Exploring the South Fork

Rafter on river "Idaho’s gem" is how whitewater enthusiast Alan Hamilton describes the South Fork of the Salmon River. Hamilton should know. In the late 1980’s, Hamilton was one of the first to raft the South Fork, previously only run by daring kayakers. He found some of the best whitewater in Idaho, possibly the world. The 30-mile stretch from the Secesh to the Main Salmon includes several Class IV and V rapids – so many that some still haven’t been named. "It is by far more difficult than any of the other overnight river trips in Idaho," Hamilton says. "There are dozens of Class IV+ rapids." Only expert or advanced boaters should attempt the South Fork, and even they should think twice. "You cannot approach this river with a lackadaisical attitude," says Hamilton.

Trout just caught Besides the whitewater, there is another challenge on the South Fork – landing the monster cutthroat, bull trout and rainbow that thrive in the clear, cold water. Notice we said "landing," not "catching." In low water, 14, 15 and even 18-inch fish readily take a fly or a lure. Because the South Fork is so difficult to access, it’s probably the first time many of these fish have ever seen a hook. "For a novice fisherman like I am, it’s great," says Hamilton. "I can come down here and catch some great big fish."

Over turned raft on river Great fishing and scenery aside, it is the whitewater that attracts Hamilton to the South Fork. It's a river where precision counts – where a missed or late oar stroke can leave a boat piled on the rocks. "You have to be on your mark," says Hamilton. But sometimes, even that’s not enough. On this trip, three boats flipped in Fall Creek rapid – a half-mile long rapid with three big drops. In the final section, the river slams into the left wall, sometimes taking boats along with it. Despite the risk, however, the South Fork is worth the effort. "If a person has the experience, they I’d say you should come down here and try it out," says Ben Reingold. "The fishing and the whitewater are outstanding. But be prepared for any situation – especially the whitewater."

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