In this week’s post I’ll share our experience finishing our fall fly fishing road trip.

First Snow along Highway 20 |

If you are a regular here at RiverKeeper Flies, you might have noticed I combined an Images post with a fishing one last week. I really struggled with cell service in the Owyhee canyon and working on posts in very remote locations. I couldn’t get access to the Internet and my website and when I did, the speeds were SO SLOW I gave up.

I asked you where to go fish if you had a couple of weeks and I received several suggestions, both from Comments and via email, about where they would fish. These included:

  • Henry’s Fork – Mahogany mayflies
  • Madison River in Yellowstone – fall runners
  • $3 Bridge on Madison
  • St Joe
  • Lochsa
  • Firehole in Yellowstone
  • Rivers in Alberta, Canada
  • Yakima
  • Methow

All were wonderful ideas and I wanted to thank those of you who provided Comments. I have fished all of them except the Alberta, Canada rivers. I must say, Alberta was on the list for this year, but the terrible forest fires in Canada made me take that trip off the list.

As I mentioned in my previous posts, we didn’t have a plan. In fact, we asked ourselves on a couple of occasions, “should we turn left or right?” Honestly, that’s how we found ourselves at Leslie Gulch and the Owyhee River.

And I’m so happy we did. The scenery was outstanding. I enjoyed capturing the changing light on the rocks in the evening and morning hours.

I must say, this was my favorite image.

Leslie Gulch Road thru Rocks |

Once leaving Leslie Gulch, we spent two nights and three days fishing the river below Owyhee Dam.

Upon our arrival the first afternoon/evening, we were able to find a run along the road with rising fish.

Fishing on Owyhee River |

I had a small Compara Spinner on from my last fishing on the Metolius and decided to try it for a few casts. I think it was the second cast to a rising fish when I hooked up! You wouldn’t believe how many times we’ve used this technique. Just use the last fly you fished, even if it’s a different river or lake and see what happens. I think you might be surprised!

We ended up landing 8 to 10 fish each in this spot and missed several other fish. I observed #22-24 tricos and light colored mayflies. We used #18 -20 Sparkle Dun PMDs and SLS (slight color variation) with great success.

By the time we drove upstream to find a spot to camp, the wind picked up over 20 mph, which meant there wouldn’t be any insects floating down the river. The wind would blow them away, plus I don’t enjoy casting my line in 20+ mph wind!

I fished the next morning with a couple of nymphs. I can hear you laughing now!! You know I almost always fish dry flies in the summer. But it was cold in the morning hours and I knew fish wouldn’t be rising for quite a while. Besides, the wind was expected to blow again.

I fished a slot from previous trips and used a Euro nymph setup. I tied on one of my Pheasant Tail Perdigon as the point fly and #18 Higa’s SOS off the tippet ring. The fish didn’t like it, so I changed the top fly to a #18 $3 Dip. That fly was the ticket as I hooked four very nice fish, landing two. (For more information on this setup, go to my Fishing with Nymphs During Winter Months post.)

Look closely and you’ll see the $3 Dip in the lip of this Brown Trout.

And that wind I mentioned? It continued to blow all day long.

The next day we drove downriver to see if we could find any rising fish. While not intending to fish the same run, we found the fish rising again and decided to cast to them. They were still willing. This time the fish were eager to eat Mahogany mayflies, either a #16 Sparkle Dun or a RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple.

It was the middle of the afternoon and time for a shower while the sun was still out. I found a gravel bar surrounded by bushes away from the road and pulled out our Zodi portable propane shower. It’s compact and works so well!

While I waited my turn, I walked over to look at the river and to my surprise I found rising trout!  I couldn’t leave without giving it a try (after a shower of course), and a couple of hours later and chose to 20 fish, I called it quits. There were a variety of insects floating by, tricos, BWOs, PMDs, and a few Mahagony mayflies. I had the most success with a #18 Improved Sparkle Dun, because I could see the wing easier when a fish rose to my fly.

It was too late to begin traveling to a new location, but we drove out of the canyon for cell coverage to check any messages and weather report. It was getting dark and we needed a flat spot to sleep, so back to the lower river for the night.

We left early the next morning with a couple of ideas where we might go next. 

I was looking forward to trying the Madison River, MT because we always have memorable times fishing the $3 Bridge section. The only question was which direction to drive.

