Managing the South Fork of the Snake River

[by Miles Nolte]

FISHING IDAHO’S SOUTH FORK OF THE SNAKE RIVER in the fall is almost cliché. Riotous cottonwoods bleed the season into their leaves; elk trill, mayflies emerge, riffles drop into pools. The scenery in Swan Valley has nothing in common with Las Vegas. But if you’re a gambler, you might consider replacing that Sin City vacation with a trip to the South Fork. Bring a light rod for dry flies and something bigger for streamers. Bring some luck, too. You won’t need it to catch fish—the river will take care of that—but you might win some cash and potentially help save cutthroat trout.

I drove down to the idyllic South Fork Lodge after work on a Friday, arriving in the dark. Dawn found me in a soft bed with a full view of the river. The morning was cold. Mist meandered between the deciduous murals lining each bank—a thinner, slower movement of water molecules hanging above the river itself. What I couldn’t see from my cozy repose under thick blankets were the species jockeying beneath that icy flow, or the management program intended to skew their odds.

As we eased the driftboat from trailer to eddy, the morning chill barely crept through my layers of wool, fleece, and down. I felt detached, like I was wandering through a Thomas Moran print. I thrust my hands into the river in search of clarity. All I found was cold. Rivers, like the fish they house, become abstractions only when we want something from them. Without us, they just flow, and the fish…

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