Snake River, Idaho

Author Bruce Staples casting to visible trout

Clearly this is a regional book. Much of its content, however, can be applied to other areas because the eastern Idaho waters are almost unequaled in variety. Likewise, the diversity of flies that are useful here is almost unequaled, and thus one can find patterns that will be effective (under similar circumstances) in other areas.

This book is also descriptive - I have divided it into two main sections, one overviewing the waters and another discussing popular flies. This approach, I believe, gives the contemplative fly fisher grist for putting together his own fishing experience without burdening him too much with mine.

Planted Grayling from Horseshoe Lake

The overview of area waters is divided into three separate sections - trunk streams, highland drainages, and sink drainages - because each had its own specific characteristics. Each could be a subject of individual attention, but I'll leave that to someone else. You will find that I have omitted descriptions of certain waters. This is because I have not fished all the water available in the area. To do so comprehensibly would take an enjoyable lifetime of fishing.

Consider this book to be an attempt to shed light on an area that has as much to offer as the more storied areas adjacent to it. Also be aware that there is trouble in the form of continuing habitat degradation in this fly fishing paradise. Thus, part of the purpose of this book is to illustrate what we have to lose and to arouse the reader to fight to preserve what is left.

Black Canyon of Bear River above Grace Power Plant

About The Waters

Up to the early nineteenth century the Intermountain Region, of which most of eastern Idado is a part, held vast, unspoiled cold water fisheries in which various strains of cutthroat were a major component. Only the relatively sparse population of Native Americans used this trout population for subsistence without inflicting any serious negative effects on it. This use was adopted by the first white and black men who came here as missionaries or to hunt, trap, or explore in the first few decades of the nineteenth century. Their journals contain many descriptions of catching "salmon trout" by various means to provide table fare. But this use resulted in very little population loss or habitat alteration in the lakes and streams of the area. Thus the vast populations of trout hosted in many of these water remained intact up to the mid nineteenth century - a mere 150 years ago.

Copper Basin's Big Lost River

Settlement of the area and use of land adjacent to waters for agricultural and stock raising purposes initiated the degradation of lakes and streams resulting in the decline of cold water fisheries. In the first few decades after the mid nineteenth century there was little overall effect on trout populations. But in specific locales populations were being seriously impacted by diversion of water for agriculture, and by heavy livestock usage. Such was happening in central Utah where a populations of Bonneville cutthroat trout (containing individuals of massive size) in Utah Lake was becoming extinct, and also in southern Utah where a healthy cutthroat trout population in the Sevier River system was disappearing.

Caddis on the South Fork In eastern Idaho isolated livestock and agricultural activities started in the 1840s. Widespread occupation started in the 1860s with the dispersion of peoples to the Snake River Plain and to the highlands in present day Franklin, Oneida, Caribou and Bear Lake counties. It was a harsh life for these pioneers, and in order to survive, natural resources had to be utilized to the fullest extent. By 1870s impacts the on the cold water fisheries had begun. Vast herds of cattle and sheep ranged along the Lander, Oregon, and California trails, and up the South Fork of the Snake River causing bank erosion and riparian zone destruction, providing a growing threat to the quality of lakes and streams. On the Snake River Plain more and more water was being diverted from streams for agriculture resulting in the loss of both habitat and fish. Settlement of Teton Valley, the Lost River valleys, and the Swan and Grand valleys of the South fork of the Snake River was next. Last came settlement of more remote areas away from the Snake River Plain.

Activities involving livestock and agriculture degraded fisheries in many of these locations. By the turn of the century the overall quality of the fisheries in most of the valleys had been significantly altered. Next, timbering and mining had negative effects, particularly along headwater streams. But the various fisheries still held huge numbers of trout. Shortly after the turn of the century, agricultural needs for surface water increased to the point that another demand was made on area streams - dams to store water for irrigation. The Blackfoot River Reservoir was among the first. It was soon followed by Mackay Reservoir on Big Lost River, Henry's Lake Dam, American Falls Reservoir on the Snake River, Chesterfield Reservoir on the Portneuf River, and Island Park Reservoir on Henry's Fork.  Henry's Fork Downstream from Ashton Dam Dams to provide hydro power to growing populations were also built including Ashton Dam on the lower Henry's Fork, Felt Dam in Teton Canyon, Soda Point, Grace and Oneida dams on the Bear River, and dams on the Snake River to serve Idaho Falls. Later more dams were constructed to store water, provide hydro power, or for flood control. These included Palisades Dam on the South Fork of the Snake River, Ririe Dam on lower Willow Creek, the ill-fated dam on the Teton River, and Gem State Dam on the Snake River below Idaho Falls. All these dams have not had entirely negative impacts on the streams hosting them; however, each has forever changed the stream on which it was built - and more dams are planned for eastern Idaho's rivers.

Henry's Lake Brook Trout

Impacts from agriculture, livestock, mining, hydro power, and timbering have left us with a remnant of the original overall fisheries quality and quantity in eastern Idaho. Thus, within this area one can also find all degrees of quality from pristine to, regrettably, complete despoliation. In certain cases this range of conditions can be found within one stream. In area waters one will still find an unequaled complement of salmonids including the native cutthroat trout and whitefish along with exotic brook trout, brown trout and rainbow trout. Each trout species is widespread and all grow to trophy size. Limited populations of exotic golden trout, mackinaw, grayling and an isolated population of native bull trout can also be found. Anadromous fish are missing - barred from this area, at least in historic times, by Shoshone Falls on the Snake River just upstream of Twin Falls in south central Idaho.

