Sun Valley Idaho Fly Fishing


Fly Fishing in Sun Valley Idaho, when I am asked that question I say yes there are lots of places for fly fishing around Sun Valley. There are so many places within a one hour drive that it is hard to imagine.

First, let’s start with this:

Lets taking a step back in time, when Lewis and Clark passed through Idaho on their way to the Pacific in 1805. Idaho’s rivers and streams had about 4 million wild salmon and steelhead (ocean-going rainbow trout).

About 35 miles north lies the headwaters of the Salmon River. This is home to one of the most primal fishing experiences anywhere, with native Chinook salmon and steelhead trout runs.

Idaho’s salmon and steelhead journey further inland than almost any other migratory fish. Born at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains, the smolt are flushed nearly 1,000 river miles to the Pacific Ocean where they grow to upwards of 40 lbs and 4 feet long.

After living for 1 to 3 years in the ocean, they use their acute sense of smell and the earth’s magnetic fields to find the mouth of the Columbia River. Then they try and make the heroic 1000-mile-long journey back to the place they were hatched.

Sun Valley supports the kind of fishery you might have imagined existed back when Lewis & Clark first made their trip through Idaho. Four diverse waterways sit a stone’s throw to an hour drive away a hold a diverse species of fish. Find some monstrous brown trout in Silver Creek. Get some healthy rainbows in the Big Wood River, vibrant cutthroats in the Lost River. You will find many bull trout & salmonids in the Salmon River. Together, these famed rivers and creeks make the area a true nexus of freshwater fly fishing.

The Sun Valley area offers an incredible diversity of fly fishing opportunities for everyone from the casual novice to the ambitious expert

Big Wood River

Big Wood River: The local freestone

The well known Big Wood River provides immediate local access to miles of classic, riffle-run-pool trout fishing. Our “bread and butter” watershed, offers broken surfaces of the water. These cater well to first-timers or anyone still cultivating their stealth and technique.

That said, swift water and lots of structure make for plenty of technical opportunity for the more advanced angler. The bountiful rainbow trout, averaging 12-14 inches, sip eagerly at the sporadic mayfly hatches throughout the summer days. These are often leading into some prolific evening caddis hatches.

Winter midge hatches will test and improve the willing angler’s skills and patience. Nymphing is usually productive year-round, and can often produce larger fish. The influx of massive brown trout in the river will keep the streamer junky content, no matter the month.

And thanks to its closeness to Sun Valley, the Big Wood River is an option even if you’re burdened by time constraints.

Warm Springs Creek:

Warm Springs Creek is a tributary that meets the Big Wood right in the city of Ketchum. But the upstream portions offer a feeling of remoteness just a few miles from town via a mellow dirt road. This small freestone creek, that runs through wildflower meadows holds stocked rainbow trout. It also has a population of wild rainbows that often exceed expectations in terms of size.

Warm Springs supports many bugs similar to those found in the Big Wood, and thus it fishes very similarly. Mule deer, elk, and moose will frequent the valley floor. There’s basic camping along the river if you are looking for a brief and simple getaway.

Lost River System:

A 40-minute jaunt over the scenic Trail Creek Passes you will find the solitude of the Lost River drainage. Some anglers spend days wading the emerald tributaries and the main river with the Pioneer Mountains at their back. While hatchery rainbows are abundant around stocking access points, fish are relatively scarce. The vividly colored wild cutthroat you’ll inevitably run into is of the highest quality. Fish exceeding 20 inches aren’t uncommon, and they usually will eat an enormous dry fly.

Covering water is the name of the game, which suits most fishermen just fine. The twisting river frequently drops into small canyons and constantly piques curiosity as to what lies around the next bend. Plus, the watershed holds a smattering of small but mighty Arctic grayling — a rare commodity in the Lower 48. Camping is ample, as are the stars in the night sky.

Silver Creek

Silver Creek: The legend

About 40 miles south of Sun Valley lies the famed Silver Creek. It is often hailed as the “crown jewel” of spring creeks in the Rockies. This river gains its fame in the upper section of land that is owned by the Nature Conservancy. The organization welcomes the public to test their skills and patience while casting to plump rainbows and massive brown trout. Songbirds, waterfowl, moose, deer, and elk frequent the preserve and are often part of the landscape as you diligently work your tiny fly to the gorgeous trout.

A mellow gradient offers you the opportunity for a pleasant float-tube drift through the clear waters. A plethora of mayflies provides prolific hatches that the fish selectively key in on. The placid surface of the water demands a fly presentation that sometimes exceeds even the craftiest of caster’s abilities. Still, novice anglers shouldn’t be deterred from wetting their legs in this spectacular river. Because as fishing often goes, you know anything can happen.

Salmon River

Salmon River: Sea-run bonus

Among the greatest highlights of fly fishing around Sun Valley is our proximity to the Salmon River.  The headwaters are about an hour’s drive north of town. At the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains, summertime visitors can walk and wade this river to fish. Some bounce down the steep, boulder-strewn river aboard a drift boat as they cast stonefly imitations to wild cutthroat trout.

While fishing to these waterborne warriors, anglers frequently tie into bull trout that can reach nearly 30 inches. Maybe the most appealing perk of the Salmon River, however, is that it hosts runs of steelhead in the spring. Then there are runs of Chinook salmon in the summer. Whether you are swinging flies on a spey rod or bobbing nymphs on a single hand. This can be and is a unique opportunity for an angler in the Rocky Mountains. If you hook either of these behemoths, your fly fishing career will be forever altered.

THE SUN VALLEY DIFFERENCE:  FACTORS THAT SET US APART

The levels of access are unreal.

Anglers will often get lost in the dreams of what lies around the next river bend. Then only to turn the corner and be crashed back to reality by a fence across the water. Attached to it is a sign that reads, PRIVATE WATER MEMBERS ONLY. But around Sun Valley, the fly fisher can dream on, hour after hour, day after day, bend after bend.

Idaho state law says the land within a navigable river high-water marks as public trespass right-of-way. Once you’ve entered a river from an access point, you can wade upstream or downstream as you like.

This, however, is rarely a problem, because such an enormous amount of our fisheries lie in public lands. Even the more privately bound rivers, such as the Big Wood, have countless public easements to access the water. Not to mention, that most Big Wood homeowners welcome the presence of amicable fly casters in their view of the river. Many even maintain a trail for fishermen on the edge of their property.

The sun (practically) always shines here. Most locations, even if their fishing season never closes, will offer a brief window to fly fish in. Sun Valley, usually sees an average of around 300 days of pleasant, desert sunshine. Which from the angler’s point of view means warmer toes in your waders and less ice on your rod guides.

Besides most winter residents are mostly preoccupied with the great skiing that is around here. Some fly fishermen will find solitude on the river, except for the trout eagerly sipping for winter midge hatches.

“Dry fly fishing in winter?” says one of the local anglers you better believe it.”

Dean Jensen

I started fly fishing in 1972 and I have learned quite a bit about this wonderful sport called fly fishing and I want to share some of the things that I have learned.

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