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Fly Fishing the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Watching a wild trout torpedo from its invisible haunts far below, charge for the surface in a flash, and aggressively steal your large dry fly out into the swift current of the Middle Fork is one of the greatest experiences an outdoor sportsman can have. Over the course of 100 miles, we drift from pool to pool, eddy to eddy, and deep seam to deep seam, descending over 3000’ in elevation while trout fishing in Idaho on the wild Middle Fork. 

Thanks to Idaho’s early use of catch & release regulations, and the rugged nature of the river canyon, the Middle Fork remains one of the rarest and most prolific wild trout habitats in North America. In addition to the sheer majesty of floating through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, an important part of the wilderness designation for us as sportsmen is that an enormous Idaho trout habitat has been managed under a single conservation plan for decades. The consistent current, aerating rapids, and cold-water spring sources make the Middle Fork a dry fly fisherman’s trout paradise for four months out of the year.

On a 6-day trip fly fishing the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, you can catch hundreds of trout without needing a single subsurface fly. The Middle Fork has arguably some of the best trout fishing in Idaho. Starting in late June, we focus on large-bodied aquatic patterns such as salmon flies, golden stoneflies, and yellow sallies. As the water drops and the riparian habitat dries out, we transition to the huge terrestrial biomass that feeds the aquatic ecosystem until the snows come in October. Learn more below about the Idaho trout you will catch while experiencing guided salmon river fly fishing with Solitude River Trips

cutthroat trout idaho


Native Westslope Cutthroat Trout

The most prolific species of fish in the Middle Fork is the Westslope Cutthroat Trout. There is no section of the river, from the highest tributaries all the way to the deepest pools in the Impassable Canyon, that doesn’t hold cutties. The average maximum size of a Middle Fork cutthroat is 16”, with the very rare extreme max size of 20”+.

Idaho cutthroat trout spawn in May and June when the runoff is at its peak which allows them to reach the high-elevation spawning grounds in over a hundred tributaries of the Middle Fork. Middle Fork trout will commonly migrate over 80 miles from their winter habitat in the deeper downstream sections of the river to their spring spawning grounds, and back to the mainstem during the summer. Some of the larger cutties will migrate over 150 miles every year. This Idaho trout is guaranteed to eat your fly while fishing the Middle Fork of the Salmon River


cutthroat trout idaho

Native Rainbow Trout and Cut-Bow Hybrids

The second most populous trout in the Middle Fork is the wild rainbow trout, which is also a native species to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. While the native Westslope cutthroat has been naturally cut off from their anadromous cousin (the sea-run cutthroat trout), the rainbow trout is still actively participating in its glorious evolutionary dance with its anadromous counterpart, the steelhead, on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

The aggressive nature of the Idaho cutthroat trout makes it the dominant trout species of the Middle Fork, which is why these are almost always the largest fish we see while trout fishing in Idaho. However, rainbows can fight just as hard as cutthroats and are often just as inclined to strike on the surface. 

Since both cutthroat and rainbows have spawned during springtime for thousands of years, a natural segregation occurs which includes another native Idaho trout, the rainbow cutthroat hybrid. Cut-bows tend to be smaller and more docile than the pure cutthroat or the rainbow.

best trout fishing in idaho
stone fly on middle fork of the salmon river

Native Bull Trout

Bull trout are a unique non-anadromous hybrid of the Dolly Varden (now extinct on the Middle Fork), which is a type of char salmon. They are easily identified by their unmistakable fluorescent pink and yellow spots, large dorsal fin, and large predatory mouth. Due to their elusive habitats, and ability to outgrow most other trout species in their habitat, catching a bull trout carries a unique challenge among many fly fishermen.

Bull trout lead a predominantly subsurface lifestyle, although on the Middle Fork we experience a midsummer time period, often when the water is starting to warm up around early August, that bull trout will feed aggressively on the surface for 2-3 weeks. It’s very hard to target bull trout, and in fact illegal due to their federally endangered status. The most common time to see bull trout is when it attacks a yearling cutthroat, or a small hybrid cut-bow, on your line while fishing the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

Salmon River fly fishing guide

Mountain Whitefish

The Mountain Whitefish is another native species to the Middle Fork. The symbiotic link between the Whitefish and trout is not completely understood, but it is known that they both play a role in the health of the other species. In a healthy cold-water habitat with plenty of food, such as the Middle Fork, when whitefish species decline so do trout species, and vice versa. We typically catch whitefish at the tail end of large pools, or on a subsurface fly or a drowned surface fly.

mist falls lunch while fly fishing middle fork of the salmon river

Anadromous Species

The Middle Fork is the most prolific spawning habitat in the entire Colombia watershed and is a crucial conservation habitat for the highly endangered species which once fed the prolific biodiversity of the entire Pacific Northwest. Chinook Salmon and Steelhead are both present in the Middle Fork. There is no fishing season for the epically important and historic species, but it’s not uncommon to see them working their spawning redds during late summer.

Whitewater Rafting Salmon River
fishing middle fork of the salmon river drift boat

REMINDER: Idaho Fish & Game has had strict, all-year catch and release regulations for the Middle Fork of the Salmon since 1973.  Statistically one of every ten released trout will die, but this mortality rate is much higher when the fish is held out of the water. We use tools and methods that allow us to remove the hook without taking the fish from the water. Wild fish are special, please fish accordingly while trout fishing in Idaho.

Rafting Middle Fork Salmon River


Fly Fishing Middle Fork Salmon River with Solitude River Trips

Solitude River Trips offer the most comfortable, convenient, and unforgettable wilderness Middle Fork Salmon River fly fishing and Idaho whitewater rafting experiences in North America. We are ready to get you out on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River! Our 6-day trips are designed to provide families, friends, lovers, or solo travelers with the most unforgettable and high-quality adventure vacation of their lives. Learn more about our trips or use the form below to contact us with any questions.



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