When one thinks of legendary fly-fishing, Idaho certainly comes to most anglers’ minds. According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho is graced with 26,000 miles of streams and rivers, more than 3,000 natural lakes, and a quarter-million acres of ponds and reservoirs.
Inhabiting those waters are 42 game fish species, from giant white sturgeon to native West Slope Cutthroat trout, catfish to kokanee, and smallmouth bass to salmon and steelhead.
Below we report on some of the top fly-fishing spots in the Gem state.
Top Spots for Idaho Fly-Fishing
In Eastern Idaho, the Henry’s Fork and the South Fork of the Snake River are legendary to anglers. The South Fork is a tailwater fishery that flows out of Palisades Dam on the border of Wyoming and Idaho. The diversity of hatches, both aquatic and terrestrial, exceeds other rivers of the West, and gives the South Fork a reputation for some of the best dry fly fishing. Idaho is home to wild populations of native Yellowstone Cutthroat and Snake River Fine Spotted Cutthroat, which are found here providing dry fly action year-round, in addition to a healthy population of cutthroat, brown and rainbow trout ranging from 15-25 inches.
The South Fork tailwater flows a distance of sixty-four miles to its confluence with the Henry’s Fork. With hatches and abundant large wild rainbow and brown trout, the Henry’s Fork offers gentle flowing ranchland, timbered covered canyons, pocket water, and spring creek like sections.
Middle Fork of Salmon River
Carving its way directly through the center of the Frank Church Wilderness Area and the Sawtooth Mountains is the crystal-clear waters of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. This fishery has been managed by the state of Idaho as a catch and release fishery since 1973, making it one of the best fisheries in the northwest for both numbers of fish and for consistently good action on a dry fly.
A world-class fly-fishery forever entrenched in western lore by Ernest Hemingway, Silver Creek is renowned for perfectly timed hatches and world class dry fly-fishing. A spring creek found just south of Sun Valley, dainty mayflies are the predominant insects as they hatch throughout the spring, summer and fall and are the targets of brown and rainbow trout—some of which can push to 30”.
Near the headwaters of Silver Creek, the creek rises from several groundwater fed springs flowing from The Ranch at Silver Springs, an ecological gem with 60-75% of Silver Creek’s stream flows originating from this private fly-fishing ranch for sale in Idaho.
The quality and quantity of the 10 miles of non-navigable and private meandering streams on this ranch is ideal and actively managed by the current owners. The median temperatures for the spring heads through the summer months has averaged 49.6 F and provide ideal spawning habitat and a respite for fish when river temps downstream heat up.
Saint Joe River
A tributary of the Coeur d’Alene River, the Saint Joe River flows through the panhandle region of northern Idaho for over 140 miles and is a blue ribbon fishery for native West Slope Cutthroat trout. Part of the river is a designated “Wild and Scenic” river.
Like many of the West’s rivers, the Saint Joe has spectacular dry fly-fishing through most of the season with fish that range 12-16″ on average and plenty of cutthroat that are larger. Many outfitters and guides report that while the cutthroat are plentiful throughout the length of the river, this is more so in the extended “catch and release – artificial lures/flies only – barbless hooks” sections of the river.
Far to the north of the Henry’s Fork, Kelly Creek, one of Idaho’s best-kept angling secrets, flows into the North Fork of the Clearwater. The river offers anglers gin clear water and native cutthroat trout in the quiet solitude of a mountain stream. Other great streams in the area include Cayuse Creek, a tributary to Kelly Creek, and Weitas Creek, another tributary to the North Fork.
Kelly Creek begins high in the mountains of the Idaho panhandle. In this unspoiled high-mountain freestone river you may find native West Slope Cutthroats up to 20 inches and experts believe it’s among the best native cutthroat trout fisheries in Idaho.