Roughly 40 percent of Idaho is covered in National Forest; that translates into 20.4 million acres that are criss-crossed by creeks and rivers full of healthy fish. Originally explored by Lewis and Clark more than two hundred years ago, Idaho is home to some of the finest dry fly fisheries in the world. Whether you are looking to catch a 24 inch rainbow trout on a salmon fly or prefer exploring remote freestone rivers full of native cutthroat, Idaho has it all.
1. Teton River, World Class Fly Fishing
Located outside of Victor in eastern Idaho, the Teton River offers some of the finest fly fishing and scenery that the state has to offer. The river runs along the Wyoming-Idaho border under the magnificent Teton Range, and it is home to good populations of rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, cutbows and brook trout.
The upper Teton River is a meandering river that offers exceptional dry fly fishing, while the lower section runs through a wild canyon and is home to some monster cutthroat trout. The relatively steady water temps on the upper stretch of the river result in consistent hatches and big healthy fish. You can wade the Teton River, but floating it in a drift boat or even from a stand up paddle board is usually more effective.
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Where to Fish the Teton River
The upper stretch of the Teton River is mellow enough that it can be fished from drift boats and paddle boards. There is great access along the Teton River, but my favorite place to start my float is from Packsaddle/Cache Bridge. This access point is not as crowded as some of the other boat ramps. Head north out of Driggs on Highway 33, and then turn left on 4000 North/Packsaddle Rd. You will cross the river and then the boat ramp will be on your left.
The drift from here to Harrop Bridge is approximately three hours.
Recommended Flies for the Teton River
- Purple Chubby, Size 8. The Purple Chubby is deadly on the Teton River. If purple isn’t your color, try a tan foam/orange belly chubby or a tan foam/red belly chubby.
There are plenty of large terrestrials flying around on the Teton River, it is all about trying different color combinations until you find one they can’t resist.
- Stimulator, Size 8-14. The water temps on the upper Teton River provide great habitat for insect life, and there are a lot of stoneflies around. Make sure you have green, orange, and black Stimulators.
- Grey Drake. If you visit the Teton in September, make sure you bring your drake box. The hatch is phenomenal.
- Flashback Pheasant Tail, Size 14-18. Although you don’t need to drop a nymph behind your dry fly, it usually results in a couple more fish throughout the day. It is hard to beat a pheasant tail because it looks a little bit like everything.
2. Henrys Lake, Trophy Fly Fishing
Located at the headwaters of the Henrys Fork, Henrys Lake offers some of the finest stillwater fishing in Idaho. The lake is just over 6000 acres, but it is relatively shallow. The shallow nature of this lake leads to plenty of vegetation on the bottom, and everything from leeches to sculpins to baitfish love to hide in this vegetation. The lake is regularly stocked with brook trout, cutthroat trout and cutbow trout. Some of the larger cutbows in the lake are over 25 inches, and the lake is famous in the region for high catch rate. Henrys Lake also supports an incredible variety of birds including swans, herons, and pelicans.
Where to Fish Henrys Lake
Although there is a lot of private water surrounding the lake, there are a couple good access points. Henrys Lake State Park is located on the south side of the lake, and offers campsites, hiking, and a boat ramp. Although you can fish the lake from the shore, a float tube or canoe is definitely going to be more effective. The road to the park is located about eight miles outside of West Yellowstone on Highway 20.
Henrys Lake State Park
Recommended Flies for Henrys Lake
- Leeches, Size 4-12. Henrys Lake is full of leeches, and the fish gobble them up. My favorite colors are red/black or black. Fish these leeches on a floating line. Let the leech sink a little bit and then retrieve with slow steady strips. Change the depth and speed of retrieve until you start hooking up consistently.
- Baitfish patterns, Size 4-8. Baitfish patterns like Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow or Clouser Minnows can be very effective. A sink tip line helps keep these flies where you want them in the water column. Green/white or red/black clousers are my favorite.
- Scuds. Size 12. Occasionally the fish key in on scuds, and it can make for some really fun fishing. Fish scuds with a floating line and try a series of short, quick strips followed by a pause. Don’t be afraid to give a bit of a strip set once you feel the take.