Trunk Streams

Standing on the most southerly and not too lofty Manan Butte one gets a perspective of the trunk stream system of eastern Idaho. Facing east, the South Fork of the Snake River in a verdant fringe is seen flowing almost straight across the plain from its canyon between the Big Hole and Caribou ranges. From its course irrigation canals radiate like branches from the trunk of a tree. On the north horizon one sees Big Bend Ridge through which the Henry's Fork cuts after it gathers its sources in the Island Park area. To the northeast the Henry's Fork, tapped by irrigation canals, turns in slow arcs through the plain to its confluence with the South Fork, almost at ones feet. To the native east Idahoan this is the start of the Snake river. Facing south one sees it flow west around the butte then arc southwesterly into the blue haze of the plain. On it flows through the monotonous flats accepting first the remnants of Willow Creek then those of the Blackfoot River. On through the degraded cottonwood forest above the broad expanse of American Falls Reservoir it courses. Here it pauses and takes in the Portneuf River and numerous spring creeks before plunging more westerly to exit eastern Idaho. For more than a century the trunk streams have supplied life-blood water to agricultural activities, industries, and towns in the Snake River Plain. These activities in turn have had a profound influence on the trunk streams and their trout populations . . .

*Publishers Note: The following waters are covered in detail in this book. Space prohibits covering each of them in detail here.


Trunk Streams:
Snake River
The Henry's Fork
Island Park
South Fork of the Snake River

Highland Drainage:

Warm River Drainage
Falls River Drainage
Teton River Drainage
South Fork Tributaries
Salt River Drainage
Willow Creek Drainage
Blackfoot River Drainage
Portneuf River Drainage
Bear River Drainage
Sinks Drainage:
Camas Creek Drainage
Medicine Lodge Creek Drainage
Birch Creek Drainage
Big Lost River Drainage

About The Flies

Most books that describe fly patterns contain excellent "how to tie" information but they provide the reader little information with respect to usage. This lack of "how to use" information may be of little concern to the expert fly fisher or to the person interested mainly in the art of fly tying, but for the majority of fly fishers at least some usage information is helpful in making choices of flies for specific water types. In the preceding overview of area waters there is general information about the life forms available to trout in each drainage. In the section that follows on popular flies there is additional information and, where I believe appropriate, specific information. By specific information I means that a certain pattern simulates a specific insect which is available as a food form to trout at a specific time or in a specific water location. My intent in doing this is to provide the fly fisher with information for making an essential fly selection but not to deter him from experimenting with pattern usage on his own terms. Experimentation leads to discovery which is one of the joys in fly fishing.

Super Renegades

Ardell Jeppsen's Super Renegade (above) has as many variations as the South Fork of the Snake River has water types. The "Super," as it is known locally, is probably the overall most popular wet attractor used by float fishing anglers on the South Fork. The number of variations is a good measure of its effectiveness.

*Publishers Note: Snake River Country has 32 pages of flies, including color photos of each, the recipe and additional comments on the insect it imitates and where it is fished and how. Space prohibits covering each of them in detail here. However the following fly is representative of the information given for each of the included flies.

Speckled Biot Spinner

Hook:  Tiemco 100 or equivalent, size 16.

Thread: Cream nylon. 6/0

Tail: Four or five still grizzly cock hackle fibers.

Abdomen:  Light tan goose biot.

Thorax:  Light tan dubbing.

Wings: Pair of gray Hungarian Partridge hackles, tied spent.

Bonnie Harrop created her Speckled Biot Spinner in 1987. She proved its effectiveness on the Henry's Fork, and now it is one of the Harrop's most sought after patterns, Bonnie has tied flies for about 20 years, and along with her husband Rene, has experienced the phenomenon that comes to all who produce perfection: demand. This demand is not only for patterns that are effective on the stream but also as art objects. Thus Bonnie and Rene have passed their tying skills on to their children Leslie Harrop Wheeler and Shayne Harrop. Now a tradition of creating superb patterns for specific life forms is emerging in this family from St. Anthony [Idaho].

The spinner is the last stage of life for the adult mayfly, and except for egg laying flights perhaps the least fished by most anglers. After egg laying flights females of many species collapse onto the waters and their wings flatten to the surface as life ebbs away. These are spent spinners and a low, translucent profile makes them difficult to see. Spent spinners lying on the surface move only with the flow of water or by direction of the wind, thus they are easy for trout to eat. This means rewards for the angler encountering trout feeding on a spinner fall. For success in this encounter, which usually occurs early or late in the day, one must use delicate equipment to present a drag free float preferably from above and aside. Concentration is vital; one must be totally aware of the imitation drifting toward the feeding fish. Awareness, of course, is enhanced by nearness. Thus it is those with advanced wading or stalking skills who will most realize the rewards of fishing spent spinners. ~ Bruce Staples

Snake River Country For a MAP of the Snake River Country, click here.
To ORDER Sanke River Country direct from the publisher, click HERE.

Credits: From the Snake River Country, published by Frank Amato Publications. We greatly appreciate use permission.

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