My Mad Idaho Adventure

I’m just back from a grand adventure. I towed my raft from the SF Bay Area to Idaho and drifted the S. Fork Snake River from Palisades Creek to Byington, covering ~37 miles of river over three days/two nights, camping along the way, with two other anglers/friends (John and Mark).

The trip ticks many boxes on the “epic adventure” checklist:

  • ~1900 miles of road covered
  • Drove through 3 Western States
  • ~37 miles of river covered
  • New, renowned river fished

This sort of adventure has long legs… the stories will persist from here on until my memory fades. Things I saw, things I did, the conversations, the friendships deepened, the fishing… I’ll carry it with me for a long, long time. I love these epic adventures, be it a trip to East End Lodge to pursue bonefish in calf-deep Bahamian flats, or rowing a legendary Western river in search of giant cutthroat and browns.

To be clear, this trip really was madness. This fact started to come into focus about mile 4 when the immensity of the task ahead started to sharpen. I had rowed about 4 miles in the previous year and somehow I thought “Sure, I’ll row 27 miles… nah, make it 37.” I mean… what was I thinking? I did it… and we didn’t die… so, I COULD do it… but there were certainly times I was questioning my sanity. It felt like I bit off more than I could chew, but I didn’t choke on any of it and we made it safely down the river. My hands are a bit swollen and I have a few blisters, but that’s a small price to pay for what we got.

The craft that took us down the river, on the kit trailer that somehow survived the trip.

I had never fished the Snake and I’m unsure if I’d ever even seen it in person before. I had been thinking about it ever since I got the raft (Outcast PAC 1300), but it was a conversation with guide Kris Kennedy that pushed me to do it. From there, it went fairly fast as I collected gear, put the crew together and planned the route. Before I knew it was was pushing off and the river currents were taking us down river.

The way you have something in your head never maps totally to the experience and there is a certain danger in high expectations.

Our first day on the river was rough as we were figuring things out. We just weren’t fishing this great water very well and I’m sure if we went with a guide we would have all had fish-weary arms, but that isn’t how it shook out. We got to camp having covered 15 miles in a monster first day and we had very, very few fish between us. At camp I managed a couple more, including a nice brown I took a bit after the sun went down that was crushing salmon flies about two inches off the bank. That was a little shard of what I thought we’d be doing the whole time.

John’s Brown

Day two was a canyon day where we saw, roughly, 9 billion eagles. If you threw a rock in the canyon section there was a not-small-probability you’d hit an eagle. We saw both Balds and Goldens and they were with us the whole way.

We had our best fishing of the trip on this day, but it was also much different that what I expected. What I thought we’d have was consistently decent fishing along the drift, but what we actually had were a few spots where we got out of the raft and had great fishing in small spots/slots/buckets. We never really put it together in the raft as I think we had conflicting ideas about what was going to be effective and just needed more time to gel as a crew. Out of the boat though, we could throw what and how we wanted and that worked.

So, our productive water went from 37 miles to a hundred yards. That, I think, isn’t how it is supposed to fish, but that’s how it worked for us. That hundred yards was pretty cool.

We ran into the tail end of the salmon flies on the Snake and that was… fun. At one point there were so many of the big stones out there they were dropping from the trees and bushes onto the water where the trout awaited and any cast up along the bank stood a good chance of an orca-like attack. We called one spot Salmon Fly Alley and made a fair number of memories there.

The third day the weight of ~13 miles to cover, how exhausted I was, how little sleep I’d had, the drive ahead of us all looked like a lot and we decided we’d push through a lot of the water, pick our spots and get off the river early. That’s what we did and managed to pull into the Byington boat ramp about 3:00 in the afternoon and John and I managed to get almost 600 miles down the road by the time we pulled into a Super 8 for the night.

Of course, as we closed the trip out I felt like I was just starting to understand a bit of how the river fished, where to find the fish, how to get us where we needed to be. Takes some time for things to come together, but time and the river don’t really wait.

I learned a lot and I’m a better angler now than when I set off from home. My horizons are just that much broader and I have a few more tools in my tool box.

I encourage you all to get out there, wherever out there is for you… Bahamas, Belize, Christmas Island, Montana, Yellowstone, Wyoming, Idaho, Louisiana, Florida… wherever it is you have lodged in your head that keeps tickling your thoughts. Do the thing. Take the trip. Make the memories. In the end, that’s all we really have.

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  1. Well done!

  2. Jeffrey Johnson

    What kind of trailer kit did you use to make the trailer? looks good

  3. bonefishbjorn

    It is an Ultra Tow. I built a frame on top of it. It has worked really well, so far at least.

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