Thursday, February 28, 2013

Salmon River Ice Circle Photo Story

The Salmon River Ice Circle photo is fast becoming famous.  The Ice Circle photo began circulating recently on Facebook, mostly via the account "Planet Earth Phenomena."  In just a few days, The Ice Circle photo has been shared over 4,450 times, liked  over 3500 times and received almost 300 comments.  
It also appears those who've shared the photo have likewise had many shares originating from their own Facebook accounts.  In other words, The Salmon River Ice Circle photo is "going viral." One glance at the photo brings to mind all the classic questions: "Who, What, Where When, Why and How?"

First things first--the "WHO." The Salmon River Ice Circle Photo was taken in December 2009 by Gary Lane and is Copyright 2010 by Gary Lane.  Gary and his wife, Barb, are the owners of Wapiti River Guides in Riggins, Idaho.  Unfortunately, many of the copies of the photo are now circulating without Gary's photo credit and copyright.  Barb has been working tirelessly to attempt to set the record straight and was successful in getting Planet Earth Phenomena to add the credit and copyright.

We became quite curious about The Salmon River Ice Circle photo on February 26th for two reasons:

  • A) We have always wanted to know the story behind the photo and 
  • B) We sensed there was a problem with unattributed use of the photo.  

Even though this ice circle was located far from our coverage area, the iconic picture struck a nerve with all those of us who know and love Ice Country Rivers, most especially The Salmon River.  As we suspected, the story behind this picture and the photographer turned out to be quite fascinating.

Gary Lane grew up in Oregon with a natural born curiosity about the natural world.  After he earned his professional wildlife habitat management credentials, Gary's ancestral urge for adventure led him to learn kayaking under the tutelage of Legendary Late Dr. Walt Blackadar and then become a River Guide with the famed Martin Litton's Grand Canyon Dories.  Being a lifelong independent adventurer, Gary struck out as his own outfitter over 30 years ago, long before the dawn of today's commercial river running industry.  

Barb and Gary
Gary long ago noticed and began seeking out circular ice patterns in Salmon River eddies.  

Here's his story: "Since I've been in Riggins since 1981, I've been paying attention to the river, and my first photos of ice circles were probably 35 mm and super 8 movie, now ancient. But, I will never forget the first time I discovered these natural phenomenon, as yet another mysterious trick of nature that lured my rapt attention.  And like true magic (there is an explanation for things, though we might not see it) wanting to know how the trick is performed is always an allure.  It also reaffirmed my appreciation for the wonderful mysteries that our natural world is so richly full of. I may have had to grab some duct tape to re-attach my lower jaw to my face, when my eyes discovered that very first ice circle... is how I remember my very first impression."

As far as the now famous Salmon River Ice Circle photo, Gary notes, "I believe I was heading upriver to go chukar hunting in early December 2009 when I first saw it. It was so beautiful, unusual, and temporary, with an easy place to stop (from the road I was driving) that it was too good not to take a photo of."

Although the now famous Salmon River Ice Circle is Gary's best know such photo, he has many more.  A slide show of some of them appears later in this article.

Gary keeps a close eye on the eddies that are perennial winter favorites to spawn ice circles both through regular river visits and also through his favorite off-season pastime--chukar hunting.  No matter how many times Gary visits The Salmon River he feels, "the same river really isn’t the same, as every corner and horizon-line is always a new story and epic event waiting to happen."

Gary can wax both poetic and scientific about how ice circles form.  In one explanation he says,  "Each winter is different, some seasons having more than one period of break-up, as the process of freezing and thawing may repeat itself. But it is during these time frames when the beautiful ice “rosettes” are formed. They usually occur in the sections of river where there are large re-circulating eddies. The circularity of the motion, during the melting process, cause various sized islands, roundish in shape, to calve off. They continue to spin in the eddy, until other chunks of ice coming down river bump into them. Then more ice is added and they get bigger, or they get cast into the main current, float downriver, and break up as they crash into various path-laden obstacles."

