Cast a Line This Winter

November 3, 2015

Boise and Big Wood Rivers offer excellent winter fly-fishing opportunities.

By Laura Wolstenholme, photography courtesy of Idaho Angler

As skies darken and snow falls, some fly fishers sadly stow their gear as they dream of next year’s biting trout. You shouldn’t pack away your gear too fast, however, as you could be missing out on a seasonal delight—winter fly fishing.

Todd Van Bramer of Silvercreek Outfitters in Ketchum, Idaho, says, “The beauty and solitude of winter fly fishing, as well as some fantastic fish, keeps me coming back.”

“Trout just might be easier to catch in the winter. Their food source is not as prolific and they tend to school together more. If you catch one, stay put and you’ll catch five more,” he adds. “Fly fishing is really a year-round sport … but it’s not something people always think about in the winter.”

Of course, some fly fishers have to keep fishing no matter what the weather. “They can’t stop,” laughs Dale Pennecard of Idaho Winter-FF-1Angler in Boise. “It’s an addiction, a disease!” Besides the sheer love of the sport, there are plenty of reasons why winter fly fishing can be just as enjoyable as summer fishing. Fewer people fish, resulting in much less competition for space or fish. “Winter fly fishing is relaxing,” Pennecard adds. In winter, the Boise River is low and clear. He advises to go out on a warm afternoon when the fish will rise, pick out spots where you think the fish will hold, and start there.

Trout do have to eat year round, and even though rivers in winter may seem lifeless, insects are there year round. “Something is coming off the river all the time,” says Pennecard.

Brad Wright, also of Idaho Angler, confirms the Boise River is excellent for winter fly fishing, and because of the greenbelt, there’s access to its entire length through the city. One memorable winter event to look out for is when Idaho Fish and Game adds steelhead to the Boise River, making the fly fishing opportunities even better.

The Big Wood River—easily accessible in the Sun Valley area—offers superb winter fishing. Van Bramer says “You just can’t beat skiing Baldy on a sunny morning in March and then hitting the Big Wood River in the afternoon for some dry fly fishing.” Van Bramer explains that during winter there aren’t the same variety of flies found in the warmer seasons. Dry fly fishing works well because the fly sits right on top of the water, emulating midges that are common in winter and fly right at the water’s surface. For dry fly fishing he recommends midge dry flies, and to attract trout subsurface, tiny midge wet flies.