Salt River Fishing
There is a little known gem positioned well south of Jackson Hole called the Salt River in Star Valley, Wyoming. In all likelihood, you’ve heard of the Yellowstone River, the Snake River, the Hoback River and the Green River. But, what do you know about the Salt River? The notion that the Salt River is in any way connected with the Great Salt Lake of Utah is purely false. Likewise, the Salt River does not flow through Jackson Hole as some websites might suggest. Let’s take a look at this diamond in the rough and discover its origins, some historical notes and its characteristics. Most importantly we will also disclose what it provides for you as an angler. The Salt River is located on the extreme western flank of Wyoming in Lincoln County. The River originates just below Mount Wagner in the Salt River Range, a structural culmination of the Absaroka–St. Johns geological thrust in the Rocky Mountains.
From Mount Wagner, the river begins its 86 mile serpentine wandering north through the rich green ranch lands of Star Valley. Countless creeks and streams converge with the Salt River along its twisting course which bisects Star Valley. One of these creeks which adjoins the Salt is Stump Creek which flows out of the Caribou Range in Caribou County, Idaho. Exposed salt beds and brine springs drain into Stump Creek in Idaho and subsequently into the Salt River which aptly gives the river its name. These salt deposits were an important resource for trappers, settlers and Native Americans during the 1800’s. The river valley also provided a bountiful harvest of fish, game and fur pelts of beaver, muskrat and other fur bearers. The Salt River Range continues to produce trophy game to this day. Several towns have since been established adjacent to the Salt River such as Smoot, Afton, Etna and Alpine to name a few. It is near Alpine, Wyoming, where you’ll find the confluence of the Salt River, Grey’s River and the Snake River. From here, the Snake River stacks up at the Palisades Dam and fills the beautiful 16,000 acre Palisades Reservoir just over the Wyoming-Idaho border.
The Salt River is generally small throughout its first 30 nomadic miles from Smoot due in large part to agricultural irrigation. Northward near the town of Afton, however, the Salt grows in size and greatly improves in water quality. From here you’ll find quick moving water which is continuously changing direction and carving out excellent holds in the resulting undercut banks. Willows tend to crowd the banks of the Salt River where public access is generous, but the nature of the surrounding flora is not so forgiving for the wading angler. Hence, floating the river with a well seasoned oarsman is going to be the best and most productive approach. And, when it comes to maneuvering a skiff in these types of conditions, I know of no better guide and outfitter than Rendezvous Anglers which can accomplish the task with excellence.
Snake River Cutthroat, Rainbows and German Browns are the resident gamefish species found in the Salt River. Numerous Fine Spotted Snake River Cutthroats make for an exciting day on the Salt. You will find them in the 10-14 inch range with a couple of twenty inch fish stuffing the net definitely not out of the question. Smaller Browns are present throughout the summer months in cold water holes, but they tend to inhabit the deeper cold water of the Palisades Reservoir until fall. Autumn invites the big shouldered lunker Browns upstream from the deep water of the Palisades Reservoir and into the meanderings of the Salt River. Now is the time to break out the streamers or tie on a nymph under an indicator and engage in a battle with some of these ferocious beasts! Autumn also brings the spectacular scenery for which the valley is known and is appropriately named “The Little Switzerland of Wyoming”.
Whichever season you choose to float the Salt, one thing is certain, the Salt River scarcely disappoints and is an exceptional choice because it experiences much less fishing pressure than some of the more prominent fisheries in the region. Spring and Fall offer “cool” days. Now, be advised that those of us who call Wyoming home know that cool is a relative term! Cool to us here in Western Wyoming is often 20-30 degrees or lower. So, come prepared for these “cool” days of autumn where thermal under layers are nearly a must. Summer months are sure to supply a liberal population of mosquitoes, deer flies and high altitude solar radiation. Bug spray and a quality 50 SPF sun block are absolute necessities!
Star Valley is indicative of the true Wyoming lifestyle where mining and ranching is the bread and butter for the people who reside here. It is the perfect niche for you to settle into the laid back western way of life. The Salt River will escort you through the heart of the valley and provide some of the finest trout fishing available in the Rocky Mountain region. What better way to experience all that Wyoming has to offer than drifting along the course of the Salt River, winding through sprawling ranch country with a Snake River Cutthroat, Rainbow or German Brown tugging on your line?
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