In yet another more philosophical explanation, Gary observes, "Everything in the world is round. Even photos of ice circles  (rosettes) go round and round. Here's my long version of how ice rosettes form:  It takes the round and round of an eddy to form an ice circle.  As water swirls around in a circle, gravity  eventually brings everything to the center.  As chunks of ice begin floating downriver and getting trapped in an eddy, they eventually collide, hook together, and spin around continuously adding size.  If the freeze continues long enough, the ice circle will be as large as the eddy itself, and will eventually attach with shore and/or create  ice bridges which in turn  capture more ice and soon the entire river may freeze up. 

The ice circles then form again, when warming begins to melt things, and the process is reversed.  Detaching from shore and area where the  main current melts faster, the circle is again formed. It either then melts, and/or gets pushed out far enough to engage with large bergs of ice free floating downstream that collides and begins to chunk away at the island of round ice.

In a nutshell – it is all about  physics. Bottomline. When 23 yr old Newton observed an apple falling from a tree, he wondered if the moon also fell. It led him to the most important discovery of the universe and the calculus of motion: gravity. Indeed, the moon is constantly falling towards earth due to the force of gravity. So the same force that is at work as the moon orbits earth and planets go around the sun, helps explain the basics of origin for ice circles."

After learning about Gary Lane, we've concluded he is the Perfect Guy to be out and about chasing Salmon River Ice Circles.  The story behind his now famous Salmon River Ice Circle photo reminds us of some lyrics from Creedence Clearwater revival's 1969 "Proud Mary" by John Fogerty:

Big wheel keep on turnin'
Proud Mary keep on burnin'
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river

If you come down to the river
Bet you gonna find some people who live
You don't have to worry 'cause if you got no money
People on the river are happy to give

Below is a slide show we made of some of Gary's other circular ice photos with captions.  
Here are some links to learn more about Gary & Barb:

To read more about Gary Lane's personal fascination with "All Things Ice," please click "Read The Rest" at left.

Boat Ramps Cleared

Pam Martinez enjoys an idyllic Blue Bird Day steelhead fishing on the wide open Salmon River.
Photo by Brian Martinez and provided courtesy of the North Fork Fly Co.
IDFG Salmon Region Access Coordinator Greg Painter said today at 1:47 pm, "All the boat ramps between Salmon and North Fork will be cleared of ice by this afternoon.  The river channel appears to be open almost to the Newland Ranch Site below the Village at North Fork.  I would caution any boaters that there may still be some blockage and more may occur as the ice breaks from the banks and floats downriver."

Meanwhile, Tam Ambrose at The Village of North Fork reported the IDFG front loader was clearing the North Fork boat ramp at 1:30 pm.

Three Steelhead Photos

 Cody Martinez used an egg fly pattern to take this steelhead above Shoup Bridge earlier this month.  Photo by Brian Martinez and provided courtesy of North Fork Fly Co.
 Here's Braden Martinez with another great fish taken with an egg fly pattern above Shoup Bridge earlier this month.  Photo by Brian Martinez and provided courtesy of North Fork Fly Co.
Typical early "Spring" steelhead fishing conditions for Stan Sweeney and dog Harper on The Salmon River above Shoup Bridge this month. Photo by Cody Martinez and provided courtesy of North Fork Fly Co.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

All eyes on Deadwater Ice Jam

There's been an ever-so-slight change in ice conditions at the North Fork's confluence. 
Locals, visiting fishermen and this website's readers are all asking the same question: 
"When's The Deadwater Jam going to bust loose?"  Speculation varies widely.  
The average date of the Deadwater breakup is said to be February 25th.  
The cold winter extended the Deadwater jam farther upriver than normal.  
The photo above was taken this morning, Wednesday, February 27th.  
The photo below was taken Monday morning, February 25th.
Note that the front edge of this portion of the jam is beginning to break.  
When river ice breaks up, it's a dramatic moment in the river's annual cycle.  
For eager steelhead fishermen it can't come soon enough!
Today's photos are by Brian Martinez.  Monday photos are by George Ambrose.
 All photos are provided courtesy of The Village At North Fork.

