By: Andy Marks
It’s 390 miles from my house to Salmon, ID, a 6 hr drive.
It’s 70 miles from Salmon, ID to the Corn Crk campground at the end of the Salmon River Rd or FR30.
On Nov 4, 2020, I drove to Salmon, ID, and bought a box lunch at 12:30 then drove north, eating lunch at Camden Bridge, where in 1805 Lewis & Clark camped to decide if they should risk rafting what was eventually known as “River of No Return”. Spoiler alert: when shown the canyon walls beyond Panther Creek, and told downriver they were as vertical as the trunks of the surrounding trees, they took a pass.
I finished my lunch, slipped through the brush, and examined the Salmon river as it coursed through the area. I left my gear broken down and drove north, stopping at the “Red Rock” public access point. As I set up my Redington Chromer Spey rod and OPST shooting head line, a game warden pulled up. I asked if he needed to see my license but he declined. I moved to the bank, and launched a series of double spey casts. The ranger was intrigued, and told me two steelhead were caught downriver that morning at the “Fourth of July”access area. He said I would have no trouble reaching all the water there, and that my 5 IPS tip would work the holes well. He suggested a list of places downriver I should see on my trip, Panther Crk and the Middle Fork confluence among them.
The canyon was getting dark around 4, but I caught up with the ranger at the “Fourth of July” and looked it over. I was excited to fish it the next day. I drove back to Salmon, checked into my motel, got dinner at Burger King, and crashed. I was up early on the 5th, and was determined to drive to the end of the Salmon River Rd, then fish upriver from there. I put small tubs of PB & J and two bread slices in a ziploc bag in my pocket from the breakfast bar, then got breakfast at BK and ate it on my way. I turned on to FR30 at North Fork, ID and continued downriver.
The river and canyon are beautiful, but public access wasn’t exactly clear. I picked a spot I very much wanted to fish, but had no idea if I had already trespassed checking it out. A bald eagle and a group of Mergansers beat me to it. I read the plaque placed where Clark had seen enough and returned to Lewis and the Corps of Discovery way upstream. The river looked formidable, hard to imagine floating it with a handmade boat circa 1803.
It was hunting season, as I soon discovered, so a dozen bighorns were relaxing among houses and trailers. I was about a mile past the Middle Fork confluence, with a steep slope to my right and its continuation to the river on my left. A message appeared: Low Tire Pressure, front left, 20%. I processed that and began a 20 point turn on the narrow road. The tire was flat, Volt comes with neither spare nor jack, and I left cell coverage 60 miles earlier: Downriver without a paddle. I would be lying if I said, “What? Me panic?”
A crew cab stopped and disgorged three hunters ½ my age, asking, “Need help?”. I agreed. The driver said, “I have a satellite phone, a compressor, and a tire plug kit: we’re prepared.” That jogged my memory. I had a compressor and a tire plug kit. I had used the former, but only seen a mechanic use the latter. I shared that info with him. He then said, “Okay, we’ll get to that, but first… Did you see the guy by the river? How do you think he got there?” I hadn’t noticed anyone, but looked upriver and saw what he was talking about.
There was a 50-something guy river left, standing on a boulder a foot above River of No Return, at the bottom of a boulder field extending to the canyon rim. He wore a white t-shirt, shorts (possibly boxers), and unbuckled galoshes. He looked dejected at 9 am on 5Nov20, and stood there with a spinning rod dangling off the boulder. I think he spent the night. No way he “bouldered” his way in. No way he came down the slope. No way he swam there. How did he get there? After several seconds the image of someone buried to his neck in an ant hill came to mind. He appeared to have been judged, found lacking and left to perish according to old-timey law. Perhaps a skilled jet boat operator made him walk a plank? Maybe a guide, tired of abuse? The awkward thing was, we couldn’t help him: He was across RONR. The crew cab driver seemed like an upstanding citizen, I hope he called in an extraction.
Conversation returned to the flat tire. The hunter and I located a ⅝” hole. He showed me how to plug it, said his worst flat took three plugs, wished me well, and after I turned down a spiced anchovy, they headed toward Corn Crk on 10-ply LT tires. I inserted two more plugs, and began inching my way out. Each time I stopped (cued by a high pitch hiss and pih-touey) to repatch the hole, more hunters offered help. I ate a PB&J at some point. Five hours and 13 plugs later I reached North Fork, made a call to AAA on the diner’s landline, ordered a burrito and a coke, and waited for a flatbed to haul me back to town. Les Schwab had tires, and by 9 I was in my motel, having Spey casted 2 hours the day before.
I left town around 6. Maybe 90 minutes out I saw a lump in the road. As I got closer, two magpies abandoned a dead deer. About ½ mile further I saw an abandoned Mazda 6 with a wrecked front end on the shoulder. I slowed down. A blown tire, or hitting a deer, can mess you up.
I’ll try steelhead fly fishing another time: It’s too soon.
Andy Marks: I’m 65, I live in UT, fish in UT, in WY, Yellowstone, and ID. I’ve been fly fishing for 2 ½ years, I have 15 fly rods and 3 Tenkara rods and since I’ve used the latter I haven’t touched the former. LMK if this is close to what you want.