By: Adam Pennington
As a fisherman, I always wondered what I could learn if I had the time and energy to spend an entire month fishing the same river every day. What could I learn? How many fish could I catch? What kind of Wildlife could I observe? So, I picked up and moved to Ketchum, Idaho to guide, fish, and immerse myself in the infamous Silver Creek, which is one of the most technical waters in the country.
I can only describe the creek as a spring fed stream that turns into a wetland full of massive trout that draws in fisherman across the country because of its diverse array of insects and angling opportunities. Yet, there is still a solitude found here because of the available access to the small system. I had heard about Silver Creek as many of you have, but I never imagined what it truly is before arriving.
The season on Silver Creek Preserve, which is privately owned by the Nature Conservancy, but is open to the public for single-barbless fly fishing only, runs from the 4th Saturday in May to November 30th. When the season opened this year the fishing was ripe. I arrived on opening day along with 120 other cars full of fisherman who shared a common goal. As you drive into the preserve you feel welcomed by the surrounding anglers, some of which are old timers who know the stream well, others are here for the first time, and several are shaking hands befriending the angler parked next to them. The Nature Conservancy Preserve has a log book for those who choose to utilize the property and ask that each individual sign in. The preserve is funded by donations that are also accepted at that time. A section is designated for float tube only specifically to manage the habitat along the banks. The silt in some areas is too deep to access without a float tube. In places, walking into the stream you step into thigh deep silt where you struggle to get out. Float tubes work well on Silver Creek and they enhance your experience allowing you to be mobile in places you wouldn’t be otherwise, and keep your profile low where fish are used to seeing tubes float by.
I was lucky enough to have some friends in the area to show me around. The first few days it was difficult to find untouched water, but if you search for a while, you can always find a place to wet a line. Downstream below the preserve there is additional public access managed by Fish and Game. New bugs challenged me to find matching flies in my box which proved to be a difficult game to play. PMD’s twitched on the surface as they floated downstream and I stood watching without the correct fly. The only fish I landed that evening came on a wooly bugger. I remember being excited to return with more flies in the morning.
Feeling more prepared with an expanded fly selection gave me the confidence to venture further into the preserve. The Baetis were hatching that day however, and required a smaller pattern than even the smallest midge in my fly box. I landed two fish on a damsel nymph but again was eager to return with more new patterns. This challenge of learning new bugs and learning new water is exactly what drew me to fishing in the first place. Though humbling at times, Silver Creek is an amazing place to test yourself as a fisherman.
After a week, I began to recognize some of the insects and adapted many of my flies to match size and profile. I also learned the importance of presentation so the fish would see my fly before they ever see the line. Fish commonly are found just below the surface in Silver Creek feeding in the film and the nymphing techniques I’ve used in the past aren’t ideal for these conditions. There are noticeable emergers and cases in the film floating down the river, and most people believe that if the fish are looking up you can provoke a strike on a dry fly.
Aside from the fishing, I encountered Moose on Silver creek daily. Seeing one everyday on the way to the river was a treat. While casting on an island, turning to check the clearance of a back cast, I nearly hooked a calf only 10 feet behind me. Moving out of that position,I watched the moose for a while from a safe distance. Being that close to a moose having never seen more than 5 in my lifetime puts into perspective how much wildlife goes unseen in the preserve. One moment you’re focused on fishing and the next moment, you’re mesmerized by a huge wild animal standing behind you forgetting you were casting to a specific fish rising to emerging baetis.
The first Mayfly Drake hatch of the year was well on its way, and I began to understand the respect and importance of this fishery. Everyone stood on the bank night after night, waiting, not fishing, for a phenomenon charged by the temperature of the water. The party began as eager locals showed up for a night of sitting watching the water flow by. This year the party started about two weeks before the hatch did, as it was delayed by unseasonably cool weather. It is intriguing to watch the patience displayed by these first class fishermen. My time spent at the river increased and I set up my tent on the bank. Since I was already there, I tried my hand at the”mammal hatch” and used a float tube to access a good section of the stream.
No fish were caught, but I took breaks between casts to enjoy the “holes in the sky” and the beauty of some asteroids.You’ll never see the stars so clearly, wanting to take a picture, but you can only capture it as a memory.
