Central Idaho’s Classic Trout Streams
“Best of all he loved the fall/ The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods/ Leaves floating on the trout streams/ And above the hills/ The high blue windless skies/ Now he will be a part of them forever.”
— Ernest Hemingway’s Epitaph
These are the streams Hemingway fished. He rests in Ketchum, Idaho in a cemetery not far from his beloved Big Wood River.
If you’re a fly fishermen who hasn’t experienced the classic trout streams of central Idaho, maybe now is the time. Like a pilgrimage hemingwayto Mecca, every true believer needs to do it at least once. Fish the same riffles and pools that Ted Williams, Joe Brooks, Lee Wulff and Zane Grey cast flies to. It’s like stepping up to the plate in Yankee Stadium and taking your swings.
The Big Wood River flows through Ketchum – best known today for skiing and celebrities. The Big Wood begins in the Boulder Mountains northwest of Ketchum and flows 70 miles to Magic Reservoir. The northern stretches are rainbow trout country – running up to 20 inches. Below the town of Hailey brown trout come into play.
Public access is good, the scenery is incredible, and the stream is open almost all year to catch-and-release anglers. Winter fishing – hemingwayfor the warmly dressed – can be especially productive. Year round the trout see a lot of flies, and it pays to visit local fly shops for the right patterns.
The Big Wood offers easy wading, miles of access, and decent sized wild fish. It’s a stream that can challenge any angler, but is also known as a good place for beginners to learn and to try their luck.
Thirty miles south of Ketchum you’ll encounter fabled Silver Creek. Known as the “crown jewel” of western spring creeks, it meanders across scenic meadows and the agricultural fields of the Camas Prairie. Primarily fished by wading, there are numerous public access points (best north of Picabo). A favorite is the Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve (established with the help of son Jack Hemingway). Idaho Fish and Game also maintains several access points.
Silver Creek is known for trophy wild trout, with rainbows and particularly browns reaching intimidating sizes. This is a “big fish in small water” stream. The trout are known for being especially finicky, and “matching the hatch” is usually a requirement for success. Incredible hatches and slick water make for a tremendous dry fly fishery, characterized by difficult changing currents that can throw off even that “perfect” drift.
If mountain fishing is more your thing, there’s the Big Lost River, just over the Pioneer Mountain divide north of Ketchum. Like variety? Although best known for sizable rainbows, anglers on the Big Lost have a decent shot at browns, brook trout and cutthroats.
Expect scenery. The drive to the Big Lost offers incredible views of the Devils Bedstead in the Pioneer Mountains, as well as Mount Borah – Idaho’s tallest mountain. You’ll see plenty of wildlife, including elk, bear, antelope and moose.
Mountain country means spring run-off is an issue. The river really comes into its own during early July and looks good through the fall.
Don’t worry about “getting lost” on the Big Lost River. It gets the name because – rather than flowing into another river – it vanishes into a patch of marshland at the Big Lost River Sinks.
Fish With Hemingway
The Big Wood, Big Lost and Silver Creek – the Holy Grail of western fly fishing. Every fisherman worth his salt should aspire to fish with Hemingway.
For more information try these websites: Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Hailey Chamber of Commerce, and Visit Sun Valley.