Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
Sun Valley is synonymous with blue skies, cold snow and some of the planet’s best skiing. It is also revered by flyfishers who value deep powder simply because it fills the Wood River Valley’s many lakes, rivers and spring-fed streams.
It is a form of bureaucratic teasing that Idaho’s fishing season opens on Memorial Day weekend, when Sun Valley’s rivers and streams are silt-brown torrents. For a few weeks, until the Big Wood River clears, anglers must content themselves with beaver ponds or alpine lakes, where West Slope cutthroats and native brook trout feed with a voraciousness that owes everything to Idaho’s short alpine summer.
By mid-June, Sun Valley is a fisherman’s paradise-a countywide glory hole where trout reach near-mythic proportions. Flowing from its headwaters on Galena Summit and fed by tributary streams that spring from Trail Creek, Warm Springs, and Greenhorn and Deer Creek canyons, the Big Wood offers both a rich food base and excellent habitat. Surrounded by 9,000-foot mountains and shaded by century-old cottonwoods, it cascades from hole to hole through Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue until it finally spills into Magic Reservoir. Fish exceeding 20 inches are regularly taken on Royal Wulffs, Parachute Adams and Elk Hair Caddis in the river’s catch-and-release sections, which run from north of Ketchum to Hailey.
Silver Creek, the Big Wood’s spring-fed counterpart, ranks among the West’s best blue-ribbon trout streams.
Located 25 miles south of Sun Valley and surrounded by fields of barley and alfalfa, Silver Creek and its prolific insect hatches cultivate schools that draw flyfishers from around the world. Starting shortly after the sun’s first rays slip across the cold water, single caddis, mayflies and white-wing spinners coalesce in clouds that drift like smoke over thousands of circular rises. Silver Creek’s trout population-70 percent rainbows and 30 percent browns-is the densest of any river its size in the U.S., a fact that’s doubly frustrating when this large assembly of fish repeatedly slurps live flies within inches of your imitation.
Whether you’re floating a mosquito pattern over a mirrored beaver pond or casting an imitation mouse on a moonlit night, Sun Valley’s fishing is as good-or better-than its skiing. -Andrew E. Slough
The best time to fish Sun Valley is mid-August to early September. Book guided fishing trips with Idaho Angling Services (208-788-9709, anglingservices.com), Silver Creek Outfitters (208-726-5282, silver-creek.com) or Lost River Outfitters (208-726-1706, lostriveroutfitters.com).