If you’ve never fished in Idaho’s mountain country, I recommend adding it to your fly fishing bucket list. Having grown up in the potato state, I try to get back to fish Idaho’s waters at least once a year and I was fortunate enough to get a week off to do so last week. It was simply a magnificent trip.
Idaho’s fall weather is wonderfully inconstant; the air is cold one cloud-covered minute and sun warmed the next. I stood on the river one afternoon beneath a cumulous clouded blue sky and felt the chill of mountain air suddenly press down on the back of my neck. I looked up to find snow blowing down from the peaks far above the valley, seemingly falling from the otherwise empty blue sky above my head. As the snow fell into the water and disappeared I was stunned by the absolute strangeness of this kind of beauty.
The fall colors were also set to stun. Whether you are fishing the tailwater rivers like the South Fork of the Boise below Anderson Dam, or the spring creeks like Silver Creek, the Big Wood through Ketchum and the Upper Lost in Copper Basin, there is everywhere a myriad of colors: rich vibrant gold glowing in the sun, bright green still hanging on to spring and red rusting into brown and orange. Each tree is a different shade, and the leaves fall like confetti on the water, crowding along the banks of slower sections.
These rivers hold many different types of fish from Brown Trout and Brookies, to the occasional Whitefish and–my favorite–the always vibrant Rainbow Trout. This year we caught a number of beautiful 17-19″ rainbows over the course of our week on the water. Dark in color, these late-in-life spawners were big and hot–running as soon as the fly put pressure on their lip.
It is important to know how to fish the entire water column, but my expertise lies in dry fly fishing, so when I waded into each watershed I had an arsenal of dry fly classics: size 18-22 BWO, black/grey midge and callibaetis patterns. I saw success with each as the hatch patterns changed with changing water levels and cloudy vs. cloudless days–BWOs tend to hatch with cloud cover and midges/callibaetis hatch in the sunshine. It isn’t an exact science, but it’s what I have experienced.
In winter, after farmers have cut their last crop of the season, watersheds are reduced to reserve as much rain and snow melt in reservoir stores for the next year’s irrigation. This means tailwater is reduced to levels sometimes as low as 50 cfs–barely past your ankles in some sections that would normally hold feeding fish. A change in water levels this drastic alters hatch patterns, holding locations and makes for some especially technical water for dry fly fishing; with larger trout rising in soft water on the edge of multi-current eddies created by the exposure of previously submerged tree roots or rocks, dry fly fishing is a challenge. To make it even more difficult, the waters are crystal clear, allowing fish to see you way before you see them.
*Casting into a deep, slow section of river puckered by sipping trout*
But that challenge is why I love to dry fly fish. Big trout sipping in technical water with only a two or three second drift to tempt them to the fly provides the perfect scenario for the most rewarding type of take, and make for the heart palpitating releases. We returned home from a great week in the mountains with faces full of smiles and phones full of fish pics. Can’t wait to get back next fall.
*And Rainbows on Rainbows…*