Like all anglers I have my bucket list of place to fish. What describes your bucket list? Is it a certain size of fish? Is it a species? Is it a destination?
For me the bucket list focuses more on destination and type of fish than the size of fish. I am always interested in catching a new species in new waters.
In 2008, unbeknownst to me, I happened to stumble upon a perfect bucket list destination. Two new species: West Slope Cutthroat and Bull Trout. I discovered these two species were found in some of the most stunning scenery and unpressured water I had ever come across. The destination – the Salmon River out of Stanley, Idaho in the Sawtooth Wilderness!
The locals simply refer to this paradise as The Sawtooths. In the heart of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in central Idaho, you are surrounded by more wilderness than anywhere in the continental United States. The 756,000 acres in the Sawtooths are home to 4 mountain ranges, 50 peaks over 10,000 feet, 1000 high mountain lakes, 250 miles of trails and the headwaters for 4 major rivers. The Sawtooths are surrounded by the Salmon - Challis National Forest, Boise National Forest, and the Frank Church Wilderness. Yes, the largest contiguous area of public land in the lower 48.
The Sawtooths have great opportunities for fly fishing for the beginner to the advanced angler. This is one of those destinations that hasn’t made the radar screen for flocks of anglers. Solitude, crystal clear waters and incredible scenery await those with a yearning for adventure. Many days I float the Salmon and I don’t see another boat or road warrior. Yes – solitude. Nothing beats a day on the water when all you see is what Mother Nature has to offer – West Slope Cutthroat, Bull Trout, Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, and Mountain White Fish, all eager to take a dry fly.
The heart of the season is mid-June to Mid-September. The Salmon River is a true freestone river so water levels are a result of the winter snow pack. Early season it is a game of fish taking stone fly imitations – nothing like seeing the slow take of a West Slope Cutthroat on a size 4 stimulator. Mid-season it is a mix of mayflies and caddis. The season ends with the fish looking up for “hoppier” imitations. Idaho Highway 75 follows the Salmon River so access is easy to about 60 miles of water. And, did I say you would only encounter one stop sign along this sixty mile stretch of the Salmon River? That stop sign is in Stanley, Idaho, your home base for any fishing in the Sawtooths.
If your preference is for small streams off the beaten path, there are endless options. Marsh Creek is a classic 1 to 5 mile hike with plenty of spots to fish along the way under the canopy of evergreen trees. Not into hiking too far? Then Bear Valley Creek offers spring creek-like waters in an open meadow about an hour’s drive off the main highway. If you want quick access to a small stream, then Yankee Fork or Valley Creek are great choices.
You’re getting the picture. Plenty of choices to fish and I haven’t even begun to talk about the alpine lake fishing. There is a plethora of high mountain lakes, suffice to say, with days where no angler drops a fly. Sawtooth, Fourth of July, Washington, Alice, Langer, and Collie Lakes are all a day hike, bike ride, or horse ride away from wetting a line and having the fish all to yourself. Once again – the fish seem to always be looking up. If they’re not – then a simple little wooly bugger will entice them to your line.
Now there is nothing wrong with those destinations where all you can do is fish. However, if your vacation buddy isn’t gaga about fly fishing, there are plenty of outdoor activities for them. Hiking or mountain biking on over 250 miles of trails is one of the options, white water rafting or kayaking is another. Not to mention relaxing with a good book and favorite beverage, with the back drop of the Sawtooths in their peripheral vision. The Salmon River Fish Hatchery also features tours of their facility, where you get the chance to view salmon that are migrating up the river to spawning beds all summer long.
If you decide to venture to the Sawtooths there are numerous choices for accommodations in Stanley, Idaho. There are plenty of places for tent or RV camping right on the river. Stanley offers numerous small hotels or vacation home rentals. If you want to be spoiled and off the beaten track, then Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch, a five-star guest ranch, is the ticket. Several great restaurants are located in Stanley, and if you get the chance, don’t miss out on a trip to the Stanley Bakery, known nationally for their great food items. For those fly fishing items you forget to bring, McCoys Tackle shop is centrally located in Stanley, and is also a great place to pick up your Idaho fishing license if you need one.
Stanley is a three hour drive from Boise and a little over an hour drive from SunValley/Ketchum. Regular flights into both Boise and Sun Valley airports are readily available, as well as car rentals.
I hope I have enticed you to add the Sawtooths to your bucket list. If you’re looking for solitude, scenery and good fly fishing – then I know you won’t be disappointed. For me, fishing is about integrating with and being in awe of what Mother Nature offers in her wilderness. That is what you will find in the Sawtooths.