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Vol 5 No. 26- March 16, 2005

Fishing Idaho’s Winter Wonderland

By Rusty Chinnis

I’ve fished in some tough conditions and angled at times that were far less than ideal. The list includes third world countries, the fringes of hurricanes, backyard ponds, in the teeth of nasty cold fronts, the far reaches of the Everglades and even (I was young, the neighbors didn’t mind, and the fish were hungry) a cemetery.

One thing I have never done is fly fish in the winter in the Northwest. I have to be honest, the idea of standing in the cold water, surrounded by snow in February in Idaho, wasn’t too appealing. Imagine my surprise when I did all of the above, wasn’t particularly cold and managed to have one of the best days ever on a western trout stream.

When I mentioned an upcoming ski trip to the Sun Valley area, Peter Crow, of Action Optics, was quick to recommend that I fish with Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum, Idaho. He was even kind enough to make a recommendation to John Huber, who runs Silver Creek’s travel department. I contacted Huber about two weeks before we departed Florida and he was very gracious, agreeing to take me fishing on the Big Wood River that runs through Sun Valley.

PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS

Above: John Huber holds a native rainbow trout
that took a dry fly on the Big Wood River near
Ketchum, Idaho. Left: a fresh coat of snow
covers one of the many ranges
in the Sawtooth Range.

I met Huber at Silver Creek Outfitters on a Monday morning, and he introduced me to the staff and owners of the store. They quickly arranged my license, fitted me with waders and boots and picked out a fly rod and reel according to my preferences. Huber, an accomplished fly caster and travel specialist, is also a book author and outdoor writer. He wrote the Flyfisher’s Guide to Oregon (www.amazon.com) and contributes regularly to the Big Sky Journal. After a quick tour of the shop (one of the best stocked and most diverse I have ever seen) we headed a short distance outside of town, parking roadside at a bridge that crossed the river. After donning extra cloths and waders, we took a short cut across a snowy field to the edge of the river. Although we were just minutes outside town, the river and the bluffs that rose to the east could have been in the most remote part of the state. In four hours we didn’t see another angler. The only life, other than rising trout, was a lone ermine scampering across a distant snow field and flocks of geese and ducks that sailed overhead, tracing the sinuous curve of flowing water.

To my surprise, there was a hatch of midges that attracted hungry rainbow trout to the water’s surface. Rigging with 5x tippet, Huber tied a double dry fly with a minute midge imitation suspended on 18 inches of 6x tippet. The action was slow to develop, occurring in short but active periods of feeding on the surface. My first fish, a beautiful 15 inch native rainbow, put up a terrific battle on the light tippet, surging through the pool and even managing a couple of jumps before being carefully released back into the back eddie of the deep pool. In the next fifteen minutes we caught and released several more fish before the surface action waned.

During the winter, rising fish aren’t uncommon, but often guides resort to fishing streamers and wet flies to reach trout lying on the bottom. The first couple of times the surface action waned, we tied on streamers and nymphs only to find the fish rising again. After a couple of attempts to entice the fish below the surface, we decided to stick with the dry flies. For the balance of the trip we fished several pools and were able to land a number of rainbows, all on dries. During the day the only thing that got cold were my feet, and then only during an extended stay in a deep pool. The weather was warm by Idaho standards, but we still managed to land our last fish during snow flurries.

This was my first Western fly fishing adventure in the winter, but it will definitely not be my last. I was so impressed with the fishing and the range of opportunities in the area that I plan a return trip this fall. Besides the Big Wood, the area features some of the west’s premier trout streams as well as spectacular scenery. Contact Silver Creek Outfitters at 1-800-732-5687 or visit their web site www.silver-creek.com.

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