Sometimes the only reason to go paddling is to get out on the water and wet a line. Sometimes. Especially if you are in the trout laden waters along the Idaho-Wyoming border and the outdoor mecca of Alpine, Wyoming, just minutes from Jackson Hole and its world- class, next-level recreation. You know what they say: come for the winter, stay for the summer.
Not to be confused with some kind of paddling purist, I embarked on a journey into the unknown with some of the top hunting and fishing journalists in the country, to see if I could learn a thing or two as we rowed, rode, and waded our way around various rivers and creeks in the area. And when it came to angling, despite having fished around the world and tied flies for more than 20 years, boy did these guys school me.
Yes, we were deep in the real West, cowboy country, and we were there to catch fish. To keep things looking first rate and satiate everyone’s need to geek out on gear as much as possible, Cabela’s was there to support our trip with not only their latest offerings in rods and reels, but all the apparel we needed to get wet and stay dry — and to keep from getting bit and burned as much as possible in the wooly high-desert along the border between Idaho and southwest Wyoming. Suffice it to say we were like a bunch of kids on Christmas morning when we arrived in camp. It didn’t take long for everyone to let down their guard and keep the kid vibe rolling for four action-packed days.
And although we might have been clowning in camp, on the water it was all business, as this was a classic Western, trip-of-a-lifetime, three-rivers-three-ways kind of a trip.
Our accommodations were on an idyllically non-luxurious family ranch, bunking in sheep herder chuck-wagon style cabins and cooking outdoors using almost every Camp Chef product you can imagine, from smokers to pizza ovens to skillets and grills.
We even had a crawfish boil one night for good measure. Camp Chef had the forsight to send along two of their best camp cooks, one of whom even brought fresh venison and elk from his personal freezer and cooked for us riverside every day. Yeah, there was not a lot of complaining on this trip, which we dubbed Trout Camp.
Our original plan was to float the Snake River for two days, and do an overnight somewhere along the south fork there, but the water was raging. Our new normal late winters have shifted everything back in recent years, and Brooks Hansen and the rest of the crew were agonizing over water levels on a daily basis leading up to the trip.
So due to high water, we opted for the more meandering Salt River, near Afton, Wyoming, still only a stone’s throw from camp by Wyoming standards. And although it was running pretty strong, we had a relatively productive day, seems like everybody caught at least one, thanks to the boat handling skills of our guides from Pioneer Anglers. The day was highlighted by the most incredible riverside venison street tacos you could ever imagine. Even a vegan would have eaten these things, trust me.
The high-pressure Camp Chef Everest Stove was light enough to toss in a drift boat to enjoy a hot meal on the river, from tacos to Elk burgers to grilled cheese, je ne sais quoi.
We then took to foot and horseback for the next few days to explore the diversity of the area’s watershed, venturing into southeastern Idaho and several tributaries to the Snake River, where you can fish for cutthroat working their way up the streams to spawn — which we timed perfectly. These guys were pulling out lunkers from holes I wouldn’t even have thought to fish, throwing big streamers with shocking accuracy and finesse. Their knowledge of ecology, migration, terrain and conservation gave me a renewed respect for the modern sportsman.
Riding horses into the Idaho wilderness is one of the coolest and most efficient ways to access streams most visitors to the area will never even see. You can go to this region and stay on extremely fancy dude ranches and fish a lot of private waters, but one of the best things about this particular trip is that we were on almost entirely public lands (only excepting where the Salt River winds its way through private property). Hiring a local guide is always a huge bonus, but definitely not necessary. And because the area is so rich in public lands, and the weather is so good in the summer, you have a lot of options for camping.
–Paddling Life senior editor Aaron H. Bible is an adventure travel journalist and gear abuser based in Nederland, Colorado. Follow his journey on Instagram at @definitelywild.