3. Silver Creek, Fly Fishing Bugs Abound
Silver Creek is located about 30 miles south of Sun Valley, and it is home to massive fish and epic hatches. This meandering spring creek is home to both rainbow trout and brown trout. The average fish is around 15 inches, but brown trout that tip the scales at 9 pounds are caught here every year.
The reason to visit Silver Creek is to witness and fish the incredible mayfly hatches that regularly pop off. When the mayflies start flying, the flat waters of this creek start to boil with feeding fish. During these hatches, even the big fish leave their haunts to feed on the surface. The fish that live in these gin-clear waters are smart and healthy, and thus it is vitally important to match the hatch and get a good drift to rising fish.
Where to Fish Silver Creek
There is a lot of public access along Silver Creek. The Nature Conservancy manages a preserve on Silver Creek just west of Picabo, and this is a fly fishing only section. You can wade fish Silver Creek, but the easy grade of this river is well suited to fishing from a float tube.
I like to put in at Kilpatrick Bridge. To get to the bridge, head northwest out of Picabo on Highway 20, and after three miles start looking for Kilpatrick Bridge Rd. Take a left on this road and then follow it for a mile. Once you cross the creek you will see the parking areas on the west and east side of the road.
There is a lot of private land along Silver Creek, so make sure you plan your float accordingly.
Recommended Flies for Silver Creek
- BWOs, Size 16-22. There are Blue Wing Olive hatches on Silver Creek throughout the year. I like BWOs tied with CDC feathers, or the Last Chance Cripple BWO.
- Midges, Size 18-22. Midges hatch throughout the year on Silver Creek. Some days there can be three or four hatches going on, but the fish will only eat midges.
- Terrestrials, Size 8-12. Fishing terrestrials like grasshoppers or beetles can be very productive during breezy days in August and September. Cover plenty of water and you will find eager fish.
- Scuds, Size 10-14. Silver Creek is full of scuds, and thus it is best to carry a couple just in case. There is a lot of vegetation on the bottom, so try and sight fish so that you don’t spend your precious afternoon picking weeds off your fly.
Download this FREE Hatch Chart before you wet a line in Idaho!
4. Big Wood River
The Big Wood River is a classic freestone river that is located in Central Idaho. Fishing regulations implemented into 1992 have been very effective in establishing healthy fish populations. The river is dependent on snowpack, but usually it clears by mid to late June. There are incredible stonefly, caddis, and mayfly hatches.
Read how to setup a Dry Fly with a Nymph Dropper in this article. Setting up a Dry Dropper Rig This setup doubles the amount of water your flies cover.
My favorite way to fish the Big Wood River is with a hopper-dropper rig. I usually fish a Stimulator or small terrestrial pattern on top, and then drop a Pheasant Tail or Bloody Mary behind it. A four or five weight rod is perfect for the Big Wood River.
5. North Fork Coeur d’Alene River
The North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River is a remote dry fly fishing paradise. The primary species in the river is Westslope Cutthroat Trout. The Coeur d’Alene River Road follows the river, and the fishing and the solitude only get better the farther you drive. The fish in the North Fork are opportunistic hunters and will eat just about anything buggy that is presented correctly.
Fluorocarbon tippet and 9ft leaders are a must when fishing this gin-clear water, but a good drift is just as important. Read how to make your own leader in this article – How to Make a Fly Fishing Leader. If you know where a fish is holding, cast above them and make the necessary mends until you know your fly is going to drift perfectly through the danger zone. Fish your favorite terrestrial like a Super Beetle and tie a red or black Copper John off the back of it.
6. Henry’s Fork
The Henry’s Fork is one of the finest dry fly fishing destinations in the world. Rainbow trout and cutthroat trout populate the upper stretches of the river, and you will start to find brown trout beneath Mesa Falls. The salmon fly hatch that usually runs from mid-May to mid-June offers anglers the opportunity to catch 25+ inch fish on dry flies.
Watching one of these monsters sip a salmon fly out of a riffle is the stuff dreams are made of. If you go in the fall, make sure to bring plenty of BWOs and a half dozen of your favorite streamers. The Henry’s Fork is best fished from a drift boat with a five or six weight rod.
