The hype of fly fishing for trout in Montana will always remain set in stone. The Fly fishing is top-notch alongside the incredible scenery. Although the state of Idaho obtains more than a handful of memorable, world-renown streams and rivers too. Trout fishermen travel to Idaho from across the globe to experience a few of its beautiful fisheries. From cold spring creeks running through desert prairies to high elevation alpine lakes in the Sawtooths, healthy tailwaters to freestone flowing rivers from the mountaintops. Let’s dive into some systems that will never lose their recognition as homes to beautiful, wild trout of all species to chase with a fly rod.
The Henry’s Fork
Starting at the infamous Big Spring and the Henrys Lake outlet, the Henrys Fork is a tributary of the Snake River at approximately 127 miles in length. Of course, it lies in eastern Idaho, the fly fishing mecca within the state. In the upper sections of the river, it obtains a diverse ecosystem for rainbow trout and the occasional native Cutthroat Trout. The upper “Ranch” section is home to some of the best headhunting. With an abundance of hatches, the size of rainbow trout is plentiful, ranging in the upper 20″ class. Brown trout thrive in the river system below Mesa Falls, down until it drains into the main snake river, along the continental divide. There are much better stonefly hatches in the lower systems and hold the most popular floats in the whole state.
Silver Creek In your head, picture a meandering, pristine, gin-clear stream full of gravel, weeds, and cold, spring-fed water. Home to both rainbow and big brown trout, the environment is responsible for some of the state’s most abundant, unique aquatic life. One of the highest densities of stream insects in North America. Silver Creek obtains a section called the preserve. 15 miles of upper creek feeder creeks bring the stream into one. Since 1976, landowner conservation efforts have worked towards the protection and stream work of 12,000-acres through easements, making this one of the most successful stream conservation efforts ever undertaken for public benefit. Many say it is one of the most challenging places to fish, as the fish are all very tricky. Bring long leaders and 6x tippet for the thick Tricos or bouncing Callibaetis. Or, don’t miss the infamous Brown Drake hatch the first week of June because 1x will work plenty fine for those. And my favorite; windy, warm August days with giant grasshoppers for big browns that lurk far within the undercut banks. It is a great place to fish out of a donut-type float tube, as you feel you are stillwater fishing most of the time. There are both shallow and deep sections throughout “the creek,” many enjoy calling it that.
The Clearwater River
The Clearwater river begins its journey flowing westward from the Bitterroot Mountains along the Idaho-Montana border and joins the Snake River about 75 miles later. It’s home to multiple anadromous species of salmon and steelhead; they travel up the primary system to reach other tributaries to spawn, traveling upwards and over 500 miles from the ocean. Western Idaho has some of the most extraordinary steelhead fishing to offer. The run can be incredible when the fish are in the river systems from the Pacific Ocean, then within the Columbia River Basin. Orofino is a small, rugged town on the upper river, flowing down to the slower, wider river near Lewiston. The stretches of river between the town of Orofino and the city of Lewiston are the most popular for primarily Clearwater’s great steelhead run. In the fall, both spey fly fishing and gear anglers fish the hot, fresh push of summer-run fish in the lower system near Lewiston.
Specifically, the fly anglers stick to their scandi lines and poly leaders through October until the temperatures drop. They transition to Skagit lines with sink tips through November and December, following the fish upriver. The same migratory fish will continue to stage in the upper river all winter before spawning later in the spring. The best part about these Clearwater River steelhead is that majority of them are B-run steelhead. The A–run breed is known for being a more minor strain, whereas the B-runs get really large, over 30″ and 10lbs. I have heard of countless days where angles have multiple grabs per day, catching multiple fish in a day. They don’t call them unicorns for nothing, so those are outstanding stats when it comes to catching steelhead.
The St. Joe River
When it comes to finding some of the most willing, beautiful Westslope Cutthroat in the state, the “Joe” comes to most Idahoan’s mind. 140-miles long, it is a tributary of Coeur d’Alene Lake in northern Idaho. Beginning at an elevation of 6,487 feet in the Northern Bitterroot Range and flows west through the Saint Joe River Valley. The Joe is a gin-clear river both fishable by boat or by foot. Majority of the fish average at about a foot in length, but most who fish it find a pile of quality, clean Cutthroat hitting that 16″ -18″ mark. When flows are steady, this river sees a wide variety of bugs. From Skwalas and BWO’s in the spring to Golden Stoneflies and terrestrials through the summer and early fall. My favorite is the October Caddis hatch in late summer or early fall. The fish have been thrown at all summer, but throughout the entire fly box, their favorite always seems to be a massive, orange stimulator.
