Trout streams were crowded in the 2020 season, so I explored other fishing opportunities. I hadn’t been bass fishing in awhile so I loaded up the fly rods and hit the road.
When I arrived at my destination I found no one fishing. I had not fished this area before, so I tied on a tried and true Wooly Bugger. I waded in at a boat launch and spotted a nice looking log. I smacked a cast right next to it and let the fly sink for a couple seconds. I gave it a pull and the line went tight. Out of the water shot a nice looking largemouth with typical largemouth head shakes.
After landing and releasing the fish I took a moment to look around. I noticed a large back channel upriver with occasional boils. I ran back to the bank and hustled upriver. Wading out carefully I began to cast near structure, and the largemouth party was on. The only thing that didn’t have a good time was my Wooly Bugger.
It was a hot and muggy summer evening. Occasionally I had to swat a mosquito, but the fishing was awesome. The bass hit the streamers hard and the aerial head shakes were super fun to watch. It was a great way to spend a couple hours on the water.
If you like streamer fishing and having huge sections of river all to yourself then try bass fishing on the Snake River.
It felt like everyone in the state decided to take up fly fishing during the Pandemic. Even some of my, what I use to think, secret spots were shared with other fisherman this past season. At times I was frustrated by the number of people, but I had to remind myself that everybody needed time on the river last year. I hope people were able to find the peace that nature provides. Nonetheless, I like solitude while fishing, and I was determined I would find a place where I had some peace and quiet.
I spent a hour or so scanning over Idaho maps and the Fish and Game website. After researching a few potential backroad fishing locations, I loaded up my vehicle and hit the road.
After a long drive I arrived at my destination. I packed in my float tube and hiked into a beautiful high mountain lake.
I began noticing fish jumping right next to the reeds. At first I was caught off guard by the behavior of the fish. However, after further inspection I noticed many dragonflies on the reeds. Luckily, I had a couple patterns in my box. I made a cast and splashed my fly right next to the reeds. Bingo! I then enjoyed reeling in several brook trout such as these.
After a day fishing on no-tell-um lake I hit the road to find some new water. The drive was beautiful, but I tried two fisheries that ended up being a bust. The first fishery only had one public access point, and another lake I visited was a nasty green algae pool. However, that is part of exploration. It takes work to find secret spots, and I have just as many failures I as I do success stories.
The fourth water I visited proved to be productive and a fun way to end the trip. I found a pubic access point from a good old fashion recreation map. I drove by it two times because the entrance was not marked, and I’m glad it isn’t, because I finally found a stretch of the stream all to myself. A difficult find for crowded 2020 streams.
Idaho is home to beautiful freestone trout streams. Some of these rivers are large and beloved by whitewater enthusiasts while others are small tributaries that one could jump across.
A freestone is a river that is not impeded by a dam. All rivers (other than spring creeks) were freestone streams before dams were built. Once a river’s source comes from a dam it is considered a tail water. One section of the same river can be considered a freestone and the other section a tail water. For example, the South fork of the Boise is a freestone stream above Anderson Dam and a tail water below it.
Fishing freestone streams is a wonderful experience. The amount of insect life in these types of streams is generally less than that of tail waters or spring creeks. Therefore, fish cannot be picky eaters and are usually quite happy to take a variety of flies. This can often mean non stop dry fly action. A dream for those of us who fly fish.
Most of these streams are located in mountainous regions. The water supply comes from snow pack in the majestic mountain ranges covering much of Idaho. This usually makes access to these streams difficult other than during summer and early fall. Melting snow causes run off (muddy, swift water) in the late spring and early summer making fishing these rare gems possible only during a short season.
I tell people expect to be able to fish freestone rivers from the 4th of July -September give or take a couple of weeks. During large snow pack years runoff could continue through mid July. If the snow pack is below average then freestone fishing could be good in June. Fishing can continue into October as well. However, be prepared for snow storms as the fall progresses.
Fishing these streams is usually fairly easy. The key is finding the fish. Don’t bother casting to the same spot over and over. Cover a lot of water looking for pools, logs, rocks, overhanging brush, and foam lines.
Don’t stress over fly patterns. Again the fish have a limited food supply in these rivers, and they are usually aggressive eaters. High floating dry flies are my favorites. Chubby chernobyls, stimulators, elk hair caddis, and other attractor dry fly patterns work great. Stonefly nymphs, copper johns, midges, and pheasant tails work for sub-surface patterns. You can even throw small streamers.
There are many great freestone rivers in Idaho. The crowds are usually small to non- existent on these streams. I have fished freestones many times and I usually get the river to myself.
Don’t expect to catch huge fish. Life in these freestones isn’t easy and trout can’t pack on the weight like those living in spring creeks or tailwaters. Catching a trout 20 inches or larger in a freestone happens, but don’t expect it to be the norm. However, standing in a crystal clear river with the smell of pine trees is hard to beat, and again, DRY FLIES ALL DAY LONG.
A few popular freestones are Kelly Creek, the Big Wood, and the Middle fork of the Salmon. However, freestone streams cover the mountainous regions of the state. Get out there, start exploring, and enjoy the freestone season while it lasts.
October is a great month for fly fishing in Idaho. It is as if the fish know the food abundance of summer is coming to an end, and it is time to chow down one last time.
The foliage lining the riverbanks is a brilliant displays of yellows, reds, and oranges. Cool, crisp mornings give way to temperate afternoons. Bird hunting season minimizes the crowds on the river, and fish have fatten up all summer long.
This October my fly fishing outing was on a local river. I had so much success that I brought my nephew back the following week.
When we arrived fishing temperatures were ideal. We enjoyed a nice lunch and took in the views before setting foot in the river. My nephew is still learning, and I hoped we would have some success.
I set him up with an rubber leg nymphing rig, and had him cast near some promising boulders. It didn’t take long for him to hook into fish. It is nice for a beginner to start the day with a landed fish.
Once he landed a few I decided to wet a line myself. I found a nice riffle with some rising fish. I saw caddis, midges, and a few BWOs on the water. I was in the mood to swing some wet flies, so I tied on a simple pattern and gave it a try. It worked great.
My nephew and I spent the next few hours enjoying the great fishing. I took the riffles, and he took the pocket water near boulders. It was a great day because our set ups allowed us to fish different water types. We could fish near each other, but still have the enjoyment of our own piece of water.
The hike back to the car was just as good as the fishing. Idaho is beautiful in October, and we were treated to some spectacular country.
People often ask me if I have taught my kids to fly fish. Truth be told I do not think fly fishing is a great recreation option for little kids. There are too many nuances of fly fishing such as casting, fly patterns, knots, presentation techniques, etc.
I have started taking my kids fishing, but I keep it simple. Dunking worms and stocked ponds are what I focused on this year. Next year I might introduce a spinning rod with a simple lure, but that is it. I focus more on keeping trips fun than worrying about them mastering the art of angling. I bring snacks, frisbees, sand toys, butterfly nets (more on this below), extra clothes and shoes, and make sure the day is about them and not me. To be honest taking the kids fishing is a lot or work, but they love it and I cherish the memories we make on our trips.
Butterfly nets are especially handy. They provide something to keep them occupied while I untangle their messes in their fishing lines. Sometimes my kids end up spending an hour just chasing minnows, and that is perfectly okay with me. At this stage I want my kids to associate fishing trips with fun.
As mentioned above I incorporate other activities during our fishing trips. Sometimes we play at a lake beach, explore the forest, or float the river.
If they are bored it is time to change the activity, eat a snack, or wrap it up for the day. I know if I keep trips fun for them now they will gravitate towards fly fishing on their own.