 Above is today's view looking downriver from the North Fork Boat Ramp.
Below is Monday's view from the same vantage point.
There's definitely a noticeable difference in just two days.
Note the partially buried picnic table for reference.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Village At North Fork Steelhead Report


The Village At North Fork could easily be called “The Grand Central Station of Steelhead Fishing” on The Upper Salmon River between Corn Creek and Salmon, Idaho. Hardly any steelhead fisherman can pass up a chance to stop at the North Fork Store to pick up some steelhead gear, swap a fish tale, refuel and resupply.

As the Year 2013 Steelhead Season gains momentum, we're very pleased to begin to publish regular fishing reports and insights from the Staff of The Village At North Fork.

Our first Village At North Fork steelhead report is provided by Tam Ambrose.

Tam told us today that “fishing below Deadwater and in the lower canyon has been slow but fishermen between North Fork and Salmon have been doing better.”

Commenting on the river ice situation, Tam observed, “There is more shore ice than we usually have at this time of year, but the river is open (and floatable) down to Fourth of July access. The ice jam is about a mile upriver from here, but because of the shore ice, IDFG thinks it will be some time before they can open additional ramps. That said, it has changed a lot in a week (they only opened the Island Park boat ramp in Salmon a week ago) and it's supposed to be sunny and in the 50’s on Saturday. Things could change quickly.”
Stan Sweeney enjoy "spring" fishing. Photo by Brian Martinez 

When asked about drift boat traffic on the river, Tam said, “I just drove to Tower Rock today to do a shuttle and saw two or three boats on the river between 4th of July and Tower.”

“Although there were not too many boats today, when I shuttled on the weekend, there were quite a bit more,” Tam said, noting, “In fact, one person commented that he couldn’t put in because there wasn’t a parking spot. That doesn’t usually happen, but with limited access, piles of snow and steelheaders ready to catch fish, it can get a little crowded in spots. In our stretch, the busiest one has been Tower, but when they’re all open, people are pretty spread out with no clear favorite.”

The Village At North Fork provides fishing boat shuttles from Carmen to Spring Creek for a variable fee depending on distance. “Customers can arrange the shuttle in the general store. Our lodge guests get a discount on the rate,” Tam said.

“As for the bank fishermen, they tend to be where the highway pull-offs are and I imagine that’s primarily because of the shelf ice--it would be hard to access the river in other areas,” Tam observed.

Fishing pressure on weekdays has been typically slower that weekends, of course, there's been a few more fishermen each day, according to Tam. “Sunny days are quite a bit busier,” she said.

Most of the weekday fishermen are from Lemhi County (those 2L plates). Locals are prevalent on the weekends but but there's an addition of weekend fishermen from both Montana and the Idaho Falls/Pocatello area.

“As I look at last weekend’s guests, it was pretty evenly split between Idaho and Montana with a group also from Utah,” Tam noted.

The Village At North Fork's CafĂ© isn't open during steelhead season and won't open until May 24th. “Our room rates include a sit-down dinner prepared by our chef and served to our lodge guests each evening in the dining room as well as a continental breakfast each morning, so the dining room is getting used,” Tam said.  No restaurants are open in the North Fork area until at least Mother's Day weekend.

The Village At North Fork's seven-unit motel has been booked on weekends. “Guests are waiting to see how the weather is going to be and booking relatively late,” Tam said, “For example, we still have three rooms open on Friday and Saturday for this coming weekend. But, I am sure they’ll fill up. Our rooms are very nice and for $70 including dinner and breakfast for two people they’re a great value. Most of our business is returning business and we love that.”
The Village At North Fork now carries an expanded and more accessible supply of steelhead gear and fishing tackle. “We’ve remodeled the fishing supply area in the store since last summer and relocated the fishing tackle for easier access,” Tam said, “We have a good selection of steelhead tackle as well as steelhead flies and bait. With the remodel, we will be able to add additional stock…and have made it easier to see and access,” she added.