St. Joe river road follows the river all the way up, miles upon miles, through the smaller community of Calder and up to an even smaller one named Avery. Upriver, the fish receive much less pressure as the rapids get more gnarly. With this comes bigger dry flies as opposed to the slow, deep lower river sections. People float, getting into the more technical hatches with pods of rising Cutthroat. Also, it is never a bad idea to try a few miles up a creek or tributary flowing in, pull out the 2, 3, or 4 weight fly rod, and tie on a Parachute Adams.
The South Fork of the Snake River
The South Fork of the Snake River is one of the state’s larger fly fishing river systems. Located just outside Driggs, Idaho, in the Southeastern bottom of the state near Wyoming, the South fork is many anglers’ favorite. Coming out of the bottom of Palisades Reservoir, the water is cold and sustains many healthy trout species ranging in various sizes. A waterfall can be seen just upstream from the Swan Valley Bridge, where Fall Creek dumps into and on river left side. Downstream of the Conant launch, sections 2 and 3, the river leaves Highway 26 and enters a scenic canyon. The river obtains one of Idaho’s most unique and diverse ecosystems while supporting the largest native cutthroat fishery outside of Yellowstone National Park.
The South Fork is a premier blue-ribbon trout fishery as it holds brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout that feed on a wide variety of hatches all summer. Many anglers enjoy floating this river and casting stonefly patterns at all the types of structures on the bank; deep, canyon rock walls, shaded trees, or tall grassy banks. Also, people love fishing PMD’s in the large riffles. Although it fishes amazing year-round, many love to throw streamers in the fall when the flows drop for big brown trout. The river is also known for taking lives, as it rips at upwards and over 20,000 CFS throughout the early summer season. Many dangerous, swirling currents can make for an awful day, be very careful out there.
The Teton River
Eastern Idaho is, hands down, the most renowned zone in Idaho for fly fishing. The Teton Valley is a primary reason responsible for this part of Idaho being so special. Fly fishermen from all over the world visit this one-of-a-kind spring creek, and they come for dry fly fishing. In addition, tourists from all over come to witness the Teton valley and find themselves never leaving. The Teton’s most remembered section is right out of Victor, Idaho. It flows for 64 miles in total. The upper stretches consist of a shallow, windy river with meadows, Moose, and happy trout that eat dry flies. It is the perfect example of a spring creek because it is one… Mayflies, BWO’s, PMD’s and of course, August’s hoppers. It’s best fished from shore or very sneaky approaches in a boat to shallow, sensitive fish in inches of water, making the Teton challenging and rewarding.
The canyon sections of the Teton river are downstream, holding three different floats accessible by raft. The hatches begin as soon as the water clears from run-off, generally near the end of June, where there are a plethora of stoneflies. And into the lower river, there are often fewer fish populations, but some in great size as the river meanders through pastures before its confluence with the lower Henry’s fork.
Lakes, Creeks, and Smaller Streams to Fish in Idaho are known for some more extensive bodies of water. The tributaries and smaller rivers don’t fail to gain recognition when wanting to extend the extra mile. Some anglers prefer to fish the smaller water systems on foot than floating down on a drift boat, where everyone has their preference. Opportunistic feeding habits from these fish in high numbers make fishing smaller water very fun with a 3, 4, or 5 weight fly rod setup. In the summer, they couldn’t be better for the neoprene sock, wading boot, quick-dry pants and, of course, a parachute Adams to a small tungsten nymph.
But also for the Stillwater junkies, Idaho has you covered when it comes to fat, sparky fish that love damsels, chironomids, leeches, you name it.
North Fork CDA River
Northern Idaho is home to endless pine trees and gin-clear streams. One of those pristine streams is the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. It flows south through the Silver Valley before entering Lake Coeur d’Alene. A dry fly fisherman’s dream as thick Westslope Cutthroat rise to dries. The water is clear and cold and “fun size,” as it is not incredibly wide. The aquatic life is endless; Midges, BWOs, March Browns, and Skwalas hatch in the spring. Then, summer bumps the Cutthroat’s diet with Salmonflies, Green Drakes, Yellow Sallies, Golden Stones, and caddis. It is not uncommon to find 14″ to 18″ Westslope Cutthroat, some close to 20″ on a great day. When talking Westslope’s, those are studs.
Hidden in the hills of western Idaho, Brownlee Reservoir is an excellent destination for many visitors and recreationists. Amongst the snake river right on the Idaho and Oregon border, this lake section of the river holds many species of fish, from Crappie to Catfish to Bluegill and much more. Although for every other fly angler that visits, we’d hope they brought a 6 weight rod and their favorite bass bug. Brownlee is absolutely stacked with Smallmouth Bass.
