100 Best: Snake River, South Fork

Location: Southwest Idaho

Type of stream: Tailwater

Angling methods Fly, Spin

Species: Cutthroat, Browns, Rainbows

Access Limited wading

Season: Year ‘round Supporting

Services: Tackle shops, accommodations along river

Short take: Sad, but you gotta eat them ‘bows

Handicapped access: Yes

Closest TU Chapters: Teton Valley, Snake River Cutthroats

The South Fork of the Snake River rises a few hundred yards west of the Yellowstone River on Wyoming’s Two Ocean Plateau (so called because the former river flows into the Pacific and the latter’s water eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico and ultimately into the Atlantic) in Yellowstone National Park. This upper section flows down through Grand Teton National Park and provides outstanding cutthroat fishing interrupted only by Jackson Lake.

The river fishes well for Yellowstone fine-spotted cutthroat water from the Tetons and down through Jackson before entering Palisades Lake. With the tailwater begins the South Fork’s fame. For the first 14 miles from the dam to Conant, the river runs through the Swan Valley, an increasingly broad floodplain bounded by palisades of basalt. Eagles nest in the tops of cottonwoods; some trees have survived more than three centuries making them among the oldest of the species in the country.

Below Conant, the Snake enters the section called the “Canyon,” but in reality this mileage passes a number of small 300-foot to 400-foot canyons—Dry, Ladder, Black, Bums—before emerging at Byington launch ramp near the town of Poplar. In the canyon, the river is narrower and water deeper. Yet numerous islands divert the flow adding structure that holds fish. Below Byington, the river braids. Channels fork to the left and right and many lead to log jams impassable by drift boat.

Most of us have headed for the South Fork and Henrys Fork in September or October after summer drought has dried the countryside. You owe yourself a visit in May when tufts of arrowhead balsam root blossom yellow among green clumps of sage tinged with the hues of dusk. Yellow headed blackbirds and male western tanagers with their red heads, cavort in the newly verdant willows. Bald eagles and white pelicans ride the thermals and sand hill cranes strut, staking out nests in river-side marsh.


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