THE IDAHO TRIP: PAYETTE AND SALMON RIVERS
Updated: Jul 10, 2020
Out front of the hotel and across the highway, the geese were up, flying west/southwest at 7 a.m. just as they had the last two mornings. Sharp and black and noisy against the rising yellow-orange-white blaze, gathering their own color the further they flew. By 8 a.m. Jason Lindstrom of Flytooth, Grant and I started east in Jason’s car on Route 21 to Lucky Peak Dam, where the road took a big sweep north toward Idaho City and the Boise National Forest.
We had decided that we were going to drive “the loop” tomorrow, which would ultimately take us north to Stanley, the Sawtooth Mountain Range and the Salmon River. But today we really had no plan, short of heading out in search of flowing water, fish and some scenics for Grant to add to his steadily growing stable of images.
After passing a number of smallish mountain streams and parting ways with a another that followed the road for over twenty minutes, we had climbed to about 6,100 feet, crested the peak and started headlong into one switchback after another, and another, and another. Grant sat greenly in the back seat, window cracked, while the switchbacks, lacking backseat view and peanut butter toast he had for breakfast all battled for his attention.
Jason decided that we should check out a stretch of the South Fork of the Payette River just outside Lowman that he had fished a couple times before. We pulled over and looked at a couple likely spots before landing on a winner. Below us flowed a wide turquoise chute that spilled into a long, deep pool and then ran downstream psyching itself up into some pretty good rapids. Above the chute was a 100 yard section of slick, hip-deep water with braids boiling up from behind big submerged boulders and upswells from the even deeper holes further upstream. And it was gin clear and fast from soup to nuts.
I’d like to report that we had a stellar fish day, but that would require many more and much bigger fish than we caught. Fittingly, Grant’s camera work capturing our arresting environs and presence was the big fish of the day. We bagged it early in preparation for the god-awful 3 a.m. wake-up call that was on deck for tomorrow’s excursion.
There’s still a lot of dark left ahead of you when you’re on the road at 4 a.m. We struck out on Route 55 north armed with McDonalds breakfast sandwiches, hashbrowns and coffee. Our trip was going to take us through Crouch and Garden Valley back to Route 21 at Lowman, where we’d point the car northeast to Stanley.
Around 6:15 the faintest touch of dawn gave up the backbone of the Sawtooth Range. We entered Challis National Forest, rounded the north end of the mountains, and stopped about 15 minutes shy of Stanley to get some shots as the sun started into the valley. Local temps were high 20’s.
After a second breakfast at Sawtooth Luce’s and a stop at McCoy’s Fly shop for some intel and a couple flies, we just stood around for a while soaking in the simple frontier ease of the town and the sheer giant-ness of the mountain backdrop. Then we drove out Route 75 along the Salmon, past Sunbeam to a stretch below Yankee Fork as instructed.
As I picked my way down through the streamside boulders I could see fish holding in a big deep pool. The water was emerald here, and just as clear as the Payette. Smaller rainbows and cutthroat were rising. The larger ones were holding deeper lanes, swinging a foot in either direction to pick up drifting bugs. Fish were rising constantly along the rock wall on the far side of the river. Unreachable, of course. My second drift produced a small cutthroat. My first. A couple small ‘bows and two decent whitefish later, the hole went quiet. We jumped back in the truck and headed downstream another half mile to some wadeable water.
I spent the remains of the afternoon casting dries to risers, while Jason stayed busy with a rubber-leg bugger upstream. I traded Grant for his camera so he could get in on the action as well.
After sitting streamside with a couple beers, soaking up a little more late afternoon sun, we decided that we’d done enough damage for one day and waded back across the river to the truck and a long ride back to Boise–the sun about ready to set on yet another great day.