In a lake full of rock structures, canyon walls, and sagebrush banks, the smallmouth love to feed on Crawfish, Insects, and juvenile Perch. May and June are the primary months as these fish will be near their spawn, looking to fatten up before and after holding pure aggression. Indeed, a hidden gem for a fly angler that loves to target bass. I have heard stories of anglers catching close to 200 fish on a boat with family members in a single day. Not always are the smallmouth bass giants, but a 1-3 pound fish will fight like no other on a fly rod, it is truly a blast. Best fished from a boat; bring poppers and plenty of Crawfish patterns!
Henry’s Lake started out as a small, shallow alpine lake. Over the years, it has expanded to a much bigger size. Also called “Hank’s Lake,” it is approximately 4 miles long. Surprising most anglers unfamiliar with the Lake, it is only about 14 feet deep on average, making it perfect for Stillwater fly fishing as the weeds grow tall and the aquatic life is endless. Anglers can catch cutthroat trout, brook trout, and rainbow-cutthroat hybrid trout at Henrys Lake. It is home to some of the country’s largest Brook trout, including the 7.2-pound state record Brook trout. It is also home to the infamous Yellowstone Cutthroat, which typically ranges in the 17″ to 23″ class but can get much more extensive when it comes to the hybrid. The fish pulled out of Henry’s are short and stout, weighing 5 to 10 pounds. Although some of the bigger ones reach 15 pounds.
Most of the fishing is done with 6wt 9′ fly rods off of a float tube or motorized boat. It fishes very well, suitable from ice off from the shore as the fish cruise shallow. Most anglers claim the fall is their favorite. For ones who enjoy fishing with the most bug activity, summer is that time. From floating lines and dry flies, indicator rigs with chironomids, or full sinking tips trolling leeches, all methods are presented effectively to these trout on Henry’s Lake. When it comes to location, most of them are associated with natural springs throughout the Lake holding cold temperatures and rich nutrients for these big trout. Many aquatic insects or patterns imitate a Leech, Damsel, Midge, Scud, and other Caddis species.
Once I was out on a raft and almost had a terrifying experience. The winds can be harmful, so pay attention to the weather for fronts, along with the direction or speed of the wind. It can change like a light switch while you are out there, causing some serious waves since the Lake is shallower than most.
The Big Lost River
The surface flow of the Big Lost River does not reach any larger river but instead disappears into the Snake River Aquifer at the Big Lost River Sinks, giving the river its name. The river is one of Idaho’s Lost Streams, a collection of streams that flow into the plain and then vanish. It begins atop Copper Basin above Sun Valley, Idaho. Home to Rainbow Trout and the Fine Spotted Cutthroat, the upper river flows into Mackay Reservoir. The smaller stream feels to the upper lost is exhilarating. It is hard to beat watching Cutthroat rise slower than ever, to eat your dry fly. Most of the fish are in the 12 -14″ range, but some fish get upwards of 23″ plus. From hatches consisting of Yellow Sally’s, Gray Drakes, and consistent terrestrials, the Lost has abundant water to explore.
The Rainbow trout are beyond plentiful when it comes to the lower lost, below the Reservoir. The slight water feel did not go anywhere, consistently flowing near 80-150 CFS. In the fall and spring, hatches of Blue Wing Olives are a favorite, but many locals enjoy fishing Cranefly patterns, skittering them across the surface. When the fishing gets slow, this river is one of the best to nymph. The big bows just cannot say no. Have plenty of small rubber legs, Zebra midges, and Baetis nymphs ready to go.
When in Idaho, we highly recommend hiring an experienced guide to show you around. Idaho has enough water to get skunked on, lost, or be explored. In other words, maybe a guide for your first time here? Below are a handful of highly recommended outfitters we recommend you keep in your back pocket.
Teton Valley Lodge: With over a century of expertise in the industry, TVL knows how to ensure a great time on the water. An Idaho fly fishing trip couldn’t be better selected than with some of the most experienced anglers that have discovered over 25 different sections of river to work on. Located just outside Driggs, Idaho, right on the upper Teton River. The Teton Valley is approximately 30 minutes from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. One of the most stunning features of the lodge is the backdrop of the pointy, snow-capped Tetons. And, of course, how could an eastern Idaho fishing experience be complete without including the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River and the South Fork of the Snake river? Pick your poison; TVL will have a guide ready to tackle the water that best fits your expectations for a beautiful day of fly fishing.
