Finding Yourself in the Rugged & Beautiful Frank Church Wilderness
Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness area and the Sawtooth Mountains is certainly one of the most secluded and rugged regions in the lower 48. Carving its way directly through the center of this wilderness area is the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The class three and four rapids, abundant wildlife, and typically crystal-clear waters make this one of the most treasured multi-night camping float trips available anywhere in the western U.S. On a typical Middle Fork trip you will float for roughly 100 miles through an ancient granite rock canyon utilizing classic McKenzie-style drift boats. This fishery has been managed by the state of Idaho as a catch and release fishery since 1973, making it one of the best fisheries in the northwest for both numbers of fish and for consistently good action on a dry fly. If you are someone who loves to throw dry flies and are seeking a fully-outfitted, wild, multi-day float trip, then this trip is a must!
When you arrive in the river camp at the end of each day, two-person tents are already pitched, camp is set up, and your gear is waiting for you. Each tent is equipped with two large raised cots with inflatable mattresses. (Each guest brings their own pillows and sleeping bags.) A large “sweep boat” crewed by camp hands will race down the river ahead of you each day to ensure that camp is ready and set up after your full day of guided fishing. Because the Frank Church is a protected wilderness area, all waste must be carried out of camp, and the staff does a wonderful job of keeping things tidy and clean. A pitch-tent toilet is provided at each camp, and showers are available twice during the five-day excursion. There are also a couple of hot springs along the way that offers a chance for a hot “wilderness shower” or bath. The guides and camp team work together incredibly well to provide a comfortable setting in this remote and wild area.
Food and Beverages
All meals are all freshly prepared from scratch. Whether cooked over coals in a Dutch oven or slowly roasted over juniper coals on an open fire, all the entrees are uniquely prepared and delicious. Appetizers, snacks and drinks are abundant and always available. Each morning you can expect fresh coffee, Dutch oven pastries and fresh fruit to compliment a hearty breakfast. During your fishing day, all of the boats typically gather for a lunch buffet of freshly prepared salads, sandwich makings, chips, cookies and cold beverages. Dinners range from seared ahi tuna to homemade Dutch oven lasagna. Big steaks, lamb chops and salmon are also some of the other main dishes at dinner, and halfway through the trip you might even enjoy ice cream for desert. You will definitely not go hungry on this trip. The outfitter can accommodate any specific meal requirements, and all food is served in a healthy and sanitary manner. Cocktail ice and plenty of cooler space is provided as well.
Typical Length of Stay
There are only seven launch dates between early-June and mid-August, so booking well in advance is extremely important. All camp trips are five (5) nights with nearly six (6) full days on the water. You will need to arrive in Stanley, Idaho the night prior to your launch date. On the morning of the launch, you will then either depart with the guides for a one-hour drive from town or fly in to meet the crew (depending on water levels). In the event that a flight is needed to get to the launch site, there is an additional charge of $120.00 per person. This call is typically made well in advance of the launch. Please contact Yellow Dog for details and specific launch date availability.
Non-Angling Activities and Options
Just having the opportunity to float this wild and scenic river is the real value of this wilderness trip. Non-anglers are welcomed, and there is a non-fishing rate available as well. The outfitter and guides are deeply knowledgeable of the history of the area, the geology of the canyon, and the importance of protecting this resource. The Sheep Eater Native American tribes were indigenous to this territory and were one of the last wild, free-roaming tribes to capitulate to the military. You will see evidence of them in the stories of their pictographs that still remain vividly drawn on the canyon walls. The river itself carving through the decomposing ancient granite canyons provides a meditative and relaxing rhythm to your vacation. Taking in the dramatic scenery is always appreciated by anglers and non-anglers alike. Between the rugged landscapes, wildflowers, bighorn sheep, deer, river otters, and the occasional mountain goats, the photography opportunities are endless. If you are a bird watching enthusiast, you have the opportunity to observe killdeer, ospreys, belted kingfishers, common mergansers, water ouzel, red-tailed hawks, golden eagle, bald eagles, grouse, chukar and great horned owls. The entire river and most of the six tributaries offer easy hiking trails for those seeking to stretch their legs. Three natural hot springs located on the river rejuvenate your soul and provide a hot rinse. The guides will customize your day to accomplish the activities you wish to experience. We cannot convey to you how outstanding the guides and staff are on this trip.
Internet / Communications
There is no internet or cell reception while in the canyon. The hotel in Stanley has WI-FI and good cell reception, but that ends once you hit the river canyon. The outfitter does carry a satellite phone for emergencies.
