Homedale, Idaho • This story isn't about me, but that's where it starts. I am fascinated with floating the Snake River. I guess you can blame it on my inner Huck Finn.
It's Southwest Idaho's lazy river, and it offers some surprises and a fun place to explore.
I've floated many of Idaho's most famous rivers, including the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the Main Salmon, the Selway and Hells Canyon (technically the Snake, but much different).
I love whitewater and remote, rugged, wild country, but I find the Snake in Southwest Idaho interesting because it's so different.
There are no big rapids to speak of (but there are rapids farther upstream), and as I learned the hard way, it barely flows some places.
It's adjacent to Idaho's most populated area, so it's not remote. But it's still mysterious.
I've been exploring different sections of the river for many years, and this summer I decided to float the section between Homedale and Fort Boise west of Parma.
What I didn't do was my homework, which meant my casual float turned into a rowing marathon of about 24 miles to avoid floating in the dark.
The irony is, one reason for my journey was to highlight the "Snake River Water Trail" and the good work done by a coalition of partners to show the recreation opportunities on a 206-mile section of the river in Southwest Idaho and Eastern Oregon.
Had I gone online to snakeriverwatertrail.org and done simple math, I would have known it's 24 miles from the Homedale boat ramp (river mile 416) to the Hexon Road boat ramp (river mile 392).
Instead, I relied on faulty memory, guesstimation and my GPS, which showed a straight line of 15 miles between the two points.
But anyone who's spent time on the Snake knows it's anything but a straight line.
The river meanders, splits around islands, has numerous side channels and canals, and takes its sweet time flowing from point to point.
Despite never straying far from a paved road, the river has some secluded spots that make you feel much farther from civilization than you are, and it has a surprising variety of fish and wildlife.
Add to that camping spots along the way, and you have interesting opportunities to explore without drawing a permit, driving long distances or jockeying for campsites.
In fact, you will likely find more solitude on the Snake than on Idaho's famous wilderness rivers. During the 24-mile float, my father-in-law and I saw two other boaters.
The Snake River Water Trail begins at Three Island Crossing State Park near Glenns Ferry and ends at Farewell Bend State Park in Oregon.
The water trail is divided into 11 reaches, and the website provides information about each reach, including boat ramps, mileage between points, campgrounds, drinking water, restrooms, photos and more.
Because the Snake has a mild climate, it has a long floating season. There's still time to float it this year, and you won't have to deal with punishing summer heat.
Here are some things to know:
IT'S SLOW GOING
My rule of thumb for floating most rivers is the current will carry me about 2 miles an hour. Not so on the Snake.
At times, it can be like a lake, and when you stop rowing, you stop moving.
There's also a constant threat of upstream winds (rarely downstream), which will further hamper your progress.
Plan extra time, or take short sections. For a day float, about 10 miles is plenty. But if you're fishing, plan a shorter float or you can run out of daylight before you reach your destination.
BRING A FISHING ROD
The Snake is chock full of bass, mostly smallmouths, but some largemouths, too. It also has a big catfish population and tons of carp. I've even caught a trout there, but that's a rarity.
The bass aren't picky. I've rarely been skunked fishing on the Snake, but at times I've done a lot of casting to land a few fish.
Fish aren't evenly distributed in the river, and it may take some searching to find them. Remember smallmouths like current, boulders and a cobble bottom. Those aren't the only places, but it's a good place to start.
Where fish congregate also changes with the seasons.
Remember there are no signs (at least that I've seen) that mark the state line between Idaho and Oregon, and the river flows through both states. In some areas, the state line is actually in the river, not the shoreline.
Make sure you have an Oregon license if you're fishing there.
THE WEBSITE DOESN'T SHOW EVERYTHING
That's no knock against the water trail website. It's helpful and has good information. But when I floated from Homedale to Hexon Landing, I discovered there's a private boat ramp at River's Edge RV Park. Had we camped there, we could have shortened our float by about 5 miles.
I also saw an unimproved boat launch beneath the Roswell Road bridge near Adrian, Oregon.
Check maps and Google Earth of the section you're planning to float. You may find more useful details.
One thing I've come to appreciate is the beauty of the Snake River. Although it flows through towns and agriculture land, the riparian area is lush and the river bank is lined with tall trees, thick brush and reeds.
It's a haven for wildlife, especially birds. During our float I saw more birds than I could name, as well as an otter, a beaver and mule deer.
During fall, waterfowl flock to the river by the thousands.
There's lots of development along the river, such as roads, homes, ranches, etc., but also long stretches of river that feel wild and natural.
NAVIGATING CAN BE TRICKY
You'd think floating the Snake would be a matter of pointing the bow downstream and enjoying the scenery, but there's more to it. Pick the wrong side of an island, and you may find yourself in long stretches of weedy, ankle-deep water with little or no current.
There are lots of shallow gravel bars, large rocks beneath the surface that can be difficult to detect, as well as large mats of aquatic vegetation that can foul propellers. Be careful if you are using a motor.
This is a touchy subject because the Snake has a reputation for being polluted, but I've been pleasantly surprised. I've frequently waded it with bare legs during summer, and occasionally fallen into it.
I've never had a rash, itch or other problem associated with polluted water.
That's not to say its reputation is wholly undeserved. I wouldn't drink it, even through a water filter or purifier, so bring plenty of drinking water on your floats.
Idaho and Oregon have health advisories for eating fish caught from the Snake River and its reservoirs because of excess mercury, so if you plan to eat your catch, do some research online.
I've also seen agriculture runoff flowing into the river that looked and smelled nasty. I didn't go near it.
The Snake River is popular with duck hunters and upland bird hunters.
Don't be surprised to hear gun shots during fall. If you see duck hunters on the river (you will probably see their decoys, not them because they're camouflaged), try to give them a wide berth out of courtesy.
IT'S NOT ALL PUBLIC
Respect private property on the shoreline, and some of the islands are also privately owned.
Some of the shoreline and many islands are owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Camping is not allowed on most of those islands.
If you plan to camp at the beginning or end of your float, your best option is designated campgrounds, which you can find information about on the Snake River Trail website.
The original story can be found on the Idaho Statesman's website: http://bit.ly/1DyYpVB