Three Rivers Ranch Outfitters: Some of the best world-renowned rivers in the Northwest lie between Western Montana and Eastern Idaho. As a result, Three Rivers Ranch located itself right in the middle of it all, on the Warm River near Ashton, Idaho. TRR has multiple fly shops. One is located in downtown Eagle, Idaho, on the western side of the state, a Boise suburb licensed to the Boise and Owyhee Rivers. The other fly shops are located in Eastern Idaho; Driggs, Island Park, Warm River, and Ashton. TRR has a guide school where guides gain experience through instruction and time on the water. Currently, they have acquired licenses to take anglers out on The Madison, Yellowstone, Henry’s Fork, and South Fork of the Snake Rivers. Three Rivers Ranch has grown into a fantastic lodge and has been nominated Orvis Lodge of the Year.
Trout Hunter Lodge and Fly Shop: Located right on the Ranch section of the Henry’s fork in Island Park, Trout Hunter lodge and fly shop is known to ring a bell for any anglers who’ve fished in the Northwest. Since 1999, it has been the standard for hospitality as a lodge, housing anglers worldwide. Trout Hunter obtains excellent guides, a top-notch fly shop, and a well-known bar and grill. They have even created some of their own products, showcasing in other fly shops around the country, like their premium tippet. To book your stay, a Henry’s Fork specialist guide, and savor a river-front meal, reach out to Trout Hunter Lodge and Fly Shop.
North40 Outfitters and Fly Shop: North40 Outfitters is an outdoor store located in Washington, Montana, and Idaho. Their outfit obtains everything you could think of needing; farm, ranch, and outdoor gear for the people who are out there living it and working in it every day. Within most of their stores, North40 holds a fly shop. For Northern Idaho, it is the premier fly shop. With shops in Lewiston, Sandpoint, and Coeur d alene, they have guides fishing on the Clearwater River, Coeur d alene, St. Joe, and more. Also, they host trips across the globe like Mexico, Canada, Central America, and the Pacific Island. I’ve experienced their friendly team firsthand; they will make sure you’re on the water with a great time in no time.
Picabo Angler Fly Shop: Picabo Angler is a full-service fly shop offering guided fly fishing and much more. It is the only outfitter on the world-renowned Silver Creek banks, located in Picabo’s unique little town, holding only 80 or so people. A humbling, proper spring creek with many fish per mile and quite a few trophies have brought professional guides with years of experience to this place. The upper and lower Big Wood River, the upper and lower Big Lost, and the floating Salmon River are fishing locations with many opportunities you can find yourself experiencing with Picabo Angler. Read more about “Pee-ka-boo” or “Shining Waters.”
When on a mission to discover new scenes and catch new fish, it is essential to do your research to find what the fish appetize. Every fishery is different; factors amongst different habitats bring other food sources, which means new types of flies to have prepared in your box. You will likely shoot yourself in the foot when you go to Idaho without bringing a select range of bugs. Don’t worry, just look at what’s below for you, all the flies you’ll need organized monthly. You’re Welcome!
Streamers: Yellow Sex Dungeon, White Drunk and Disorderly, Coffee Sparkle Minnow
Dry Flies: Mahogany Duns, BWO, October Caddis, Midges
Nymphs: Blowtorch, Hotspot PT, Olive Pheasant Tail, Smaller stonefly
Streamers: Peanut Envy, Sculpzilla, Boogie Man, Conehead Muddler Minnow, olive wooly bugger
Dry Flies: Midges and BWO’s
Nymphs: Zebra Midges, black perdigon, Baetis Emergers
Streamers: Wine Circus Peanut, Olive and White Barely Legal, Hot spot Black Zonker
Dry Flies: BWO, March Browns, Midges, Some Skwalas, Caddis
Nymphs: Caddis Pupae, Small Two-bit Hooker olive or red, Squirmy Wormy
Streamers: Crawfish Tips Up, Zirdle Bug, Lil’ Kim
Dry Flies: PMD, Damsels, Yellow Sally, Stoneflies, Trico, Ants and Beetles
Nymphs: Pat’s Rubber Legs, Prince Nymph, Duracell, Olive Quill
When out on the water, especially in a new location, state, lake, creek or stream, it is pivotal to be aware of knowing what, where, and how is right and wrong. Linked below is a guide to the seasons and regulations to follow when visiting the great state of Idaho. Be sure to read through the guidelines thoroughly on the location you plan on visiting, before getting your calendar full for sure. Click here to view the seasons/regulations for fishing in Idaho.
Between the size of fish, famous mountain ranges and breathtaking valleys of free-flowing streams, Idaho cannot be overlooked. Fishing, vacation, camping, anything outdoorsy, Idaho will not let you down.