How To Get There
The closest major airport to Stanley, Idaho (where your trip originates) is Boise, Idaho. You must plan on arriving into Boise before 2:00 PM to make the afternoon connecting flight to Stanley, Idaho with Sawtooth Flying Service. The round trip cost of the air charter is $375.00 per person. If you cannot get into Boise by 2:00 PM to make the charter, you will need to either stay in Boise the night before or rent a car and make the three-hour drive to Stanley. Other destination airports that are also options for renting a car and driving include Idaho Falls, Idaho (3.5 hours), Missoula, Montana (5 hours) or Bozeman, Montana (6 hours). After taking out after your week on the Middle Fork, you are about six hours from Boise. Shuttle arrangements can be made for your car by the outfitter on the evening prior to launch if needed. For $110.00 your car can be shuttled from Stanley to North Fork (for those traveling to Montana) or to Salmon (for those traveling to Idaho Falls or Boise) to avoid going all the way back to Stanley.
Arrival and Departure Details/ Times
The night before launching for your river trip, we recommend that you spend the night in Stanley, Idaho at the Mountain Village Resort. The rooms are around $100.00 for double occupancy (not included in the package). The outfitter will block off rooms for your group, but you must call at least two weeks prior to your launch to book the room. You will have a meet-and-greet outfitter meeting this evening at 6:00 PM to discuss all details prior to launch. There is a great bar and quality restaurant next to your room as well as free WI-FI. You may pick up any last-minute items at the Riverware store (which is well-stocked with camping goods and a liquor store). There is also a grocery store across the street.
Day 1 – Arrive at Stanley, Idaho and overnight at the Mountain Village Resort. Meet-and-greet outfitter meeting at 6:00 PM at the River 1 Store. The outfitter does have dry bags if needed. Dinner and drinks at the Mountain Village Resort or the Casino Club (not included in the package). Buy all alcoholic beverages across the street from the resort.
Day 2 – Meet at 8:00 AM in the parking lot of the resort. In the early season, you will drive to the Boundary Creek boat launch, which is a 30 mile (1.5 hours) drive from Stanley. Your car can be shuttled downstream to the take out for $110. Later in the season (or if water levels are low), you will fly into Indian Creek airstrip 25 miles downstream from Boundary Creek. This avoids the large rapids at the top of the river. If you must fly in the beautiful flight is only 20 minutes and an additional $120.00 (not included in the package). Your car would then be shuttled from Stanley to the take out. All your gear will fly with you. Full day of fishing and camping on the Middle Fork of the Salmon!
Day 2 – 6 – Full days of guided fishing, with continued overnight camping and all meals on the river. This is a total of five (5) nights on the river and guided fishing each day!
Day 7 – Float the last section of the Middle Fork to the confluence of the Salmon River. This last morning will provide some of the most exciting rapids on the river. You can expect to be at the take out between 11:00 AM and 12:00 PM. A bus will be waiting for the group with fresh pizza for lunch. This bus will then drive you back to your shuttled vehicle in either North Fork or Salmon, or take you all the way to Stanley.
An Idaho Fishing License is required for anyone 14 years and older. A six-day license is $36.50 and can be purchased online (https://id.outdoorcentral.us) or in Stanley the night before you depart for the river. You will need a driver’s license or state ID to obtain a fishing license.
Yellow Dog works directly with and recommends Kanna Travel. They can assist with airline tickets, hotels, transfers and all travel logistics for every destination that we offer. Contact them at 855-739-3139 or [email protected] for more details on airfare ticketing, travel services, and trip insurance.
You will find this fishery to be very straight-forward. Typically, you throw a big dry fly close to the bank and you catch fish. The first of six trip launch dates is around June 9th each season, and this is salmon fly time! Even though the water is still high, trout are looking up for these large insects that hatch in abundance. As the water levels recede throughout the early to mid-summer, golden stones, caddis, PMDs, terrestrials, and nocturnal stones make up the majority of the trout’s diet. You will fine pure-strain West Slope cutthroat, rainbows (believed to be juvenile wild steelhead), and a few cutbow hybrid trout. The river does have bull trout as well, and a few squawfish are caught occasionally. There is also a protected run of wild steelhead and Chinook Salmon that come into the river later in the summer. Anglers are not allowed to legally target the bull trout, steelhead, and salmon on the Middle Fork, although these fish are occasionally caught when fishing for trout.