We appreciate the steelhead fishing information provided by The Village At North Fork and look forward to their next report. Thanks, Tam!

Monday, February 25, 2013

IDFG Weekly Steelhead Report

IDFG's Brent Beller

The IDFG Salmon Region Office released the second steelhead report of the season today.  According to Fisheries Technician Brent Beller, "Angler effort on the upper Salmon River this past weekend was fairly similar to the previous weekend, but the catch rates were much more inconsistent between the river section. Section 16 had the best catch rate of the weekend at 5 hours per steelhead caught, and section 17 had the second best catch rate at 9 hours per steelhead caught. The rest of the river sections (14, 15, 18, and 19) had catch rates equal to, or above, 20 hours per steelhead caught."

Fishing downstream of Deadwater was hindered by poor water visibility which most likely factored into the poor catch rates observed in sections 14 and 15," Beller continued, "Very few anglers were found fishing upstream of Ellis in section 18, and no anglers were found in section 19 during the weekend."

Beller noted that boat ramps between Salmon and Red Rock are now open, but ramps between Red Rock and Deadwater are still ice affected. In section 18, the boat ramps at Watts Bridge and Cottonwood campground are closed because of ice as well.

Beller said as of Sunday (24th), the ice jam was approximately one mile upstream of North Fork, and it is receding.
You can click on the graphic above to see a much more readable version.

North Fork Ice Conditions

We are very grateful to George Ambrose of The Village At North Fork for sending along photos of February 25th ice conditions at the IDFG North Fork River Access Area.  The Deadwater ice jam currently extends upriver to about a half mile downstream from Wagonhammer.  Local observers think the ice jam will probably break up within the next week or two, depending  on whether temperatures trend warmer or continue below freezing.

Here is the view upriver from the North Fork boat ramp taken this morning.
Below is the same scene as photographed August 2nd, 2012.
Here's a photo below of the actual boat ramp itself
The next two photos look downriver from the boat ramp at the blockage of the Deadwater ice jam.
The second photo below is a zoom-in shot of the one above.
Below is the Monday morning (2/25) USGS hydrograph from The Salmon River at Salmon.  The Shoup gauge is messed up by ice right now and not giving an accurate flow reading.  As you can see the Salmon River is right in the ballpark of normal flow for this time of year, running perhaps 5-8% higher than its long term median.

We will continue regular coverage of the Deadwater ice jam
and the status of the North Fork River Access Area.
Many Thanks to George Ambrose of The Village At North Fork for providing these photos.

Ice Jam Recedes

Veteran Salmon, Idaho, Weather and Ice Jam Observer Dale Ford reports that The Salmon River ice has receded downriver to a point near the Wagonhammer area.  Ford sent along these great photos showing scenes of February ice conditions on The Salmon River.
This is a scene from just below Carmen 
Ice above 4th of July area.
The Maxwell bridge below 4th of July .
A fine view of Salmon River February ice conditions.
Wagonhammer Jenkins bridge just below Wagonhammer
Styeelhead fisherman in the vicinity of the Towerrock campground.
Thanks, Dale, for taking your time to get these great photos!
Elk near the 4th of July area.
Elk near Northfork  
 Looking downriver, the site of  Dugout Dick's for caves is on the left.
The BLM Waddington River Access Point is on the right.
The Twin Peaks Bridge is in distance.
The top photo is a view of the Morgan Bar BLM Campground and River Access Point.  It is located upriver from where the steep slope at right where meets the flat land.  Below is the same view in January 2013.

Above is the Tower Rock River Access Point looking upriver.
Below is the same view as photographed in July 2012.
Finally, in case you've ever wondered about how the Deadwater area came into existence, 
it's explained quite nicely on the Bobcat Gulch River Access Point interpretive sign  shown below.  
Note that you can click on the sign graphic shown below to bring up a larger, more readable version.

