Road Trip – Sun Valley – Fly Fishing

In late September 2012, my buddy Mike and I headed out of Bellevue, Washington for Sun Valley, Idaho, with his pop-up camper in tow. We’d been planning the details of our annual fly fishing trip for weeks. Our most recent few trips were to Montana. This year was different. Our plan was to fish one day and night at Silver Creek with our fishing kayak and two days on the faster moving Big Wood River.

Stoked to throw our fly lines into the pristine, clear waters, we left work early and got as far as Boise where we spent the night at Motel 6 and drove directly to Silver Creek the next morning. After leaving highway 84 at Mountain Home, we connected with highway 20 and drove east straight into the sun rising over the distant hills.

Sunrise over highway 20

Sunrise over highway 20

This section of highway 20 runs east-west through a high desert landscape filled with farmland and sagebrush. The road is uncommonly straight which allows plenty of time to scan the thousands of acres of hay stubble for any forms of life or activity. It’s not uncommon to see deer, sheep, antelope and occasional farmhouses during stretch of highway.

Highway 20

Heading east on highway 20

Highway 20 surise

Antelope buck

Antelope near the highway

Antelope Running

Nervous Antelope running once we stopped the SUV.

After two plus hours of our second day of driving, we arrived at the Silver Creek Preserve, which is now part of the Nature Conservancy. Under a cloudless blue sky and warming temperatures, we rigged up and set out to test our fishing skills against the optimistic fishing report from Silver Creek Outfitters. Among their recommendations was to use size 20-22 Baetis, or small nymphs like the Zebra nymph. Switching between nymphs and the Baetis, we fished for several hours. We had some success catching smaller rainbow trout, but the monster browns eluded us.

Silver Creek Visitor Center

Silver Creek Panoramic

Silver Creek Panoramic

Blue Herron with rainbow trout

Blue Herron with rainbow trout

After fishing hard all morning and afternoon and covering a lot of water, we took a break to wait for dark. We wanted to fish Sullivan Lake (a shallow slough connected to Silver Creek) at night, under the full moon, casting wooly buggers, while anticipating a vicious strike with each strip of the fly line.


A little Macallan”s to celebrate the day.

As we stood casting and stripping in the thigh deep cold water, under the soothing white light cast by a full moon, we listened to the rhythm of thousands of crickets and frogs calling out, and to the flapping wings and honking of Canadian Geese circling above our heads looking for safe water to rest for the night. We had three huge fish strike hard, taking our flies into the air and spit them back out at us. Although we didn’t land any of these fish, the experience was unforgettable. You don’t go fishing to catch fish, you go fishing to fish.

We pointed the Suburban north and headed out to find the Meadows RV Park just south of Ketchum. After setting up our portable chateau just before 11pm, instead of heading into Ketchum for dinner, we opted for homemade turkey sandwiches washed down with a cold beer.

Friday morning we drove into Ketchum for coffee and breakfast before we hit the Big Wood River. We enjoyed a hot cup of drip and bagel at the local coffee shop, Java Coffee & Café. From there we walked over to the Lost River Outfitters fly shop to get some local expertise on fly selection and recommendations on river access.

Yellow Lab Puppy

Yellow Lab Puppy at Lost River Outfitters

We drove north of Ketchum about five miles to the Fox Creek trailhead river access point. Again, enjoying great weather we started with a beaded Prince nymph and a tiny Zebra nymph tied on as a dropper. Fishing the pocket water, Mike quickly hooked up and landed two rainbows over 14 inches.

After another hour of fishing, we headed south, parked at the Lake Creek trailhead river access and worked that water for only one small rainbow before heading to lunch. We ate at Grumpy’s, the local favorite.

Fox Creek Entrance

Fox Creek Entrance

After lunch, we tried our luck under the bridge on highway 75 south of Ketchum. Although this water is fished hard and often due to its easy access, we landed three nice rainbows using small parachute Adams. From there we continued south to the Edgewater river access point. With no luck there, we decided to call it a day.

For dinner, we drove back into Ketchum and met up with Leah, an old high school friend who had recently moved to the area with her family. We ate at the famous Pioneer “Pio” Saloon where we enjoyed a steak and huge Idaho baked potato. Afterwards, we strolled over to Whiskey Jacques, a favorite watering hole of the locals. To our good fortune, they were hosting a PAWS fundraiser with local music played by The Heaters.

Randy and Leah

Randy and Leah outside the Pioneer Saloon

Saturday morning began with grilling up sausages, scrambled eggs and bagels as we streamed live coverage of the 2012 Ryder Cup (the RV park had free Wi-Fi!). After our fine dining, we headed back up to Fox Creek with the goal of repeating our success from the day before. As with most fishing situations, when you go back and try for the same result, it often disappoints. This was our case. Nothing happened at Fox Creek. From there it was time to take a couple of hours break from fishing to explore and photograph the surrounding area. We found a few places that framed the beautiful transformation of the leaves on the Aspens changing from summer green to fall yellow.

Trail Creek and Mt Baldy

Trail Creek and Mt Baldy

Big Wood River

Big Wood River and Mt Baldy

Phantom Hill

Phantom Hill north of Ketchum

Backlit trees

Backlit trees north of Ketchum

Now it was time to try some mid-valley fishing. Landing at the Zinc Spur access point located half way between Hailey and Ketchum, we found a great run and hooked up eight rainbows within several hours. Again, we had success on the beaded Prince nymph and Zebra nymph dropper.

Sadly, after another long day on the river, we came to the end of our fly fishing time. For our last evening in the area, we decided to take Leah up on her invitation to stay in her home (she had already left earlier in the day to return to the Pacific Northwest). We broke down the pop-up camper and got the Suburban organized so we could begin our long drive back to Bellevue bright and early the following Sunday morning. Then we cracked open a beer (or two), sprawled across comfortable couches and settled in to watch the WSU vs. Oregon game on the big screen. A perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

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