The average trout on the river is between 10 and 14 inches, and an 18-inch fish is a trophy for these waters. Since you must cover between 15 and 20 river miles each day, the guides row aggressively to the best trout water, which usually consists of slower runs and pools that are typically found after the turbulent rapids. There are other boaters on the river, but most people that float this river are white water enthusiasts, so the fish are always rested and overall experience very little pressure. This makes for ideal dry fly action for anglers of all levels. This is a strong option for beginners and families with younger anglers, and 20 to 40 fish days are not uncommon. A four or five weight rod with a floating line is absolutely perfect for the river. The fish are not overly-picky, so high floating foam and heavily dressed dry flies and attractor patterns are the most popular fly designs. All fish must be released immediately, as this has been a catch and release river since 1973. This regulation promises healthy fish stocks for your trip and for future generations.
Each guided boat has two anglers that take turns fishing from the boat, as only one angler can fish from the bow of the boat at a time. Both guests sit towards the bow on a padded bench seat – a set up that is designed for safety in the whitewater stretches. There is also plenty of productive wade fishing water to hit during the course of your daily float and the guides are open to spending some time out of the boat and wade fishing. Camp each evening is always situated near great trout water, so you may also wade fish in the mornings around breakfast and each evening. Getting enough “fishing time” is never an issue on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River! There are six main tributaries that fish well along the way that are also good wade options to compliment your drift fishing. These include the Rapid River, Indian Creek, Pistol, Loon, Camus and Big Creek. If the main river does become off-color or dirty after a substantial rain – which is very, very rare during the summer months – these tributaries clear quickly and can provide excellent small stream fishing. The main river also typically clears quickly in the summer months after a storm.
Boats and Equipment
The modern-day drift boat designs used throughout the U.S. West originated from the wooden McKenzie style boats used by this outfitter on this river. These boats were developed in the 1940s by Woody Heinman with the help of Prince Helfrich, who is the grandfather of Jeff Helfrich (the outfitter of Tighlines Fishing). In fact, one of the guides personally built three of the beautiful wooden boats you will be fishing from during your trip. Each boat offers plenty of storage for your fishing tackle and gear, an ice-filled cooler for beverages and snacks, folding chairs for breaks and lunch, and throw bags, life vests, and first aid kits. Since the outfitter utilizes sweeper and swamp boats to haul all the gear and food between camps, the guide boats are very light and empty – ideal for holding in the most productive fish water, and for easily maneuvering the rapids. The outfitter can also utilize rafts for larger groups, families, and non-anglers. The swampers will set up your tent and cot for you at each camp and will haul your dry bags with all of your clothing and bedding each day up to camp and back to the sweeper boat as well. A full kitchen and large dining table are set up each evening for your comfort, allowing you to sit back, relax, or wade fish at each camp.
Remember that Yellow Dog’s services are completely free! When you book a trip with Yellow Dog, you never pay more than when you book directly with the outfitter.
2020 & 2021 Pricing
$3,500.00 per person (based on at least 2 anglers)
2020 Trip Dates
June 9 – 14 (full)
June 18 – 23 (full)
July 5 – 10 (full)
July 13 – 18 (full)
July 21 – 26 (full)
August 6 – 11 (full)
August 14 – 19 (full)
Sept 17 – 22
2021 Trip Dates
June 9 – 14 (full)
June 18 – 23 (full)
July 5 – 10 (full)
July 13 – 18 (full)
July 21 – 26 (full)
August 6 – 11
August 14 – 19
– Shuttle from Stanley to the Boundary Creek launch site (if the water is high enough)
– (5.5) days of guided fishing (2 anglers per drift boat)
– (5) nights of outfitted camping (2 per tent)
– All camping accommodations (tent, cots, and air mattresses)
– All meals, non-alcoholic beverages, beer, and dinner wine
– Rod/reel, flies, tackle
– River usage fees
– Bus transfer after the trip back to either Salmon, Idaho or North Fork, Idaho
– Transportation to Stanley, Idaho
– Hotel and meals in Stanley for the night before the trip
– Cost of charter flight into Indian Creek (if needed due to low water)
– Fishing licenses
– Sleeping bag (can be provided upon request in advance)
– Liquor and any other specialty drinks or mixers (BYO)
– Shuttle costs for your rental/personal vehicle to either Salmon, Idaho or North Fork, Idaho
– Gratuities for outfitting crew
– Hotel, meals, etc on day the trip ends