The Zen of the river is multi-dimensional. An entire world lives under unturned rocks, an interconnected system connects remote headwaters to distant oceans, and ever-oscillating downstream flows sync with the seasons.
As the snow melts and the rivers and creeks come alive, summertime means one thing: it’s time to get out on the water. The Wood River Valley is renowned for its fly fishing for rookies and experts alike, with the Big Wood River and Silver Creek winding through the mountains and into the open desert.
If you’re looking to get into fly fishing here, the first thing to do is go to a local shop, such as Silver Creek Outfitters or Lost River Outfitters, and buy a fishing license. Fishing licenses help fund the fisheries in Idaho and are key to providing the research and monitoring to keep our fisheries healthy and sustainable. This work is becoming ever more important with the changing climate and more frequent droughts in Idaho. Last summer showed an unprecedented extreme when the Big Wood River ran dry below Glendale Diversion in Bellevue, and Trout Unlimited undertook multiple fish rescues and relocated thousands of fish.
The proper gear is essential before you head out. Outfitters such as Silver Creek Outfitters, Picabo Anglers, and Lost River Outfitters rent waiters, rods, and reels in relatively affordable day packages so you can try gear before you fully dive in. Silver Creek Outfitters also offers free casting clinics Tuesday through Saturday evenings throughout the summer on the field outside of Sun Valley Lodge. Sam Ernst, a guide at Silver Creek Outfitters, says, “We are always around for people to come in, chat, and ask questions.” For those new to casting, Ernst’s key tips are to slow down, use less power than you think you need, be smooth, and learn to vary your casting arc and stroke length.
Fishing season varies based on river system and state, but in the Wood River Valley, fishing season generally runs from Memorial Day through March. Between April 1 up until Memorial Day weekend, the Big Wood River, Silver Creek and all of their tributaries are closed for rainbow trout spawning. Individuals and groups who fish abide by closures because it is common knowledge in the community that these regulations conserve fish populations for better fishing in the future. Anglers should check with local outfitters and Idaho Fish and Game about the area where they intend to go to learn about specific rules and regulations on the river and what fish species and sizes you’re allowed to fish.
When fly fishing in the Wood River Valley, there are primarily rainbow trout, brown trout, and mountain white fish, and in the Big Wood, you may occasionally catch a brook trout. In terms of flies, Stoddard Rowley, Silver Creek Outfitters’ store manager, guide coordinator, and part time guide, explains, “The choice of fly you use depends on the time of year. In summer, we get more prolific dry fly hatches. When you think of flies flying around and landing on the surface of the water, that’s when fish come up and eat them, and that’s a ‘dry fly hatch.’ In winter and spring, you use more fish nymphs, which are an earlier and younger stage of a fly.”
Rowley continues, “In early summer, you can fish everything because in the end of May and early June, we get pretty good bug hatches. Green drakes are great in June, and then you’ll have good grasshopper fishing in July. In fall, you’ll get some dry fly hatches for smaller bugs and Fall Baetis.”
Every fly shop has a board on which they put out flies being used based on hatches, fish species, time of day, and time of year, and the experts who work in local fly shops will tell you everything you need to know about what’s going on.
While fly fishing can be solitary endeavor for many, there are those who like a little companionship on the river. Marcella Gutierrez is the co-founder of the women’s fly fishing group, “Sun Valley Fly Gals.” Gutierrez and her sister, Juliette, caught the fly fishing bug after being asked as complete novices to go on a fly fishing trip over 20 years ago. When the sisters moved to Sun Valley, Gutierrez says, “We just wanted more friends to know how to fish,” and that was the start of Sun Valley Fly Gals, now a group of over 160 women on Facebook.
“We tie knots and talk fishing,” says Gutierrez. “We hear from women who have been looking for a way to get into fly fishing for a long time. I received a message from a woman who has lived here for 28 years. She wanted to put a women’s fly fishing group together all that time, but it never happened. She said, ‘I’m too old to fish now, but I sure love watching you girls!’ No one is too old to fish. We took her, an 80-year-old woman, through two feet of snow and got her out on the water.”
With another hot summer forecasted, it will be crucial for anglers to be mindful of water temperatures. All anglers should carry a thermometer and test the water temp on particularly hot days; it’s recommended not to fish in the rivers and creeks of the Wood River Valley when water temperatures are above 67 degrees. Rowley recommends fishing early in the morning and up north during these times and says, “When the water’s warm, the beers are still cold.” As such, fly fishing this summer will be all about flexibility and adjusting to go with the flow.
Fly Fishing Etiquette
Whenever jumping into something new, it’s important to take a step back and learn etiquette. Here’s what you need to know about fly fishing before you get out there:
1. Don’t be shy. If someone’s already fishing in a spot, go talk to them. Ask them if it’s ok if you go upstream or downstream. Even though fishing is a solitude sport for many, it’s important to talk to fellow anglers and be cordial so everyone can enjoy their sense of space on the river.
2. Buy your fishing license and abide by regs. Fishing licenses fund fisheries in Idaho, and they need that money to keep our fish healthy. Regulations look at maintaining long-term healthy fish populations, so there are fish to catch for many years to come.
3. Fish friendly and handle fish as little as possible. Use barbless hooks and when fishing “catch and release,” handle the fish as little as possible. Silver Creek Outfitters sells a tool called “Ketchum release,” which allows you to let a fish go without touching it at all.
4. Carry a thermometer. With another year projected for low water, always carry a thermometer and avoid fishing in water temperatures above 67 degrees.