Friday, February 22, 2013

IDFG North Fork River Access Area

As everyone knows, the Spring 2013 Steelhead Season is officially underway. After the Deadwater Ice Jam breaks up, the annual surge of fishermen begins to wash ashore at North Fork, Idaho. As the weather warms, more and more fisherman begin to crowd the banks of The Salmon River, including "old hands" as well as many fishermen visiting for their very first time.

One of IDFG's finest River Access Areas on the Upper Salmon River is located at North Fork, Idaho. It was created through an inspirational public-private partnership between The Village at North Fork and IDFG. The result is an an awesome Access Area that's a great gift to everyone.

Visiting the IDFG North Fork River Access Area can be a little confusing so we put together a photo guide for first-time visitors to this tremendous Access Area. The photos were taken August 2, 2012, so don't expect to see flowers and leafy trees this time of year! We hope this photo guide helps make your first visit a little more fun. Happy Fishing!

(NOTE:  As of this writing - 2/22/13 - The Deadwater Ice Jam is still in place and extends up to about 4th of July.  The North Fork Access Area will not be usable until after the Deadwater Ice Jam is gone and the river is clear.)

The slide show below was created using Google's Picasa.  It requires Adobe Flash Player on your computer.  If it won't play, click the link below the slide show and watch the photos one by one.  Each photo is captioned.  If you want more time in the slide show to read a caption, just double click on the photo.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Steelhead Season Sanitation Sites

When steelhead season starts, fishermen just know they gotta GO!  And when they're standing alongside the ice-rimmed river, there's other times when they just know they gotta GO!

Salmon and steelhead tag funds support many physical resources for the fishermen.  One such valuable resource is the placement of portable toilets along the most heavily fished areas of The Upper Salmon River.

Not only is this a great convenience for the fishermen but the sanitation sites are vital to keeping good quality water in the river.  Steelhead fishermen who come back year after year have come to know and depend on the placement of the Porta Pottys each season.  However, first time fishermen may be both unaware about the placement of these vital facilities as well as unclear about their locations.

That's why we're grateful to have this comprehensive list of the Steelhead Season Sanitation Sites to help better serve newcomers to this popular steelhead fishery. Many Thanks to IDFG Salmon Region Wildlife Technician Caryll McConnell for her help in creating and providing this list.

You can click on the image below for a larger, more readable version.  Also, you may click the link here to download a printable PDF version of the list to keep in your vehicle.

Click on the graphic above for a larger version.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

First Steelhead Weekly Report Released

Brent Beller
IDFG creel survey crews are once again in the field checking with steelhead fishermen along The Salmon River from the South Fork to area upriver from the East Fork. IDFG creel personnel began interviewing anglers on the Upper Salmon River this past Friday, the 15th.

According to the IDFG Salmon Region 7 Office Fisheries Technician Brent Beller, "The most popular river sections for anglers were sections 15 and 17. Section 15 had the best catch rate of the weekend at 9 hours per steelhead caught, while section 17 was at 12 hours per steelhead caught.'

"Angler activity in the rest of the USR sections was minimal, but with improving weather, it most likely won’t stay that way for long," Beller commented.  Beller also noted that boat ramps at the Island Park and the Carmen Bridge have been cleared of ice, but all boat ramps between Morgan Bar and Deadwater are under ice and have not been opened. As of this weekend, the ice jam is still upstream of North Fork around the 4th of July/Bobcat area.

Below is the data spreadsheet produced in conjunction with the weekly report.  Beller will coordinate the preparation and release of a weekly steelhead report each Monday until the steelhead season closes on the upper Salmon at the end of April.
Click on the graphic above to see a larger, much more readable version.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

US NRCS February Snow & Water Report

The US Natural Resources Conservation Service released the February "Basin Outlook Report" for Idaho today.

