Middle Fork of the Salmon River – Day 2

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Ron picks this week in July because it has the least chance of rain. It was a perfect, cool morning. I don’t know what elevation we are, but I know the further down river we go, the warmer it gets. Sleeping was great last night. 

Everything is organized (or unorganized) in two waterproof bags with numbers on them, your life jacket and bags having the same number. One is a day bag with rain gear, sunscreen, maybe some meds and a dry shirt. The other is a very large, yellow bag with everything else. Their sleeping bags are very comfortable, but are huge and take up half the bag. I did a fair job of putting my stuff in bags to go inside the big bag, but I brought too much stuff. One bag for clean clothes, one for dirty, a shave kit and one for things I was unlikely to use, like a wetsuit they recommended. It all depends on luck and when you go. Apparently the previous week it rained the whole time and was cold. Just a few weeks ago it snowed!

I woke up at 6:00, which is late for me. It was perfect sleeping, cool with the sound of the river nearby. Our guides take turns getting up early to start the coffee, which is ready between 6:30 and 7. I love to watch how they prepare such great meals. Today it would be potato cakes, pancakes, fruit and sausage. They use a Camp Chef stove with three big burners that is really good.

A small fire is made on a raised grill with chairs gathered all around. There is quiet morning chat as people get their coffee, each with their own schedule. Our job is to pack our bags and take them to the sweep boat along with our orange sleep pads that double for seats in the rafts. 

The sweep boat is an adventure all in itself. It is uniquely guided with huge oars in front and back. It is a larger boat that carries all our bags, the cooking gear, chairs, tables, coolers with some of the food, propane, tents, cook pots, dutch ovens, charcoal, water and many things I’m sure I left out. Suffice it to say it is big and heavy. It is the first boat out and goes directly to camp. How Steven managed to get that thing through all the rapids yesterday is amazing. It was shallow up there. In a week it will be even more difficult. If I get the chance to go again, I will ride the sweep boat and take pictures.

Our guides have a lot of work to do: make coffee, make a fire, gather all the chairs around the fire, make breakfast, wash dishes, clean up, load the sweep boat, take all the tents down, load the other boats and toss the toast. Everything that comes to the river must go out. That means spent charcoal, ashes from the fire and all the poop that went into the groover. There is a new bucket each day, so there will be six of those. Someone has to clean the groover every morning, so all the guides toss toast or pancakes or english muffins at the fire. There is no winner, but one loser the longest distance from the fire. Sometimes that involves measurements. By the time they yell, “Last call for the groover”, it’s almost time to go. Generally, that is about 9:00-9:30.

Today Ron and I got to go in the fishing boat. You can fish from all the boats, but this one has rails so you can stand up and cast. Ron took the front and I took the back. For me, this was the highlight of the trip. Ron is an avid fisherman, and he has been doing it for a long time. He also knows this river very well. He continues to stand at that rail, casting through rapids, holding on with one hand while casting with the other.

He has an unusual casting stroke, that is both easy and powerful. He takes it back outside, then shoots it over the top. Unlike me, he is good at waiting for the rod to load. He can hit the target from 40 yards and get a good drift. As long as it is drifting well, he lets it lay, or as one guide told me, “Let the dog hunt”. 

I thought it was a great morning, and I was very excited. As I remember, Ron said he caught 15 cutthroat. I thought I caught about the same, but we count differently. If Ron doesn’t take the fish off the hook, it is not a catch. I didn’t do it this day, but I did manage it the next. The perfect catch and release for me is to hook the fish, enjoy a nice fight and as the fish gets to the boat, it gets off. 

On this day I had a number of my usual problems – broken tippets and untied knots. It’s not that the fish are big. Most are about 14”, some going 16, but when you catch a fish above a rapid and drag it through the rapid, there is a lot of force. Later Ron would show me the Uniknot, and I would put on a 5 pound fluorocarbon tippet. There would be no more untied knots or broken leaders.

By mid-afternoon we came to a jump-off rock. Mary and Kari climbed right up there, hesitating a bit before jumping. By now it was hot, so I just waded in to take a dip. Then Steven climbed the rock and did a back flip.

Ron and I fished the afternoon, but it slowed  down considerably. There had been two big hatches today, both tiny bugs. I asked Ron what they were and he said, “Doesn’t matter. I can’t tie one on that small anyway.” Exactly!

All-in-all I thought it was a great day. Tristan is a great guide; the water was perfect, clean and pure; the weather was perfect and we caught a good number of fish. Ron, however, said he usually catches 30-35 a day.

  3 comments for “Middle Fork of the Salmon River – Day 2

  1. cowpattymt
    July 28, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Your pictures are captivating

  2. Maureen Marks
    July 28, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks for sharing. The river never disappoints!!

    • July 29, 2020 at 5:37 am

      Wish you guys had been with us Maureen.

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