March-early April. Steelhead fishing in the Salmon area. Fishermen stay in a motel, go out for the day in drift boats. Propane heaters in the boats take the edge off chilly mornings. Geese and ducks are mating, flying up and down the river, beginning to nest in late March. River temperatures climb from low 30s into the high 40s. In early April steelhead begin to develop spawning beds, most of them move upstream beyond the Salmon area, bald eagles leave, ospreys arrive, days warm up enough that snowmelt dirties the river and steelhead fishing winds down. Elk drop antlers.
Mid April-mid May. The river warms to around 50 degrees, begins to rise from snowmelt and carries associated sediment. Bears come out. Grass begins to green at the lower elevations, flowers bloom, big game moves to lower elevation for the first green grass. Trees leaf out in mid April. This is the time of greatest sense of wilderness in the back country. There are some nice sunny days in the 70s, and some chilly drizzle. We can do multi-day river trips in the back country, on all three roadless sections--the Middle Fork, Main, and Lower Salmon River. The Middle Fork requires flying in to a back-country airstrip to start a trip, since the road to Boundary Creek is still snow-blocked.
Mid-May to mid-June. The Salmon River rises to a peak of runoff, usually the end of May or the beginning of June, and may be too high for safety. The road into Boundary Creek melts out so Middle Fork River Rafting trips can begin as soon as the river subsides to a safe level. Deer, elk, and antelope migrate to summer range and then drop their young. Wildflowers are at peak of bloom, depending on elevation.
Mid-late June. Summer season begins. Snowmelt is past the peak, allowing the Salmon River to drop and begin to warm. The Salmon river is still high, providing maximum whitewater on the Middle Fork--though river temperature is chilly, around 50 degrees. The Middle Fork is still too high for best fishing unless it is a low-water year. The Main Salmon River is high but runnable. The Lower Salmon River is typically too high for our standards.
July-August. We have Idaho rafting trips going on both the Middle Fork of the Salmon and Main Salmon River. The river continues to drop and warm. By mid-summer, the Main will reach the low 70s, and the Middle Fork the mid-60s. Fishing on the Middle Fork of the Salmon improves. The river level drops until the upper part of the Middle Fork becomes impractical to float, and we fly our trips in to a riverside airstrip to start our trips. On an average year, this begins about the first of August. Decreasing flows don’t affect the Main Salmon as much; the rapids become more defined, and the quality of the whitewater, if anything, improves. As the river drops, the sandbar camps on the Main emerge. Days are very warm, and kids are busy with swimming and beach activities. Day temperatures on the Lower Salmon are high enough that we do not schedule trips there until late August.
September. Salmon River Rafting Trips slow. The first snow hits the peaks of the continental divide above timberline. We sometimes have an early September Main Salmon River trip, or a Middle Fork of the Salmon river trip. At an elevation of only a thousand feet, the Lower Salmon becomes a very nice river float trip as the weather cools. While upstream trips can be chilly, it is still warm on the Lower Salmon, though much cooler and more pleasant than mid-summer. Even at the end of September, temperatures can reach the 80s. Sandbars are large, the river still warm enough for swimming, good fishing for smallmouth bass, few people on the river. I begin to dry boats and tents to put away for the winter, and start going through equipment. Ospreys leave for the winter.
October. Steelhead reach the Lower Salmon. Weather is usually clear the first half of October, and still pleasant for camping at that elevation. We schedule a couple of 5-day trips for steelhead fishing and chukar hunting the first half of October, then usually put away the camp gear. In late October we offer a multi-day trip for steelhead on the Main, but we stay in lodges instead of camping. By the 15th or 20th of October steelhead arrive in the Salmon area, and we begin day trip fishing. Cottonwoods along the river reach the peak of color between the 22 and 25th of October; leaves fall around Halloween. In mid-month deer and elk begin to return from summer range, bald eagles arrive for the winter. The snow pack for next summer's river flow is beginning at higher elevation.
November. Steelhead fishing continues until ice begins to flow, often in mid-November. The leaves have fallen, trees are bare. Elk and deer are on winter range. Bighorn sheep slam heads on the river road. By late November there is snow on the valley floor. Mallards begin to arrive for the winter. The Salmon River begins to freeze. I go to my desk and meetings.
Winter: late November, December, January, February. Ice begins to flow down the river in mid to late November, though not every day. We can fish for steelhead in the Salmon area throughout the winter on mild days, weather permitting. The snow pack builds. I spend my time at the desk working with the next season’s schedule, going to meetings, etc.--and keeping the woodbox full. The ice pack in the river begins to break up in late February-early March.