The American West is full of big tailwaters. From the Green to the San Juan, trophy trout rivers beckon anglers every season. But the South Fork of the Snake River is different. It’s big and sweeping and, especially for a tailwater, it remains wild and wonderful. And it’s fishy all season long, from the lip of the dam at Palisades Reservoir until it joins the Henry’s Fork near the little town of Menan some 40 miles downstream.
Yellowstone cutthroat trout are the dry-fly warriors of the South Fork. One of two species of fish native to the river (the other is the mountain whitefish), the cutthroats are the fish that made the river famous. Rainbow trout, brown trout and rainbow-cutthroat hybrids also call the river home. From the convenient and exclusive environs of South Fork Lodge, anglers can fish the entire river over the course of a week — from the upper reaches below the dam, down through a maze of braids and channels and then through the notorious canyon reach, the South Fork offers diverse habitat, dependable and prolific hatches and some of the best trout fishing anywhere.
The lodge, operated by renowned angler and entrepreneur Oliver White, delivers unmatched service and no small amount of luxury to its clients. It’s the perfect launching pad for a day on the river, and anglers likely won’t experience the level of service they’ll find at the lodge at any other American destination.
The South Fork's cutthroats are notorious big-bug eaters, starting in late June with one of the most prolific salmonfly hatches in the West, through fall, when big terrestrials stay on the water through the first frost of the season. A hopper-dropper rig is standard on this river when the big bugs are out, but anglers should be ready to switch gears quickly — an epic PMD hatch lasts all summer long, and there are other important bugs that emerge as well, like big Green Drakes after a summer squall. The fall and spring Blue-winged Olive hatches are legendary, and they’re supplemented by a robust March Brown hatch that can show up on blustery days and bring fish to the top.
And the fishing on the South Fork most certainly isn't all about cutthroats. The river’s ninja brown trout will often feed right alongside its cutties during a big hatch—nothing raises your blood pressure like the sight of a head the size of your fist coming out of the water to grab a hapless dry fly stuck in the foam. The bigger browns have earned something of a cult following on the South Fork — they’ll chase streamers in low light or on overcast days when anglers can put big bugs tight to structure. The river also boasts acrobatic rainbows, a growing population of rainbow-cutthroat hybrids and a very healthy population of native mountain whitefish. Don’t turn up your nose at these homely relatives of the Arctic grayling — over the years, they’ve saved many a fishing trip. If nymphing the river’s riffle-and-run stretches is your game, the South Fork can be an astounding “numbers” river for surprisingly big trout and whitefish.
LODGING: Anglers aren’t necessarily luxury mongers, but at South Fork Lodge, they won’t have much of a choice. Large rooms with postcard views of the river boast sturdy, posh beds with down comforters, big bathrooms with walk-in showers and oversized living spaces. The lodge itself is everything you might hope to have in a fishing lodge, and more than you’d ever reasonably expect. The large great room is a great place to gather, and it boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the river. Cozy furniture is lined up perfectly around a natural gas fire pit. The dining area is equally homey, sporting the same view and large, sturdy dining tables and comfortable chairs. And the iconic bar might be the lodge’s crown jewel.
FOOD/DRINK: The lodge’s chef-prepared appetizers and meals are simply wonderful — the food is unmatched anywhere in the region. From traditional southern dinner dishes like fried chicken to a biscuits-and-gravy breakfast, the table fare is a revelation. The lodge’s bar boasts perhaps the best selection of quality whiskey in the West. Put the bartenders to the test — you won’t be disappointed.
CONNECTIVITY: The lodge has dependable WiFi throughout the entire property and it sits within range of dependable cell service. There shouldn’t be any problem staying in touch while you visit.
Once you settle in, you can drop in to the lodge's gorgeous bar for a cold beer or to sample one of the finest Scotch, bourbon, and rye selections you'll find anywhere on the planet. Or, if you need to shake the rust off your cast, head out to the casting pond and stretch your fly line (and possibly hook into a nice cutthroat while you're at it). You can also take your fly rod down to the river right in front of the lodge and get a feel for what's to come by making your first few casts on the South Fork without ever leaving sight of the lodge.
The upper section of the river from just below Palisades Reservoir provides anglers with one of the most scenic floats in the West, and it features the iconic Fall Creek waterfall that’s graced postcards and magazine covers for decades. But you’ll love it for its many side channels and mid-river braids and runs that offer some of the best big-river walk-and-wade fishing for trophy trout anywhere in the country.
From the lodge’s own privately-accessed put-in just a few miles downriver, you’ll float the fabled canyon section of the South Fork. This is big-fish water, where shadows linger over the river, and big browns chase streamers off the bank. This stretch is likely best know during the summer salmonfly hatch, but hatches are prolific all year long. It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit — this float is one of the best in the West.
Hit the lower river, where the bruisers live. Big browns and cutthroats thrive under the blanket hatches of the lower river, where water is a bit warmer and the river’s gathered a bit more flow thanks to several tributaries. You can pick your poison here — nymphs, streamers or dry flies — but the big fish are piscivores. Try something large and articulated if you want to add a trophy trout to your time in Idaho.
By now you've had a chance to sample the river's main offerings. As you you move into the second half of the week, consult with your guide each morning on the plan for the day. Return to your favorite section, or find new water. Love to walk and wade? Hit the braids above the Spring Creek Bridge on the upper river. Are side channels more your style? The lower river near Heise Hot Springs might be just what you're after. Or, maybe the stunning scenery in the canyon and another chance to swing streamers for trophy fish is more your thing. A cold beer by the lodge's outdoor fire pit doesn't sound like a bad plan, either.
- Guided fishing Fully guided drift boat and walk-and-wade fishing
- Lodging Your stay at South Fork Lodge
- Meals Chef-prepared cuisine with southern-inspired flare
- Beverages Alcoholic (beer, wine, and house liquor) and non-alcoholic beverages included
South Fork Lodge is an easy 45-minute drive from Idaho Falls (IDA) airport. The airport in Jackson Hole (JAC) is approximately 90 minutes away. Rental cars are available at both airports or, if you prefer, the lodge can arrange shuttle transport.