Tell us about your outfitting business.
Helfrich River Outfitters operates two permits on the Middle Fork of the Salmon along with businesses on the wild and scenic Rogue River, the Lower Main Salmon, Owyhee River, and McKenzie River. My great-grandfather Prince Helfrich was the first outfitter on the Middle Fork and well known for not only outfitting, but also pioneering rivers all around the Pacific Northwest. Prince got started guiding in 1922 on the McKenzie River in Oregon and steadily expanded to many other rivers. His first outfitted trip on the Middle Fork took place in 1940. Prince had three sons who all became outfitters as well. As the permit system came into play, my granddad Dave Helfrich and his brothers Dick and Dean were all allocated permits on the Middle Fork and these businesses thrived for many years. As the second generation of Helfrich outfitters retired, the businesses were passed down to the next
generation. My dad purchased his dads business and Dick’s son Jeff now operates Tightlines, his dad’s old permit on the Middle Fork. Once Dean Helfrich, the youngest of Prince’s kids was ready to sell, he chose to sell his company to my dad and I, as his kids were outfitting in other areas already. We are very proud to own two of the three original Helfrich Middle Fork permits.
In an average year, HRO operates about 22 multi-day outfitted trips on the Middle Fork. We also operate about 15 multi-day trips annually on the Rogue. The trips we offer are quite deluxe and offer the public an opportunity to experience fly fishing and white- water rafting the Middle Fork with many of the creature comforts that help them feel at home in the wilderness. HRO specializes in drift boat fly fishing trips where our guests enjoy the comfort of a McKenzie River style drift boat with two guests and one guide in each boat. Our guests enjoy deluxe camps each night that are put up and taken down for them by our hard working crew of guides.
I guess you could say it’s just in my blood. I grew up on the river and around guides and there was always something so amazing and intriguing about the lifestyle. Having the opportunity to impact peoples lives in such a special way is something that never gets old. We get to introduce people to these amazing places and help them experience not only fishing and rafting but also the history, the flora, the fauna, and more. It is human nature to be outdoors and most of our guests don’t even realize how much they are subconsciously craving time in nature until they are there. We see couples, families, groups of friends and all sorts of groups who show up on the river and go through a life changing experience. We see families at orientation the night before the trip and they are all distracted, on their phones, and just out of touch with each other. Over the course of 6- days on the Middle Fork you can watch the transformation each day as they are able to fully disconnect from the outside world and reconnect with each other.
I also recognize how blessed I am to be born into the family that I was. Being a woman, most of the guides and even some of my own family just assumed that I wouldn’t become an outfitter because I am a girl, and guiding (at that point) was a “man’s world”. Lucky for me, my parents always supported me and believed in me. They never pushed me into being a guide but they always encouraged me to follow my heart and do whatever I wanted to do. It was not easy to prove I belonged on the crew but I have always loved a challenge.
Over the last 20 years that I have been guiding on the Middle Fork, I have seen many changes to the guiding culture but one thing that hasn’t changed is the wildness and grandeur of this amazing river and beautiful wilderness.
How is your work in the Frank unique?
There are a lot of outfitters on the Middle Fork and each one offers something special and unique to their guests. I like to think that our trips stand out not only because of our long standing history but also the level of genuine care we offer each guest who joins us. We have our own way of doing things and we call that “the Helfrich Way”. Just good enough, is not good enough and we encourage each of our employees to always strive for excellence.
I like that we are keeping the tradition of wooden boats on the Middle Fork alive. It is a special craft and offers people a completely unique way of experiencing this amazing wilderness.
How does your company impact people’s lives?
I really feel like giving people the opportunity to fully disconnect from phones, internet, the stress of work and life in general is so special. With our trips being highly catered, we get a lot of guests who have never even been camping before. The high level of care we offer helps our guests feel comfortable going on a trip like this and they end up with an experience so unlike anything they have ever done. I feel like this is why we have such a huge percentage of returning guests. They know that they can go into the wilderness and be comfortable with our
crew. They wouldn’t be comfortable with “roughing it” but they know how much they love being on the river and in the wilderness. This wilderness belongs to every American and it is so wonderful to get to share it with so many who would otherwise never get to experience it for themselves.
What do you appreciate the most about your partnership with the Forest Service?
Our company and the Middle Fork Outfitters Association has developed and maintained a good working partnership with the Forest Service over the years. We have been able to work together on a huge range of issues and projects.
I appreciate that the Forest Service is often willing to listen and solicit the opinions and expertise of the outfitters when dealing with projects and issues with the resource. Many of the Forest Service employees have such a heavy workload that they are unable to spend much of their time on the ground in the wilderness. They recognize that they have a great resource in the outfitters to help them know what is going on in the wilderness and to be able to call on us to help them with unique projects. For example, in 2022 when the Rams Horn Bridge was washed into the river by a massive mud slide, the Forest Service was able to call on our company to facilitate the removal of this man-made structure from the river. It was a difficult project but we were able to get it done quickly and efficiently. The MFOA also helped the Forest Service this year with the replacement of the Indian Creek boat ramp to ensure a safer experience for all river users launching from Indian Creek. The MFOA has spearheaded a program called Redd Alert to help spread awareness to river users about spawning salmon in the river and how to help protect them. This is another project that we have been able to take on to protect this keystone species and help the Forest Service meet their requirements with regards to fish protection and monitoring.