Here's is what the NRCS experts have to say about The Salmon River watershed's snowpack:

Water supplies in the Salmon Basin remain promising despite January being drier than normal. Basinwide January precipitation was 73% of average, making it the first month this water year with less than average amounts. Monthly precipitation totals ranged widely across the basin. 

For example Mountain Meadows SNOTEL near the northern divide with the Clearwater basin, recorded 126% of normal precipitation for the month (5.9 inches), while Banner Summit SNOTEL near the southern divide with the Payette basin measured 49% of normal in January (2.7 inches). Water year to date precipitation since the beginning of October is above average, but dropped about 13 percentage points in the last month. 

The split in snowpack percentages between high and low elevations is still present, but less than last month. As of February 1, SNOTEL sites above 6,500 feet measured 107% of normal snow, while those below 6,500 feet had 90% of normal snow; last month the split was 123% to 80%. Overall the Salmon basin snowpack is near normal based on the 1981-2010 medians. 

Streamflow forecasts call for 114% of average flow this summer for the MF Salmon, while the SF Salmon and mainstem Salmon are closer to average. The lowest forecast is for the Lemhi River at 88% of average. January’s drier than normal weather dropped forecasts about 10-15% in one month. Let’s hope the slide does not continue through February.

Below is the full statewide report.  You can read this document online or download the report to view on your computer.

The report is also available from the US NRCS server at:

Here are some additional excellent links from the US NRCS
Snow graphs:
Flow Forecasts:

Many Thanks to US NRCS Snow Survey Water Supply Specialist Ron Abramovich for providing this information today.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

January Ice Jam Photos

Veteran Salmon River Watcher & NWS Weather Spotter Dale Ford has more than 33 years experience photographing and describing ice jams.  Ford is Lemhi County's most informed ice jam observer.  With his encyclopedic notes, Ford can compare and contrast any given ice jam event with both recent and long ago predecessors.  He understands and can explain the complex dynamics of ice jam formation and behavior.

Ford's decades of up close and personal examination of ice jams have given him a unique perspective about how each ice jam event evolves in relationship to winter climate and valley-influenced temperature inversion patterns.

Currently, Ford is keeping an eye on an approximately 20-mile-long ice jam stretch from Ellis upriver to near the US Hwy 93 bridge at Challis.  Long ice jams are much more common in the North Fork to Salmon City area than they are in the Ellis-Challis vicinity.  There is concern that warmer temperatures might break up the upriver ice jam and send it downriver with potential to cause ice flow clogging as the river narrows near Salmon City.

Below is a short video slide show using Ford's photos of the January 2013 ice jam conditions on The Salmon & Lemhi Rivers.  A few of the photos are shown here full size.  THANK YOU, Dale Ford, for sharing your incredible ice jam knowledge and perspectives with us.  We look forward to your continued reports as this ice jam season continues to evolve.

Friday, February 1, 2013

July 1936 National Geographic Magazine

Photo by Dr. Maynard Owen Williams, National Geographic Society
Here is the Captain Harry Guleke photo as it appeared in the July 1936 National Geographic article entitled "Down Idaho's River of No Return."
Below is what we put up on our Facebook about this magazine today.  Note that this post will change often.  Keep checking back about every 12 hours.  It won't look the same.

Our July 1936 National Geographic Magazine arrived in the mail today. We are like Little Ralphie @ Christmas with this treasure trove. The famous "Down Idaho's River of No Return" is 38 pages long and includes 43 illustrations and 2 maps. Some of the B/W photos and narrative snippets are awesome.

You can still find this issue for under $10 on eBay. If you love The Salmon River, you need a copy of this magazine in your own personal library.

The National Geographic Society thought enough of this expedition to send along well known photographer Dr. Maynard Owen Williams. His photos are awesome. His portrait of Captain Harry Guleke is arguably one of the best such formal photos ever taken of the Legendary Salmon River Boatman.

Philip J. Shenon and John C. Reed authored the lengthy article. We've heard about this article for many years and it's now so incredible to finally be holding it in our hands and looking time and again at the pictures and re-reading certain portions.