Below Hells Canyon Dam, Idaho's massive Snake River boils and churns for 80 miles through the deepest rock gorge on the continent. Up wild canyons on both the Oregon and Idaho sides, mule deer bucks grow gigantic racks - yet they're rarely molested by more than the constant babble of rock-hopping chukars. Higher up in ridgetop timber are elk, black bears, and whitetail deer.
At the roadless junction of these two rivers, the lower Salmon flows down from Whitebird through one of the least-visited gorges in Idaho. River depths here are filled with rainbows, smallmouth bass, seasonal steelhead and chinook salmon, plus giant white sturgeon reaching 300 pounds and more! Unhunted forest grouse and chukar flocks teem on the slopes above.
Besides their wildness and untapped wealth of game and fish, these three remote regions have one thing in common: they're all easily fished and hunted in comparative comfort by modern jet boat.
Jetboating the Canyons
Whether you start from upriver or down, these shallow-draft aquatic powerhouses can take you to some of the best fishing, upland bird shooting, and big game hunting in Idaho - then scoot you safely home right on schedule.
If you already own a jetboat, you've probably visited one or more of the above locations - or any of several other remote river stretches scattered around Idaho. Additional examples of good river jetboating in Idaho include the Panhandle's cutthroat-filled Kootenai, the massive glide of the lower Pend Oreille, the kokanee-red Clark Fork above Pend Oreille Lake, the heavily forested St. Joe and St. Maries flowing down from Montana, the little-known Teton near Yellowstone Park, and some hard-to-reach stretches of the Clearwater above Lewiston where giant "B-run" steelhead mingle with resident trout and smallmouth bass.
Commercial jetboat operators are located on all these rivers and offer all sorts of guided jetboat trips, upriver and down.
How about a comfortable sightseeing tour of lower Hells Canyon? Just check with any of the popular jetboat services in Lewiston via the Chamber of Commerce (208-743-3531). Single and multi-day camping trips up the canyon are available here, as are guided steelhead and sturgeon expeditions. The lower Canyon's great whitetail, mule deer, and chukar hunting (and its fishing) can be accessed even more cheaply by unguided multi-day "drop camp" arrangements.
From the Whitebird area, it's just a short jetboat ride into the Lower Salmon gorge for steelhead, sturgeon, chukars, deer, and elk. This little-known section of the Salmon offers fishing, hunting, and rock-gorge scenery comparable to more remote Hells Canyon over the Salmon/Snake divide. Yet, until powerful jetboats came along, you couldn't float downstream from Whitebird without coming out over rugged backroads or far downstream in the Lewiston area. You can zip in and out of this wild canyon with ease. Alternatively, you can enjoy a novel jetboat/raft/horseback combo trip here by checking out the Salmon River Chamber of Commerce Website, or call them (208-628-3778).
From Riggins, several jetboat operators take clients upstream into the very heart of the Salmon's "River of No Return" Wilderness. Once arrived, you can take your choice of plush wilderness-ranch lodging for elk, deer, bear, and steelhead; guided pack-train expeditions for the same species; single or multi-day guided "backtrolling" trips for sea-run steelhead; or various drop-camp arrangements where you'll be fishing, hunting, hiking, and packing out wilderness trophies to and from river's edge - all on your own. For more information, call the Riggins Chamber of Commerce (208-628-3778 - same as above).
If you'd rather jetboat into this same region from upriver, comparable services and wilderness sports are offered in and near Salmon, Idaho. For current fishing and boating info check with the Salmon-Challis Chamber of Commerce: 208-756-2100.
Besides the above backcountry regions, many shorter stretches of Idaho rivers are fairly inaccessible except by jetboat. The bass-and-catfish-loaded Snake River from C. J. Strike Reservoir to Brownlee headwaters can be boated with standard propcraft - but the place is so riddled with shallow sandbars that you'd better take lots of shearpins! Between C. J. Strike and Twin Falls are lots of beautiful pools loaded with trout, catfish, smallmouths, and sturgeon - but some pools are separated by shallow rapids tough to negotiate with prop motors. For a well-piloted shallow-draft jetboat, scooting up and down the Snake's erratic current here is a snap.
Not only can powerful jetboats take you into and out of the state's wildest rivers where trophy fish and game hide. These craft can roar at high speeds over mere inches of frothing white water - upstream! They can dramatically "hold place" in the very heart of sheer-walled rapids while passengers scan the cliffs above for browsing deer, elk, sheep, and goats.
For steelhead anglers fond of backtrolling Hot Shotstm; jetboats can glide effortlessly all day back and forth over gravelly pool tailouts where migrating steelies typically hold. And they can do all this while clients stay warm, dry, and safe in a closed canopy-cabin redolent with perking coffee.
If you want to experience the best of Idaho's wild river-canyon hunting and fishing while literally "floating" in secure comfort and luxury, take a jetboat!
USA Today article by Roger Petterson, AP writer