Another two days went by, and a cold front passed. The hatch still had not begun, but despite the cold, fish still came eagerly to the fly, and the river continued to challenge me as a fisherman. Learning new spots and new techniques and increasing the length of drifts within the preserve, I hooked up with a really good fish in the walk and wade section, but after two acrobatic leaps he came unbuttoned and spit the hook. The gentleman downstream knew what had happened. He too has had the same experience on Silver Creek. The big fish here know the drill. A long distance release on a fish I would have loved to share a moment with is not uncommon here. He left me eager for the next bite and I continued fishing with confidence that the larger fish will take my fly and next time I will be ready for the fight.
Navigation laws in Idaho allow passage through private land if you stay in the water, allowing you to wade through the landlocked waters on the preserve. While fishing that section, PMDs were popping off occasionally, and at one point a fish devoured every PMD that passed for 15 minutes without letting a single bug drift by. When finally given a cast he rose to a dry fly, and after a moment he was released to continue his game. What a sight to see! No man can ever describe this scene perfectly with words. I continued down the river fishing dries picking up a few more fish and trying some different tactics to prove what was the finest fly for the day. The sun came out and traded the clouds for wind and the difficulty increased. Subsurface tactics proved to be more productive once the wind picked up and the PMD hatch slowed to a halt. With a tent pitched at the creek, waiting for the hatch to arrive, I realized how simple life can be.
June 8th brought snow, but the fish continued to eat and I found a subsurface damsel to be an effective fly for the frigid temperatures. A couple days later, the hatch arrived and the bugs were plentiful. The first two nights there were a few, but no words could describe to you how many Brown Drakes there were on the third night. Struggling to pick out my fly amongst the spinners on the surface and the clouds of drakes made it difficult to see the bank across the river.
During the second day of the hatch, a tagged brown trout ate a Brown Drake Spinner imitation. Tagged fish provide crucial information for the way the state chooses to manage the fishery. Once caught, the number on the tag is reported along with some necessary data. A simple treat for a fisherman, and vital data for the state. The hatch was incredible and dense for three days, and most intense at the Point of Rocks public access point.
The word got out and people were here to fish the hatch from all around the nation. It was difficult to find solitude, but it didn’t matter. I spent all three nights standing in the water waiting for the hatch in my well chosen spots. Once the hatch began the fish started to appear and when the spinners began to fall the river was teeming with rising fish everywhere.
A river that seems fishless is exposed of its true identity when the hatch arrives. Other hatches you may encounter on Silver Creek include Callibaetis, midges, Green Drake, caddis, but none as prolific as the Brown Drake Hatch. Later in the season you encounter hoppers, tricos, and Mahogany duns.The Brown drakes will blow your mind. You may be inclined to stop fishing, take a deep breath, and stand to watch the bugs, but make sure you cover your mouth for that deep breath or you’ll wind up with bugs in your mouth.
A few days passed and the drakes faded out. During another trip fishing the walk and wade section within the preserve, the wind was gusting. This made it difficult for the beginner fisherman, but also presented an opportunity to throw some terrestrial patterns at the banks. Fish readily took damsel nymphs, beetles, and ants. The wind seemed to persist for two weeks straight, and the importance of terrestrial patterns became evident.
The Wood River Valley has much to offer including The Big Wood, Magic Reservoir, high mountain lakes stocked for fishing, and several other surrounding tributaries.Other fisheries in this region also offer incredible opportunity including the Salmon River, The Big Lost, South Fork of the Boise. I found it easy to fish a new section of the river daily, and I had hardly touched the other fisheries in the area which are vastly different than this spring fed stream.
The last of the 30 days seemed just as poetic as one could expect. Using subsurface flies I learned about in the first week of my month assisted me in catching and landing my largest fish yet on Silver Creek. Increasing the ground I covered during fishing trips increased my chance of success and that day was the day I covered the most ground. I learned a great deal over the course of the month, lessons I will always treasure.
After my month came to an end, I am now eager to accompany people and teach them what I have learned on Silver Creek and the surrounding locations. I still have so much to learn and so many spots to fish that I haven’t experienced. Booking a guide to fish Silver Creek can be very beneficial. Aside from fishing, a guide will remain positive when the fishing is humbling as Silver Creek is known for. Never underestimate local knowledge. Stopping into the fly shop to ask the right questions could be the difference between your success on the stream and staring at water for fun. Silver Creek challenges you to be the best angler you can be, from the cast and presentation, to your knowledge of entomology and awareness of your surroundings.
Hopefully sharing my experience will increase the chances of success for those of you who are looking for solitude, beautiful places to fish, and for big fish at Silver Creek. Silver Creek is like no other place, as is the next fishery I plan to fish.