Skip to main content
Cart (0) (208) 558-7525 Fly Shop Hours: Hours change seasonally. Please call ahead.

Cardiac Canyon

May 24, 2013 | Mike Lawson

One of the perks of my job as an outfitter is to help train new guides. One requirement by the state for licensing is that a guide must have at least one trip on each section of the river under the supervision of a licensed guide. At Henry’s Fork Anglers we set our requirements much higher. We feel a guide needs at least a season or two to learn the vast water within our area. One good way to get experience is to work in our store. Matt Murphy has worked in our shop for the past several years. He is now ready to get behind the oars as a licensed guide. When guiding slows down Matt will continue to help out in the shop. 

 Yesterday John Mauldin (Hootie) offered to take Matt on his first training trip through Cardiac Canyon below Lower Mesa Falls. I was more than happy to join them. In the days of my youth the one mile stretch of the river between Upper and Lower Mesa Falls was known as Cardiac Canyon. Today most people accept the six mile section from the Grandview Slide below Lower Mesa Falls to Stone Bridge as Cardiac Canyon. There isn’t a place on earth I’d rather be when Salmonflies are hatching in late May.

This trip isn’t for the faint of heart. It starts at the trail head at the Grandview Campground. The rocky trail is about 1500 fee of steep terrain with a 50% slope down to the water. Walking sticks are highly recommended. In fact my thigh muscles are painfully stiff as I write. The forest service stabilized the trail that had become eroded with a series of wood cross members and water bars to prevent further erosion. In the old days we dragged our drift boats (or rather they dragged us) down to the river. Today hard bottom boats are prohibited.

Our trip started with Matt dragging our Hyside cataraft down the trail. I worked my way down the trail ahead of Matt so I could take some photos while Hootie followed. One thing you don’t want to do is loiter or stand in the middle of the trail. You need to keep your ears and eyes on the trail so you won’t get run over by a runaway raft. When we got to the bottom we were elated to find the bushes and shrubs loaded with mating Salmonflies.

I camped out in the back seat of the raft while Hootie and Matt took turns on the oars. We started hooking trout right off with dry Salmonfly patterns. The best flies were our Henry’s Fork Foam Stone, Paulson’s Flutter Bug, Henry’s Fork Salmonfly and Drowned Salmonfly. Hootie hammered some big browns with a red belly Elden’s Ant. We don’t have these flies listed on our web site because they are so hard to keep in stock but you can call 208-558-7525 if you want us to send you some or set some aside for you when you arrive.

We caught fish all the way to the take out. In fact I landed one of my biggest rainbows about 200 feet above the boat ramp. We didn’t land the big 24” brown that we needed for a great hero photo but we caught plenty of nice rainbows and a number of browns in the 16” – 18” range. Best of all we never tied on a nymph. We also accomplished our goal of this training trip. Matt did a great job as I knew he would. The big rafts aren’t as responsive as a drift boat but Matt kept the boat just the right distance from the bank and he did a credible job of negotiating the white water. Most importantly, Hootie shared a wealth of information on where the big fish like to hold on this wonderful piece of water.

If you have never experienced the Cardiac Canyon float you should definitely keep it on your radar. It’s best to schedule this trip ahead of time to make sure you can get one of the guides that specialize in this float. If you want to hit the Salmonflies you should plan to go the last week of May. Later on you can get good dry fly fishing with Golden Stones. Cardiac Canyon fishes well throughout the remainder of the season but, like Box Canyon, your best odds are with nymphs or streamers after the big stoneflies are over.

Our older most experienced guides no longer do this float. They have put in their time over the years but the long steep boat drag is too physically demanding. Younger guys like Alex Kohn, Andy Jenkins, and Joe Bare are more than happy to do the Grandview Drag along with Hootie and Matt Murphy.

I’ve fished great trout rivers all over the world and I marvel at the diversity of the Henry’s Fork. It’s like five or six rivers in one. Words or photos can’t describe the awesome spectacle of Cardiac Canyon. It has to be experienced to be appreciated.