The River of No Return – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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The River of No Return

Check out Ron’s latest adventure:

Take one off my bucket list . . . my wife, a couple of friends and I floated and fished for 6 days on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area in Idaho. We used a commercial outfitter and took the “all drift boat option” to dry fly fish for westslope cutthroat trout. The outfitter sent the “sweep” boat and rafts with supplies downriver ahead of us to set up camp every day.

It is hard not to mention the spectacular canyon views and the amenities provided by the outfitter that came with this trip, but I will stick with giving you a fishing/river report. Helfrich Outfitters has floated this river since the early 1900’s starting with their great grandfather Prince, who helped pioneer the river. In fact, we had a 4th generation Helfrich rowing one of the specially handcrafted wooden drift boats. They said it was the lowest they had seen the river during the 1st week of July. As with the rivers in our Bozeman, Montana area, the mornings fished well and the afternoon slowed down. We were hoping to hit the golden stone/salmon fly hatch, but it had started early this year due to low water and was pretty much burned off before our float, although there were a few around in the afternoon. We had decent fishing in the mornings with caddis and attractor patterns. There was a good flight of tan moths the cutts keyed in on. In the afternoons I switched to a foam golden stone pattern along with an attractor dry that generated some good action. We got into bigger fish with the golden foam pattern (a version of the Henry’s Fork Golden Stone) and kept it on later on in the trip for the morning fish.

We caught cutthroats that ran from 8 to 14 inches. A 16 inch fish and over was rare this trip, although we did land some. I shared the drift boat with my wife, Kathy, and we averaged hooking and including “missed opportunities,” 30 to 40 fish a day and landing half that many. The guides liked to use the “refloat” technique while fishing tandem dry flies downstream. You would do a pile cast and mend your flies downstream then lift your rod up and move your flies upstream for a 2nd or more drift. This method produced a lot of strikes, especially when you started to skate your flies to change drifting lanes. I did try this method on the Gallatin River the other day along some brushy banks and it worked pretty good. In my opinion, the bigger cutthroats wanted a longer drift cast tight along the boulders and/or cliffs. This made the fishing more challenging and frankly a lot more fun than the refloat method. I can see this method would be very productive when the fish are on the bite which would produce the 50-100 fish days the river is famous for.

I did try to target some bull trout on the deeper lies with my streamer rod without success; however I did catch a 16 inch bull on the golden stone dry fly pattern during the trip.
On the way back home we talked about how this trip rated. I initially rated it an 8 out of 10 due to the slow afternoon fishing and smaller sizes, but after thinking about it a while I changed my rating to a 10. Where else can you cast dry flies all day in a wooden drift boat through a multitude of formidable rapids in one of most remote and spectacular canyons in North America? It is not all about the fishing sometimes, and we forget the venues fly fishing can take you.