Reel Good Times

Unforgettable Fishing Float Trips

Done right, some fishing trips are more than just “trips” — they’re trips of a lifetime.

Southwest Idaho is blessed to be the home of — or the gateway to — some of the most legendary river trips anywhere. If you’re hooked on finding that next great drift boat or raft fishing experience, look no further than these adventures.

Hells Canyon

Boating in Hells Canyon

Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

Welcome to the deepest gorge in North America. Carved into the Idaho-Oregon border, the peaks of the Seven Devils looming above you in the east, Hells Canyon feels like an impenetrable wilderness.

A guided fishing trip on the Hells Canyon stretch of the Snake River has it all. On the shore, you might spot mountain goats, black bears, and mountain lions roaming the volcanic slopes along the river. Pause for a hike and explore abandoned homesteader sites, gold mines, and ancient Shoshone-Bannock petroglyphs. Under the surface of the river, steelhead, bass, and monster sturgeons are lurking.

Steelies are abundant in Hells Canyon, especially late fall through the winter. They’re big. Beautiful. And catchable either on tackle or a fly.

The smallmouth bass fishing in Hells Canyon is some of the best in the world. At the peak of the season, you can expect to catch anywhere from 40 to 60 in a day.

White sturgeon fishing in Hells Canyon attracts visitors from all over the globe. Reeling in one of these prehistoric monsters is a remarkable experience. These giants of the deep can live 100+ years old and regularly grow up to 9 feet long.

You can book a one-day jaunt down the upper stretch of the canyon, or embark on an epic days-long adventure to experience every inch of this incredible landscape.

Local’s Tip: AMERICA’S RAFTING CO, Hells Canyon Adventures, and Hells Canyon Raft offer guided expeditions down this wild stretch of the Snake River.

Middle Fork of the Salmon River & Lower Salmon Canyons

Fishing in the Salmon River

Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

Gin-clear waters and steep hills rolling down into sandy beaches. People have been fishing the rich waters of the Salmon River for 8,000 years. You’ll join the Salmon as it runs south past Riggins, where it flows through sheer canyons and rugged sagebrush. This stretch of the river is untouched and flourishing with wildlife. The wide beaches along the calm stretches offer some of our favorite camping in Idaho. Dinner cooked by your guides and a night laughing around the campfire is almost as good as your biggest catch of the day.

The Salmon is the largest undammed river in the lower 48, and as such, it has hundreds of miles of untouched spawning ground. It has a thriving population of steelhead, trout, bass, and of course, salmon.

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The Middle Fork is a Blue Ribbon Westslope Cutthroat Trout fishery. The waters are teeming with these rare and protected fish. The Salmon boasts one of the last populations of genetically pure native Westslopes in the west. Westslope Cutthroats are aggressive and crafty, so they’re a dream mark for expert fly fishers.

You’ll also harvest rainbow, cut-bow, and bull trout. The Salmon’s cool, oxygen-rich water is perfect for thriving trout populations. Bull trout are catch-and-release only, but their elusiveness and the fight they put up is worth it. Many outfitters offer tributary fishing along the journey. They’ll take you on hikes up remote tributaries where you can find sly brook trout among the dense pine forests.

The River of No Return

Pine Creek Rapids

It’s the last untamed land in the west. The River of No Return (aka the Main Salmon River) winds 104 miles through the Frank Church Wilderness, the largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48. The river is lined by wooded ridges, solitary crags, and vastly eroded bluffs. Mechanized and motorized equipment is banned everywhere in these two million acres. That means everything from boat motors to bicycles! The River of No Return redefines wild.

Rafting trips are strictly limited by permits and party size. Fishermen might wait years for a spot on one of these expeditions. Anyone who’s been lucky enough to go will tell you it’s well worth it. No human interference makes for tremendous biodiversity. The native fish populations are huge, healthy, and hungry.

Deep pools, granite seams, and swift back eddies create a varied environment that lends itself to multiple fishing styles. You’ll challenge your angling skills every day. We recommend heading out in September, when your party will have the river entirely to yourselves. The cutthroats start packing on weight as the water starts to cool, and they’ll chase anything that flies.

What the Pros Say…

Fork in the River

Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

We consulted the experts over at McCall Angler to learn more about guided fishing trips in Southwest Idaho.

“The beauty of guided fly fishing trips is that professional guides work with their guests at their level,” says Reba Brinkman. “It’s important to understand the parameters of each outfitter. Outfitters have designated waters that they are permitted to guide, on certain days, with restrictions, etc.” Visiting anglers should check out Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association to find the right fit for your trip.

McCall Angler offers half- and full-day fly fishing expeditions into the backcountry lakes surrounding McCall. The cool subalpine lakes are chock-full of trout, bass, and musky.

Getting Started

Lower Salmon River

Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

Plan for success and you won’t stress.

  1. Navigating rivers is not for novices. Rivers are dangerous! We recommend hiring a guide or outfitter so you can concentrate on fun.
  2. You’ll need an Idaho Fishing License. The area or species you fish may require access permits or tags, and some waters are restricted to outfitters only. Research before you go!
  3. Know your limits. Your fishing limits, that is. Head to Idaho Fish and Game’s website to check the bag limits and seasonal rules.

Hankering for more adventure? Check out our other fishing guides. We’ve got day trips and local fishing holes galore. Learn more about whitewater life with our guides to Hells Canyon and the Payette River.

Header Photo Credit: Idaho Tourism

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