In June, I explored the Snake River system of central and southern Idaho for an upcoming book with Braided River Press. The 2024 book will also feature the beautiful photography of David Moskowitz, which you can see here. The Salmon and its cousin the Clearwater are tributaries to the great Snake, a waterway nearly as long as the Columbia. It begins in Yellowstone National Park and slithers across Idaho before it heads for the ocean.
One night, I camped beside the Salmon River. I had spent a rich day in the company of a Nez Perce woman named Janet Blackeagle. A day nearly as full as the river can be of snowmelt.
Janet’s 19th century ancestor, Black Eagle, was named for the dark spots on the bird’s tail feathers. It might have been from a dream, that name. Or some other reason she told me. We had seen the photograph earlier in the day at the Spalding Visitor Center of the Nez Perce National Historical Park. Janet had wandered through the photo gallery, greeting her relatives hung on the wall. While we were there, she took a call from a living relative. The salmon were home.
The following day, I drove south to Riggins, ID to see the action. There, at the confluence of the Little Salmon and Salmon rivers, I met a group of Nez Perce fishermen. They had been camped in their customary spot for three weeks. Waiting. Hoping for the Chinook to arrive. Patience finally paid off.
I listened over the roar of spring snowmelt. They explained how the best fishing is at night, or in the wee hours of the morning.
It’s August now, and so far has been a decent year for returns of spring Chinook. The same for sockeye in the upper Columbia/Okanagan. Tribes are taking over more and more management of fisheries. And it shows.
I caught up with Janet recently on the phone. Her voice was upbeat. She spoke of admiration for the fish. Their strength and persistence. Their generosity. At the Clear Creek fish hatchery that we operate, they had to close the gates. There were so many fish comin’ back.
I’m grateful for the time Janet gave me. I loved exploring the web of wild, fish-filled rivers with her, and on my own. For a writer about rivers and landscape, it doesn’t get better than that.