUT ON THE MIDDLE
FORK OF THE SALMON RIVER
RECOMMENDED BY Bryce Tedford
n a June day in 1805 near Great Falls, Montana, Meriwether Lewis recorded the Corps
f I)iscovery's first encounter with a cutthroat trout:
'Itiese trout are from sixteen to twenty three inches in length, precisely resemble our moun-
tain or speckled trout in form and the position of their fins, but the specks on these are of a
deep black instead of the red or goald colour of those common in the U.' States. These are
furnished long sharp teeth on the pallet and tongue and have generally a small dash of red
on each side behind the front ventral fins; the flesh is of a pale yellowish red, or when in good
order, of a rose red.
—Meriwether Lewis, The Journals of Lewis and Clark
Cutthroat trout hold a warm spot in the hearts of anglers. They are a beautiful fish,
s Lewis described. And they are a very willing fish. A valid scientific study showed cut-
hroat the easiest trout to catch by angling methods, followed in difficulty by brook, rain-
ow, and brown trout.
Progress has not been kind to the cutthroat. Today's distribution is a fraction of what
t once was, and two of its subspecies are extinct. Extremely sensitive to changes in water
uality, cutts have been hurt by stream degradation brought on by logging and livestock
grazing. They've also been harmed by the introduction of nonnative trout species. The
iddle Fork of the Salmon - framed by the Sawtooth and Salmon River Mountains in
hr heart of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho - remains
stronghold for native west-slope cutthroat. Anglers could hardly hope for a prettier
lace to pursue this most becoming salmonid. Bryce Tedford agrees.
"There are few if any other rivers in the lower forty-eight where you can float a hun-
red miles of pristine, roadless wilderness, with ever-changing terrain, and cast to free-
ising cutthroat trout through the whole trip. The fish are opportunistic, as the Middle
ork isn't especially rich in food. They're willing to take flies on top all day long, whether t
here's a hatch on or not."
Fishing is not complicated on the Middle Fork. A larger attractor pattern like a
timulator, Schroeder's Hopper, or Parachute Adams in size ro, dead-drifted against a
ranite wall, behind a midriver rock, or a back eddy, will often bring a rise. Surface action
an become especially vigorous in early July, when hatches of salmonflies and golden
tones are prolific. Cutts here are not particularly large (they average 12 inches to 14 inch- e
s, with the occasional fish to 20 inches), but they are plentiful enough to provide steady
ction throughout the day. An angler with modest skills can expect to hook thirty to fifty
ish a day during the high season. The culls' cooperative nature is one of the Middle
"We have quite a few families on the river, because there's something for everyone,"
ryce explained. "The anglers in the family can take a drift boat and fish all day, while
ther family members can raft and hike and swim. As a guide, it's really wonderful tak-
ng a father and child duo out on the river, where the child can't really cast yet. On day
ne, we focus on teaching the rudiments of casting. By day two, I can sit back and watch
he child make the cast, set the hook, and play the fish in. Being able to watch the father
atch his child get his or her first fish is just fantastic. Another thing I really enjoy aboutt
he Middle Fork is the clarity of the water. You can spot a fish, cast to it, and watch it comeu
p and roll on the fly. The whole process unfolds before your eyes."
On a Middle Fork trip, the path is the goal. The scenery is spectacular; at the
oundary Creek put-in the river is small and fast, hemmed in closely by thick forests of
ouglas fir and spruce. As you proceed downriver, the canyon opens up to expose jaw-
ropping crags of Idaho batholith. Bighorn sheep and mountain goat practice their
crobatic routines here. Several natural hot springs present themselves along the river's
c)6-mile course; Sunflower Showers, a hot spring that includes natural pools and a
akeshift shower, is especially nurturing for sore casting shoulders. You can also hike
nto the canyon at certain points to view Native American pictographs and pioneer home-
teads. Oh yes, there's also a bit of white water on the river. Most rafting enthusiasts place t
he Middle Fork in the top ten white-water rivers of the world.
ni a typical float day, a hearty breakfast is served at seven-thirty. You'll be on the river
hailing by nine, and in the coming evening's camp by five, ready for a cocktail or two fol-
'towel I by a steak, pork chop, or salmon dinner Nearly all the fishing on the Middle Fork
ill limit. from a drift boat, though several feeder streams along the course of the trip pro-
.11),,lers with an opportunity to walk and wade on their own. The pocket water Loon,
Ind Big Creeks offer is a pleasant contrast to the bigger water, and the same
.11, ,, ui patterns yield good results for redband trout and cutthroats. Gray wolves were
„Iiuduced to the Frank Church area several years ago, and in the upper stretches of
livvr their howls can be heard in the evening. There's perhaps no better sound to
punt tuate the western wilderness trout-fishing experience the Middle Fork affords.
ION TEDFORD began guiding fly fishers around his native Puget Sound when he was
ighlren. Since that time, he has guided steelheaders on the Deschutes, John Day, and
an& Ronde rivers in Oregon, and trout anglers on the rivers of Patagonia and the
Iddle Fork. His fishing adventures have taken him throughout the Pacific Northwest.
IF YOU GO
Prime Time: Flow and weather conditions are ideal in July, though the river gener-
y fishes well from June through September.
Getting There: Middle Fork floats begin with a bush-plane flight from Boise to a put-
one on the river. Salmon Air (800-448-3413) is a reliable air taxi service that can spir-
you to any number of remote airstrips along the river corridor for about $125. The only
et way in is by horseback, or hiking trail.
Accommodations: While a number of outfitters run white-water-oriented trips on the
iddle Fork, Solitude River Trips (800-396-1776; www.rivertrips.com) focuses on fly
hing. They run the Middle Fork in drift boats (which facilitates casting) and are Dutch-
n wizards come mealtime. The rate for a six-day/five-night wilderness float is $2,500.
lquipment: A 9-foot 5-weight rod outfitted with a floating line will accommodate all
ations on the Middle Fork. 9-foot leaders tapered to 4x, with tippet material in 4x and
will be fine. Standby flies: Elk Hair Caddis Light & Dark (itio-it14); Schroeder's
1' 'lute Hopper (ko-#12); Royal Wulff (Itio-It14); Parachute Adams (tho-#14);
,,,11.itors in orange, yellow, and green (#8-#12); and Royal Trades (i*To-k4).
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