Guide to Dry Flies & Hatches on The Middle Fork of the Salmon River
On Idaho’s Middle Fork we fish almost exclusively for native cutthroat trout. The Middle Fork is famous for dry fly fishing, which is 90% of the experience we offer. Sometimes on our Middle Fork Salmon River fly fishing trips we watch them bullet through the “gin clear” water from leagues below the surface to aggressively strike a surface fly. Other times, particularly with the largest trout in the river, we can only see the strike for an instant while we drift large buoyant terrestrial and attractor patterns through deep, busy currents.
The Middle Fork is a vein of life that meanders northward through the arid, high altitude Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness of central Idaho. The cascade of life begins with the decaying flora and fauna that is flushed over the Idaho Batholith granite into thousands of tributary headwaters of the mainstem of the Middle Fork. These nutrients combine with sunlight to generate a flourish of aquatic and terrestrial life in and around the Middle Fork. This cycle begins in May with the advent of longer days, warmer temperatures, and rising water. One of the greatest things about the Middle Fork is that it’s a freestone river draining vast areas of varying elevations, so each year has unique timing of water flows with daylight cycles. Likewise, the holding waters and the way we fish changes drastically throughout the season; due to the massive change in CFS we are fly fishing an entirely different river in June and July than we will be in September.
Both Aquatic and Terrestrial Bugs
The Middle Fork raises the largest aquatic bugs in May, June, and July during the peak of the spring runoff. In particular, we see stoneflies (Salmonflies, Golden Stoneflies, and Yellow Sally Stoneflies) as well as Caddis and the beginning of terrestrial bugs. As the water drops in July, and the riparian and desert ecosystem starts to dry out, we begin to see a flourish of terrestrial life, mostly in the form of grasshoppers and ants, as well as many other insects such as dragonflies and bees. When the days begin to shorten and water temperatures cool, the trout frantically feed on the final terrestrial feast of the season, which typically ends around mid-October after the first snowfall.
Planning Your Fly Fishing Flies
On the Middle Fork we usually only match a specific hatch if it’s a large-mass insect such as a salmonfly or a spruce moth. For most of the season, cutthroat are responsive to attractor patterns or terrestrial imitators. As for size, we tend to start big (hook size 8, typically) and adjust accordingly to a smaller pattern. The Middle Fork has been a regulated as a catch and release fishery since 1973, and you may only use single barbless hooks. The Middle Fork is quite a steep river, so we are often fishing in fast, deep holding water with a buoyant highly visible fly. Here are some of our favorite flies to use on the Middle Fork:
The Middle Fork all-season box
- Super Stimulator: orange, yellow, royal (size 8 – 12)
- PMX: royal, red (size 10-14)
- Chubby Chernobyl: purple, red, peach (size 8-12)
- Morrish Hopper: peach, red, yellow, tan (size 10-14)
- Super Wulff: royal (size 12)
- Turks Tarantula: tan (size 10)
- Willy’s Ant: red, peach, yellow (size 8-12)
- Kamikaze Salmonfly
- Sofa Pillow
- Bullethead Golden Stone
- Yellow Sally
- Yak Caddis/X Caddis
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Trina’s Attractor
Mid & Late Season
- Super Stimulator: royal, red, yellow
- PMX: red, orange, royal
- Willy’s Ant: Purple, orange, peach
- Chubbie Chernobyl: royal, yellow, peach, purple
- Turks Tarantula: red, tan
- Morrish Hopper
- Shroeder’s Hopper
- Freddy Hopper
- Dave’s Hopper
- Joe’s Hopper
- Spruce Moth
- Light Cahill
- Purple Haze
- Super Wulff
- Para humpy: red, yellow
- Cinnamon Ant
Still have a question about your fly choice?
Reach out to us! Solitude River Trips offer the most comfortable, convenient, and unforgettable wilderness Idaho fly fishing and Salmon River rafting experiences in North America. We are ready to get you out on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River!
Contact us to learn more.