Best Trout Fishing in Idaho
6 CommentsFriday, 8 March 2019 | Paul G
Best Trout Fishing in Idaho
Idaho – the 14th largest state in the USA – has a LOT of First-class fishing. That makes it almost impossible to come up with a definitive answer to the question “What is the absolute best trout fishing in Idaho?”
But, we’re extremely fortunate at DT to have Idaho resident and soon-to-be fly-shop owner Daniel Butsick willing to offer his unique and thoughtful take on the subject. There are many arguments to be made about the quality fishing on big water venues like the Salmon River and Big Lost River (Central Idaho) or the world-renowned fishing on the Henry’s Fork and the South Fork Snake River in the East of the state. BUT, plenty of people besides you also know the reputations of those fishing spots; good luck escaping the crowds! So, if you’re looking for some really unique and personal experiences and something way different from the regular mainstream gig; Daniel has got your back – Take it away Daniel
What makes “the best” fishing?
Fishing is not just about fishing. Okay, okay, forgive me if that’s completely obvious. Truly, though, fishing has always been about much more than catching fish, or at least since that first fisherman stayed to catch a few extra or make “one last cast.” But what makes our collective experience as anglers worth all the time, effort, and money we put into our sport? What defines one’s “best fishing” experience?
Truly, this is completely subjective, a thought which is beautiful in its own right. And that’s why I feel that I can write about the “Best Trout Fishing in Idaho” and be one-hundred percent right on the money. It’s also why I completely understand why another angler might pass my favorite stream and want to move to what is regionally known as more “productive” water such as the cutthroat-heavy waters of the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River or any of the tributaries of the Priest River.
Personally, I have not fished many southern rivers in the state so do not have much room to comment. As for in the north, the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene and its associated tributaries offer so much for the obsessive angler in me its oftentimes challenging to break away from repeated trips to this hallowed ground.
My Personal “Best Trout Fishing in Idaho” Secret Spots
Just outside a small, once thriving mining community in the Silver Valley there is a stream that I refer to as Dog Lick Creek (pronounced ‘crick’ to keep with the colloquial rhyme scheme). Of course, I won’t expressly reveal its name here but it’s very easy to find and for anyone interested I would be glad to personally take them there.
The stream runs for several miles up a long, slender canyon, meandering higher and higher until the road turns from pock-marked pavement to pot-hole covered dirt road. This canyon road winds through several small mining villages of antiquity, towering pine forests and associated clear-cut patches of mountainside, moving ever-upward to a pair of twin lakes frequented by campers, hikers, and the wayward outdoorsman escaping modernity’s stresses. All the while this stream, which terminates at the South Fork down below, twists and turns in pools, glides, and myriad riffles and runs that generally follow the forested road to the lower of the two lakes.
Lakes vs Rivers (and the surprise Japanese connection)
Now, this lake and its twin offer their own magic. I’ve spent hours on the shore, casting my fixed-line rod, watching well-formed loops unfurl to many gorgeous brook trout with their fiery colors of late summer and early fall. The creek that runs down toward the river, though, truly contains the real magic of the region.
Before I had fished this creek, I had never touched a western fly-fishing rod and had fished once with a rod designed for tenkara, a Japanese-made 3.6m rod that fit both my hand and my mind for simplicity. I had never fished for trout and had no idea what to expect. I quickly developed an insatiable appetite for all things tenkara, fly tying, and eventually rod-and-reel fly fishing later on.
My initial trout-fever after learning about tenkara led me to many Google Maps viewing sessions and I quickly found this place I wanted to explore. Driving up the narrow, run-down road for the first time, I had no idea that this small creek would become such an important part of my angling life. In this proving ground, I have learned how to fish densely canopied runs with almost a complete lack of features, wide open, grassy-banked glides with pool after pool of hungry cutthroat and brookies (technically a brookie is a char of course – but you know, “brook trout” in common language!), and everything in between.
Cracking the Code
An important part of learning the fundamentals of angling is catching enough fish in different conditions (terrain, weather, etc) to know whether what you are doing is working, whether something else would work just as well or not at all, and if something you think you are doing right is happening for the reason you think it is happening.
It is easy to give oneself way more credit than one deserves when it comes to catching fish. I quickly learned that what I was doing worked well in this less-than-fertile stream as well as in other more fertile waters. Initially, I tried to use generally suggestive patterns ala Tenkara and a few suggestive nymphs such as the ever-popular gold-ribbed hare’s ear.
