Top 10 Fly Fishing Rivers/Lakes in Idaho and Why to Go
Idaho, much like Montana, is a revered destination for fly fishing enthusiasts, boasting a rich tapestry of rivers and fish species. Its waterways have been fished for centuries, first by Native American tribes and later by European settlers. The state offers a diverse range of fishing experiences, from large, famous rivers to smaller, intimate streams. The shear amount of water available in the state is almost unfathomable for a western state.
Below is a table representing the top fly fishing rivers in Idaho, including historical notes, fishable miles, trout species, and fish counts per mile. These data points offer a snapshot and are subject to change based on environmental and ecological conditions. Don’t let the fluctuation deter you. The numbers are close enough to give you an idea of what the water qualities are and available to you.
It is always best to consult with local fly fishing reports or outfitters for the most current data. Environmental conservation efforts, seasonal changes, and specific fishing regulations can also have an impact on the fly fishing experience. Some rivers have specific sections that are particularly famous for fly fishing, and those sections may have higher fish counts than others.
Idaho is a treasure trove for fly fishing anglers, renowned for its pristine waters, impressive fish populations, and the wild, untouched beauty of its natural landscapes. They have become well know for the variety of high mountain streams, spring creeks and as of late popularity has grown with all of the irrigation diversions. Here are the compelling reasons why Idaho is an exceptional choice for fly fishing:
Idaho Fishing Quality:
- Renowned Rivers: Idaho boasts some of the most fabled waters for fly fishing, including the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, Silver Creek, and the Clearwater River. These and other Idaho rivers are celebrated for their world-class trout fishing. I can’t recommend Spring Creek enough! Every angler should have a chance to experience that fishery in their lifetime.
- Diverse Fish Populations: Anglers can target a variety of trout including rainbow, brown, brook, and the sought-after native Westslope cutthroat and bull trout. Idaho also has strong runs of anadromous fish like steelhead and chinook salmon in certain rivers, providing an added challenge for anglers. Certainly, Idaho is one of the moe diverse inland fisheries in the cuntry.
- High Fish Counts: Many of Idaho's rivers and lakes have high fish counts, offering anglers abundant opportunities for catches. For example, the South Fork of the Snake River is renowned for its high density of brown and rainbow trout. That being said, don’t sleep on the cutthroat. They are abundent as well and sight fishing to them in the side channels of the snake can be an absolute blast. I recall fishing with my friend Todd, where we pulled our personal pontoons into a small side channel that wouldn’t allow a standard drift boat to fit. After pulling over and wading we found several pods of cutthroat to visually target with technical sight fishing techniques. What a blast that was watching fish eat our nymphs underwater.
Nature Observation Quality in Idaho:
Wilderness Access: Idaho's vast wilderness areas, such as the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, provide a backcountry experience that is increasingly rare in the contiguous United States, allowing anglers to immerse themselves in nature. The Sawtooth Mountain valley into Stanley Idaho is another specimen of Idaho that can make just about anyone’s jaw drop.
- Abundant Wildlife: While fishing, one might spot elk, moose, deer, mountain goats, black bears, and even wolves. The state's waterways are also home to an array of waterfowl and bird species, such as eagles and osprey. Although though it is rare to see a mountain line they are there. I once camped alone in Idaho and woke in the middle of the night listening to the most god awful screaming I had ever heard. After researching I found that it was a mountain lion scream which I had never heard before. If you want to be terrified then I would suggest giving that a listen on a dark lonely night.
- Scenic Beauty: Idaho's dramatic landscapes, from the Bitterroot Mountains to the rolling hills of the Palouse, provide a stunning backdrop for any fishing expedition. Its clean, clear waters reflect the state's commitment to environmental preservation.
Statewide Support in Idaho:
- Fishery Management: The Idaho Department of Fish and Game actively manages fish habitats and stocks, ensuring healthy fish populations and sustainable angling opportunities. They’ve done such a tremendous job with Bull Trout that it is legal to target them in the state of Idaho because of their thriving and rejuvenated population. Also a true sign of the water quality that is maintained by the state.
- Public Access: Idaho offers excellent access to its rivers and lakes, with numerous public rights-of-way and boat launches. The state also maintains a program to improve angler access to private lands through agreements with landowners.
- Angler Resources: With extensive resources available to both novice and seasoned fly fishers, including detailed river guides, hatch charts, and educational programs, Idaho is committed to supporting its angling community. The various shops of Idaho are also some of the more welcoming I’ve experienced. They regularly look at fishing as a fun, family and or learning experience to be shared with visitors.
Statistics on Anglers Visiting Idaho:
Idaho is recognized as a premier destination for fly fishing. While exact numbers for visiting anglers are subject to annual variation, the state consistently draws a significant number of non-resident fishing license purchasers. Fly fishing tourism is a substantial part of Idaho's outdoor recreation economy, and it's not uncommon to encounter anglers who have traveled from afar to experience Idaho's famed fisheries. One thing that is nice about Idaho is the proximity of so many waterways. Don’t overlook the smaill creeks that don’t appear on this list. Instead, experience the classics and find several blue lining gems along the way.
The state's fishing resources are not only a boon for local economies but also for the conservation efforts. The money from license sales and fishing-related tourism helps fund habitat restoration, fish stocking, and conservation projects. Conservations safety wise, always make sure to wash and rinse your gear to stop contamination among various water ways.
Idaho's combination of high-quality, diverse fishing, opportunities for solitude and wildlife observation, and robust state support for anglers makes it a top-tier destination for fly fishing. For those seeking the quintessential Western fly fishing experience, Idaho offers some of the best opportunities in North America.
Socks - Get good thin wool socks that will keep you warm and comfortable. I recommend Minus33
Bottom Layer - A nice thin layer keeps you warm and your bulk down during the day. Patagonia Capiline layers are ideal.
Top Layer - Thin layers give you a good base to stay cool and add to. Again, Patagonia Capiline layers are ideal.
Puff Jacket - During the morning and evening these are clutch. Then when a cold spell hits you are prepared and comfortable. I love this puff by Patagonia, the Hooded Nanon Puff.
Flies - Have a good assortment of basics and you'll be fine. Here are some recommendations. Fly Crate has a wide assortment of flies to choose from but there are great Flypack assortments that are exceellent for rounding out a box for a trip.
Rod and Reel - Bring your rod and reel or pick up one of these great entry sets. Here is a list of great rod and reel packs and how to select.
Net - Netting by hand is fun and all but if you have one it will take the stress off. Since you are travelling a hand net like Orvis offers may be the ticket. It's short and fits in a bag very easily.
Wading Boots - Don't mess around and pick up some Korkers with additional soles. This way you can wade or toss on a felt and get into a boat without damaging it.
Fishing Pack - a small pack is nice to toss in a few extra layers based on weather. I also like it for a good DSLR camera. This is such a preferential thing and I've yet to find one that is perfect for all occassions.
By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast