People are often surprised to hear how good the fly fishing is in the winter time. The key is knowing the right type of water to focus your angling attention. Don’t waste your time fishing the fast water of summer. Instead focus on the slow water where the fish will concentrate to conserve their energy during the cold months of winter. And as a general rule of thumb, if you find one fish, you will find several. The winter midge hatch is beginning to gain momentum but the day time highs for the next two weeks will continue to be below average which will keep the prolific midge activity at bay. As always this time of year, the best time to be on the water is from noon till three and if you have the luxury of picking your days to fish, the midge activity is always stronger on the calm, snowy days. With the snow pack on the valley floor you will need to use the plowed parking areas and if you are willing to walk a bit you can find fish that have not been bothered for over a month or two. And of course, be very careful when negotiating the ice along the edge of the river.
Big Wood River
Focus you attention on the water downstream of the confluence of Warm Springs Creek and you should able to find plenty of open water to fish. The nymphing has been quite good and we should see more surface activity as the winter midge hatch increases. For nymphs try either little or big. Small (16 or 18) bead headed Zebra Midge, Rainbow Warriors or Bishop’s Dynamite are a good bet. Non beaded nymphs such like a brassie, a crystal midge or a miracle midge work well if you see fish working just beneath the surface. For big nymphs, try a Rubber Leg Stone or a large Prince Nymph. Fish these nymphs behind your favorite high vis dry or a indicator with 5 or 6x fluorocarbon tippet. For drys a Griffiths Gnat or a Trailing Shuck Midge in size 20 or 22 are a good choice. Consider fishing these diminutive drys behind a larger dry as well to help with visibility during the low light of winter.
The Big Lost
The trip to Arco and up to Mackay is a bit of a trek, but well worth the effort if you want to find some great winter fishing opportunities. Approach this water with the same tactics as you would use on the Wood. With the water levels as low as they are, you will find concentrations of fish in the classic winter water and you won’t need to walk every far to catch one fish after another.
Silver Creek below Highway 20
The Nature Conservancy is closed this time of year, but the fishing below the Highway 20 bridge will remain open until the end of February. With the cold temperatures of late, there is a lot of ice on the edges of the Creek and it is difficult to effectively fish the open areas. It would be wise to let the ice dissipate before attempting to fish here.
South Fork of the Boise
The road in and out can truly test your nerves this time of year. Always go with a 4×4 and a set of chains. The fishing window is short down in the canyon, but you can expect your typical winter fare of midge and a smattering of BWO. As the days get longer in February and March this fishery really gets good again.
Less than a 100 miles south of Ketchum is the Hagerman Valley, considered the “banana belt” of Southern Idaho since the air temperatures are consistently warmer than the rest of the state. The two fishing opportunities that I would consider in this area include the Malad River and the private pond at the Clear Lake Country Club. The water in the Malad Gorge is a combination of water from Silver Creek and the Big and Little Wood Rivers and is a fun winter fishery. For a small fee, the spring feed 15 acre pond at the Clear Lake Country Club is a great place to go float tubing in the winter for stocked rainbows. Of course, I recommend calling ahead to check on conditions.
Many men go fishing their entire lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.~ Henry David Thoreau
photo by Bryan Huskey