After catching hundreds of fish in just a few short weeks I decided to take on a separate challenge: tying and using more imitative patterns. I did this in order to see if what I was doing was of my own doing or simply that these starved fish were just that: starved and willing to eat anything available to them. I tied up midges, mayflies, and caddis as well as a few terrestrial patterns like ants and hoppers.
While many of these imitative patterns were effective they were probably (barring midges) about half as effective as the more suggestive patterns.
Through my research and reading of the work of various members of the flyfishing and tenkara communities, I had learned this was a probable result. I wanted to test it for myself. Surely, there are streams where trout are a little more selective but I still seemed to catch plenty of fish in those streams as well. It felt great to know that what I was doing was producing results.
Trying to Break a Tactic (to find out what REALLY works)
Soon, I began to focus on trying to figure out what wouldn’t work so well. This is what skyrocketed my success on this creek and every other water I’ve been to since. Now, of course I use a little more manipulation in my fishing than when I first began, a little matching-of-the-hatch here and there, too. But ultimately this small creek allowed me to test different flies and techniques to see their overall effectiveness. Perhaps more importantly, I learned what didn’t work. I still go there to hone a new technique or test a new fly pattern.
Having the high volume of fish available in this little stream really aided in testing flies and manipulations so that I could take them to bigger water. Sure, dead-drifting can be an amazing technique – it’s fundamental.
Extending your Presentation Armoury
Tracking dead drifts accurately is a humongous part of tenkara and all fly fishing. But many of the different manipulations in tenkara helped me catch tons more fish than I believe I would have if I didn’t learn them. (Shout out to Paul and John for their guidance!) Now I use many of those same manipulations while euro-nymphing on a western-style rod-and-reel setup as well. And I owe these abilities to the practice I gained from this small stream.
As anglers we frequent new waters all the time, especially those of us who have had fishing turn into an obsession. Often, rivers and streams have similar terrain within and around them for good portions of their length.
How to Unlock the best trout fishing in Idaho: Get off the beaten track & be less hung up on trophy fish!
Luckily here in North Idaho, my little stream varies after almost every other turn of the road. I’ve had to use bow-and-arrow casts to get under dense canopy to a 10-inch black-tail cutthroat hiding at the tail-end of a small, forest pool. I’ve also been able to cast long casts to open-air runs that abut remnants of the mines that once dotted the canyon.
At other times, I have had to cast terrestrials to the far, brushy bank and drag them back through the water while targeting the most daring fish in the pool to strike. I’ve had to dodge between old wooden mining fixtures and concrete that has decayed over many years. I’ve climbed directly up waterfalls while wet wading and casted up and over giant boulders to develop pinpoint presentation skills.
These types of waters may not hold the giant fish that so many anglers dream of, but they offer chances to build your skill set to later go after those trophy trout.
Round up of What Makes the Best Trout Fishing in Idaho
For me, this is absolutely the best fishing in the state of Idaho. For others, it may not be their cup of tea. And that’s ultimately the lesson here: that we each should find our niche and explore it diligently.
Whether that be using a tenkara rod or rod-and-reel setup, in the over-stylized, dime-a-dozen world of fly-fishing today any intimate body of water offers us volumes of information about our natural world. What makes the fishing amazing in this small creek is that it provides everything I could ever want from a stream: challenging approaches, solitude, variation of terrain, plenty of fish to land, and a proving ground to develop new skills.
There are lifetimes of experience one can gain here. The whole practice of fishing a small, intimate stream is tantamount to being one with the vastness of nature while at the same time finding a way to make the experience our own.
I encourage anyone looking to increasing their knowledge of fishing, whether that be tenkara or otherwise, to search out and frequent the small streams around you. You will be a more well-rounded angler for the experience.
- Daniel Butsick
For more information about fishing North Idaho, tenkara, and enjoying the lessons small streams have to offer, contact me at:
I’d like to thank Daniel for the awesome insights. Please let us know what your own top picks for Idaho are, if you’re feeling inspired to visit, whether stream-spawned or stockers are your thing (and how about those cutthroat and brookies Daniel was catching!!). Drop all your thoughts in the comments below and, as always, if you liked this, smash the share buttons like your life depended on it.