Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Note - This section of the Salmon River is remote and reached only by aircraft, hiking or horseback.


Healthy Westslope Cutthroat Fishery

While researching this trip, I came across information compiled by U.S. Fish and Game and Idaho Fish and Game showing a range of 100 to 250 Westslope Cutthroat per river mile along much of the Middle Fork. This information dates back to the mid 1990's, but I would assume the numbers to be about right if not higher given the current fishing regulations.


The Middle Fork of the Salmon in the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness

Congress established the Frank Church - River of No Return Wilderness in 1980 by setting aside wild lands totaling 2,361,767 acres - resulting in the largest contiguous National Forest Wilderness in the lower 48 states. The naming stemmed from the main Salmon RIver which was called The River of No Return back in the days when boats rafted downstream, but could not return through the strong current and numerous rapids. And more recently, as a memorial to honor Frank Church for his dedication to preserve a unique and wild place in central Idaho.

The Salmon River Canyon

The Salmon River Canyon is one of the deepest gorges in North America, deeper even than the famous Grand Canyon of the Colorado in Arizona. It turns out, only Hells Canyon on the Snake River is deeper. But unlike the Grand Canyon which isnoted for its sheer walls and towering rock formations, the Salmon River Canyon protrays a variety of landscapes visible from the river. Ranging from wooded ridges rising to the sky, terrific eroded monuments and bluffs, and stark rock towers and solitary crags.

Vast forests of conifers, broken by meadows and dry mountain slopes of sage brush dominate the Wilderness here. Douglas fir and lodgepole pine are the most common. Ponderosa and juniper trees grow at the lower elevations while Engelmann spruce and subapline fir are found at the higher elevations. Wild grasses occupy the tree-less patches at all elevations and some alpine plants grow along the ridge lines. Sagebrush, ninebark, and bearberry are most common at mid and lower elevations.

Early Boatmen of the Salmon River

Captain Harry Guleke who made his whitewater reputation as a sweepboat pilot on the Salmon River is credited with making the first run on the Middle Fork back in the early 1900's. He died in 1944 and left only a verbal report of that epic run he made with a homemade raft. Not a single person who knew Guleke questioned the man's story in which he said, I was sometimes on my raft and sometimes under it.

In 1939, Woodie Hindman, a Eugene, Oregon , boat-builder, made the run in a McKenzie River drift boat of his own design. His wife Ruth served as his crewperson. A year later, Hindman was back on the Middle Fork with other Oregon white-water men including Prince Helfrich, Harold Dobyns, and George Godfrey. They had three boats similar to Hindman's and they all successfully completed the run.

Fishing Regulations

Be certain to obtain an Idaho fishing license and to read and understand the State fishing regulations. For fishing on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River from Boundary Creek to the mouth, note this section has been designated as catch and release requiring a single barbless hook and prohibiting the use of bait. Studies have concluded that these regulations are critical to conserving Westslope cutthroat and have resulted in improved populations of cutthroat trout along most of the Middle Fork.