We discussed a couple option:

  • Highway 20 to Idaho Falls and continuing north on Hwy 20 past the Henry’s Fork.
  • Highway 20, turning towards Ketchum, Sun Valley on Hwy 75, connecting to Hwy 93 at Challis and through Stanley and Salmon to Chief Joseph pass. Then choose whether to continue on Hwy 93 to fish the Bitterroot or turn east on Hwy 43 to Wisdom and the Big Hole river.

Well, the weather report helped make our decision for us. Turning on to Hwy 20 at Mountain Home, ID we saw our first snow of the season on the mountains. We discussed turning off Hwy 20 at Arco and taking Hwy 93, bypassing what we thought might be a potential for snow from Sun Valley to Stanley.

That plan changed too as we continued our drive and noticed more snow in the mountains the closer we got to Arco.

First Snow along Highway 20 |

We turned on Hwy 93 to find a camping spot for the night a few miles from Arco. The snow was close to us and it made our decision as to direction the next day.

Henry’s Fork

Driving north on Hwy 20 takes you right past the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. How could we not stop here and see if we could find a few rising fish!

Notice the surge of almost 100 cfs the day we arrived?

Henry's Fork 9-17 to 23, 2023 |

In my experience this action would put the fish down. That and the wind. Did I mention the wind?

Here we are in Herriman Ranch, waiting to find rising fish.

We only observed a couple of fish rising, one two times and another once. It’s tough to fish for them when they only rise …

We weren’t the only ones waiting for the fish to show themselves. This heron waited patiently too.

Heron on Henry's Fork |

I was encouraged when I found these PMDs floating in the current around the billboard in Last Chance. They were quite small, either size 18 or 20.

Henry's Fork PMD |

This image is of a Baetis, I’d guess size 18.

Henry's Fork BWO |

All was not lost because I captured a couple very nice mayflies floating by in the water. But we spent a lot of time watching the water for only a handful of rises. And most of those were small fish close to shore.

I had a couple of rises using a #20 Almost There Baetis in cream to imitate the small PMDs floating by, but didn’t hook any fish.

Needless to say, it was very slow fishing for us and we decided to move on.

The weather report for West Yellowstone and Cameron, MT area showed a few days of low 70 degrees, then dropping to the mid-50s and rain.

Another change of plans…

Firehole River

How about driving into Yellowstone National Park for the afternoon, staying late in hopes of viewing some wildlife?

I thought we might be lucky and find a rising fish on the Firehole River.

We stopped at a couple of spots and pulled out the chairs to enjoy the warm autumn day, but never observed a fish rising.

I found several dragonflies along the woody debris in the water eating small insects.

Dragonfly along Firehole River |

After leaving the Firehole, we drove back through Madison Junction and only found one lonely bison. We were hoping to see elk in the meadow.

It wasn’t meant to be.

Madison River

The reason we entered Yellowstone National Park the day before was because of the 20 to 30 mph winds on the Madison.

$3 Bridge on Madison - Late September |

The day we arrived, the forecast was for high winds again.

Our plan was to fish the $3 Bridge area, walking the river trail and fishing areas where we found success in previous trips.

While the river was lower than our July trip, it was certainly fishable.

Madison River 9-20 to 26, 2023 |
Madison River in September |

Turns out the smart fly fishers were nymphing. Dancingtrout had one fish rise to her fly, but that was it. The wind continued to blow and the forecast was for continued wind and then a drop in temperature, so we decided to head west.

I should note I wasn’t feeling well again, a bad head cold stayed with me the last week of our trip.

We drove through Ennis, MT and planned to camp along the Big Hole River, where we might fish or continue on and fish the Bitterroot.

We stopped at Fish Trap on the Big Hole River, and I observed three fish rising, but didn’t feel well and decided not to fish.

It was time to head home.

The next day, we continued our travels through Wisdom on the way to Chief Joseph Pass. Rather than turning right to the Bitterroot Valley, we turned left and drove through Salmon and Stanley, taking highway Hwy 21 (Ponderosa Fire Scenic Route) to Boise and I 84 to Ontario where highway 20 took us home to Sisters.

And now we are back home, after traveling 2,304 miles. I’m looking forward to the rising fish on my home waters.

While the fishing wasn’t to our expectations, the scenic routes we traveled more than made up for it.

Enjoy…go fish!

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One Comment

  1. Hey John,
    Please repeat your now famous line several times over……..”Turns out the smart fly fishers were nymphing.”
    I can’t believe you said this! ………… :-))

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