7. Salmon River
The Salmon River is unique because it represents the opportunity to catch steelhead and chinook salmon 800 miles from the ocean. The steelhead fishing is best in the winter and spring, while the fall is best for chinook salmon. During the summer, fly fishing on the Salmon River for smallmouth bass and resident brown trout can be very productive.
The Salmon River is usually fished from a drift boat, but the river is well suited for wade fishing as well. If you are targeting steelhead, make sure you have egg patterns, egg sucking leeches, and some flashier intruder style flies as well.
8. Hayden Lake
Hayden Lake is located in Kootenai County and is roughly 3,800 acres and it has over 40 miles of coastline. Hayden Lake is a great fishery with a wide array of fishing opportunities. Fly fisherman can chase everything from rainbow trout to northern pike to largemouth bass.
Rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon are regularly stocked in Hayden Lake, and there are generous limits on Kokanee. If you are fishing for Kokanee, a couple conehead marabou leech patterns wouldn’t hurt. The simpler the better, and make sure you have them in white, red, and orange.
9. South Fork of the Boise River
The Boise River is located in southwestern Idaho, and it offers countless miles of access. The Boise River has three forks, but the South Fork of the Boise River is home to some huge rainbow trout and bull trout. The South Fork beneath Anderson Ranch Reservoir is tailwater fishery that supports fantastic bug life and the fish are huge.
Regulations on the South Fork require anglers to use one barbless hook and artificial lures are the only legal method of take. In terms of flies, bring a couple leeches, some big terrestrial patterns, and a couple BWOs. If you are going in the winter, RS2s, Disco Midges and Top Secret Midges are deadly. Always bring a San Juan Worm too, just don’t tell my dad that it was my idea.
10. Warm River
The Warm River is a spring-fed river located just outside of Yellowstone National Park. This river is only 26 miles long, but it offers virtually unlimited access because most of it is located within the Targhee National Forest. My favorite section is the canyon section which can be accessed by following the river upstream from the Warm Springs Campground area. The access on this river is virtually unlimited, and the fishing usually gets better the farther you are willing to walk.
A 9ft 4wt rod is perfect for this river, and I usually fish a terrestrial pattern with a flashback pheasant tail behind it. Although the hopper-dropper rig is deadly, make sure you have a couple caddis patterns and a couple BWOs as well.
11. Little Wood River
Pouring out of the Pioneer Mountains is the Little Wood River. The section above Little Wood Reservoir is a small freestone river that offers great fly fishing for beginners. The section below the reservoir is known as the desert stretch, and while the fishing is more difficult there are much bigger fish in this stretch.
BWOs, tailwater midges, big terrestrials, and streamers are all great on this stretch, it just depends on what is coming off the water. Fishing for aggressive brown trout and acrobatic rainbow trout in the high desert is hard to beat, but make sure that you look out for rattlesnakes during the summer.
Recommended Gear for Fly Fishing in Idaho
Idaho is home to towering mountain ranges, high deserts, and lush lowlands. The bottom line is that the weather can change quickly in the Rockies, so planning ahead with a rain jacket and extra layer is always important. For most of the rivers and lakes in Idaho, a 9ft 5wt rod will suffice.
Read all about everything you could possibly take on a fly fishing trip in this article. The Ultimate Beginner Fly Fishing Checklist. Plus this article has a download list provided FREE.
In terms of dry flies, you always want to have a good selection of BWOs, stoneflies, PMDs and a caddis or two. When it comes to nymphs, I always make sure to carry a couple spring creek patterns like RS2s and Disco Midges as well as generic fishy patterns like Pheasant Tails and Copper Johns.
Like most rivers in the Rockies, a hopper-dropper rig is usually pretty deadly during the summer and fall months.
Learn the steps for setting up a DRY Fly with a Dropper in this article. How to rig a Dry Dropper for Fly Fishing.
Official References for Fly Fishing in Idaho:
- Stocking Information: https://idfg.idaho.gov/fish/stocking
- Fishing Information: https://idfg.idaho.gov/rules/fish