Pro Tips: Tactics and Flies for May on the South Fork of the Snake

Written By: Chris Jensen, The Lodge at Palisades Creek

Early-season trips, whether floating or wading, are a refreshing change of pace from the summer crowds.
All photos by  The Lodge at Palisades Creek

Back in 2004, Idaho Fish and Game decided to allow year-round fishing on the South Fork of the Snake. (It was previously open from Memorial Day through November.) This change not only helped to protect native cutthroat populations—by encouraging anglers to catch and keep invasive rainbow trout during the winter months—but it also created a new window for spring fishing. Traditionally, most anglers fished the South Fork after the run-off in the summer and fall, and for many years that included me. It wasn’t until clients started booking trips on the South Fork in May that I really began taking spring fishing here seriously, and our guides and I have discovered that it can be really good. Here are some of the tactics and flies I’ve found most effective.

A gorgeous cutthroat trout fooled by a big, ugly nymph in the slower water of a side channel.


This time of year, it’s mostly nymph or streamer fishing, although if you’re lucky, you might also find fish feeding on top. The flows are higher and colder in May, so focus your attention on the slower water: look for side channels, grassy banks, riffles, back eddies, and even “frog water” that isn’t moving at all. When you’re the South Fork in the summer, you might want to pound the banks, but in May, the water on those banks might be moving too fast to fish effectively. 

The river is far less crowded in May than in the summer months, and while you probably won’t have any given section to yourself, you might only see a few boats at each launch, compared to dozens of boats during the peak season. Try to take advantage of the extra room and cover more water in a day, boosting your chances of finding fish.

If you don’t get any follows using a streamer, try a few different colors before switching to a different approach.


A variety of nymphs work well in May, especially the big, ugly, heavy stuff like stonefly nymphs and Bead-Head San Juan worms. I tie a big rubber-legged stonefly nymph on a size 4 streamer hook that one of my clients named “The Spark Plug” because of the way it lands with a splash, on account of all the lead I wrap into it. If you have a San Juan Worm that is so big and gaudy that you feel a little bad even tying it on, that’s the one you want. The same applies to streamers.

But May isn’t all about the big stuff. You can find good hatches of midges and blue-winged olives, as well as the occasional Skwala stonefly. If you’re seeing midges and/or BWOs on the surface, my biggest tip would be to immediately grab a nymph rig and put on a nymph (such as a Tungsten Psycho May Olive) or soft hackle (such as a CDC PT Jig), unless you see trout rising and can switch to a dry fly (such as a Mini Hot Mayfly Garcia).

Chris Jensen is a former guide and current marketing liaison for The Lodge at Palisades Creek in Irwin, Idaho.

4 thoughts on “Pro Tips: Tactics and Flies for May on the South Fork of the Snake”

  1. It has been an interesting spring on the South Fork this year to say the least! -bolderado

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