North Fork Salmon River, Idaho

We’ve heard many accounts of the wonderful steelhead fishing on Idaho’s Salmon River. We’ve drooled over our friend’s photos of huge fish caught as winter begins to loosen its icy grip of the river. We needed to learn more. So when we were getting ready to leave the Green River in Wyoming, we decided to scout the Salmon before heading to the West Fork of the Bitterroot. It would be fun to get in a little trout fishing in Central Idaho.

Information is scarce online about summer fishing near Salmon, Idaho. We did find a fly shop listed online, the Salmon River Fly Box, and knew it would be our first stop.

The Lemhi River

The route took us through the Birch Brook drainage and then the Lemhi River Valley. Just beautiful country. We located some fishing accesses along the Lemhi and decided to pull in and check out the water.

The Lemhi is a cold, babbling trout stream that passes through private ranchlands. The fishing accesses were nice, often with campsites. The stream itself is small and brush-lined. This would be a challenge to try to fish with two seldom-behaved Brittanys.

One thing that struck us, at every fishing access, there was no one there on a sunny Sunday afternoon. No one fishing and no one camped in any site on the Lemhi. How strange.

Fly Fishing the North Fork of the Salmon River

The Lemhi flows into the Salmon River in Salmon, Idaho. Here we picked up Route 93 north towards North Fork and the Wagonhammer Campground, our destination for the next 3 nights.

After passing a couple of angler-less fishing accesses, I had the sinking feeling I had made a mistake. After arriving at Wagonhammer and walking to the river, I was certain of my mistake. The river was very warm, no trout rose for the Caddis and Pale Evening Duns coming off.

The trip the next morning to the fly shop confirmed my suspicions but also gave us a great tip – fish the cold feeder streams.  And the North Fork of the Salmon was the top pick.

Access to the River

There is only one state fishing access on the North Fork of the Salmon and that is at the confluence of the main stem in the tiny village of North Fork. Signs lead you behind a small strip motel to a boat launch and access point. The North Fork flows in adjacent to the boat launch providing a shot of cold water to the main river. Fishing here proved productive each night by fishing the tributary and the main river for cutthroat, whitefish, and squaw fish.

North Fork of the Salmon River Fishing Access

Fishing Access where the North Fork Joins the Salmon River

Native Cutthroat Trout Caught in near the North Fork of the Salmon River

Tim and Belle with a Cutthroat Trout

The Northern Tributary to the Salmon River

The small North Fork is born near Lost Trail Pass – the height of land which divides Montana and Idaho. The stream tumbles out of the elevations in a tree-covered course that follows Route 93. It passes through National Forest and private lands.

Access to the North Fork

From North Fork to Gibsonville, access to the river can be had in places where the river runs the road or at bridge crossings. There are a couple of bridge crossings on roads that lead to the wilderness or fire towers.

North of Gibsonville we found a couple of turn-outs on the north-bound side that was once the original roadbed. These spots proved perfect for access to the river and safe for the pups to be tied out.

I stepped into the water and knew immediately there would be trout here – wow, was that water cold!

Catching small trout in that tumbling creek brought back my fondest childhood memories of small brookies in New Hampshire streams. How can so many years pass that fast?

North Fork, Idaho Map

Photos – Fly Fishing the North Fork of the Salmon River

North Fork Salmon River Cutthroat Trout

Juvenile North Fork Cutthroat

The North Fork As It Passes Under Highway 93

The North Fork As It Passes Under Highway 93

Catching Native Cutthroat Trout on the North Fork

Perfect Stream For a 2 Weight or Tenkara

Idaho Native Trout

Delicate Idaho Rainbow Trout

North Fork Salmon River Road Sign

Highway 93 North of Gibbonsville, Idaho

Caddis with a dropper to catch native trout

Fooled This One With A Caddis Dry with a Dropper

If You Go

There are a few things you need to know. Cell service is non-existent. WiFi offered at North Fork lodging and camping establishments is provided by satellite. And it’s terrible. If you are tethered to the internet or your phone, select a place to stay in Salmon.

There is MUCH more to the area than fishing. Keep reading – I have fallen in love with the Salmon River, and you will too. I cannot wait to come back for a steelhead trip.

Water wheel on the North Fork of the Salmon River

Frank Church Wilderness and the River of No Return

After a morning of catching small West Slope Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout, we decided to do a little sightseeing. The camp host suggested driving out the Shoup Road.

The Shoup Road leads into the 2.3 million acres Frank Church Wilderness and the River of No Return. I HIGHLY recommend taking this scenic drive.

Here the Salmon is known as the River of No Return as it courses its way through the tight canyon leaving the Shoup Road and all of civilization behind. There is no upstream return trip. The river travels 84 miles through the US’s second deepest canyon. A popular float trip, the journey takes 5 or 6 days to complete.

Pictographs, Mining Camps, and History

The Shoup Road follows the Salmon River closely. We were pleasantly surprised to find that when the pavement ended in the old mining town of Shoup, the gravel road was in very good condition and travel was easy.

Along the way, wildlife was abundant. Bighorn sheep with their babies, mule deer, and blue grouse with chicks watched with curiosity as we passed. Remains of abandoned mining camps tell a story of a bygone era while an excavated site frequented by Sheep Eater Indian for more than 8000 years tells its story with pictographs.

As we drive, trucks with rafts shuttle visitors while families bath in the river on the occasional sandy beach. We pass a larger tributary, Panther Creek, and we wonder how far we have driven. More than 30 miles. As I study the map, I am delighted to see we are just a few miles from the confluence of the Middle Fork of the Salmon. 104 miles in length, this Wild and Scenic River is only accessed by raft in spring and summer. Just wow.

While I wouldn’t consider this trip a great fly fishing trip, I am so glad we came and got a feel for the river and the landscape. If you find yourself near Salmon, Idaho in the heat of summer, fish the small North Fork and take the Shoup Road. Time well spent!

Rafting the Salmon River in Idaho

Rafting the Salmon River

The River of No Return

The River of No Return – Frank Church Wilderness

Pictographs along the Salmon River in Idaho

Pictographs Along The Salmon River

Flies to Try on the North Fork

We fished the North Fork on very hot days in early August. We found success with:

  • Small Hoppers
  • Elk Hair Caddis
  • CDC Caddis
  • Small Beadhead Pheasant Tails
  • Red Copper Johns

The juvenile cutthroat and rainbows are opportunistic so matching the hatch is not necessary.

Places To Stay, Eat, and Shop

Salmon River Looking South From Wagonhammer

Salmon River Looking South From Wagonhammer

The Salmon River Near Wagonhammer

The Salmon River Near Wagonhammer

Shoup Store in Idaho

Shoup, Idaho

Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Middle Fork of the Salmon River

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