Interested in fly fishing? Try a free casting clinic on the lawn by the Sun Valley Lodge
The Wood River Valley and surrounding area boast some of the most scenic, productive trout streams in the world. If you find yourself staring longingly at the Big Wood River as you drive near Boxcar Bend or over a bridge, or if you have heard tales of storied Silver Creek and would like to face off against those mythical trout yourself, this is the summer to learn to fly fish.
Not sure where to start? The easiest way to learn the basics of casting and gain confidence that, yes, this sport can be you, is to wander over to the broad green expanse of lawn in front of the Sun Valley Lodge at 5:30 p.m. on any convenient Tuesday through Saturday. This is when a different kind of ‘happy hour’ takes place — when Silver Creek Outfitters, with locations both in the Sun Valley Village and in Ketchum, provide a free casting clinic to interested anglers.
Guide and teacher Jim Curran introduces students to the sport he loves
On a sunny afternoon last week, I met up for a clinic with teacher Jim Curran, a fisherman nearly as storied as the waters he has fished every day for the past 50 years. With rods laid out at the ready, Jim, a Certified Fly Casting Instructor, invited his group of seven students to grab one and find a spot on the lawn. Soon, the filament was flying, but without hooks on the end of the line, this was a fail-safe way to get a feel for the action of casting. Jim also let the students know, “there is nothing you can do wrong here today. You can let the rod fly over the back of your head and land on the ground and it’s just fine.”
Silver Creek Outfitters provides all the gear you need to practice your casting
The group that flocked to the lawn that evening was comprised of: one family from the Bay area where the father, an experienced fisherman, wanted to share the activity with his young sons and wife; Paul and Karen from San Diego who own a vacation home along the Big Wood River and wanted to join in the action they see outside their windows; and a man whose girlfriend loves to fly fish. It was learn, or be left behind.
Though the students came to the lesson with varying aptitudes and experience, Jim quickly had everyone working on proper casting technique. “Elbows in,” “wrists taut,” “thumb on top of the rod,” “stop at 12 o’clock, cast at 2 o’clock,” Jim repeated as he gave each angler individual attention and instructions in what he calls substance and style. In short order, the group was laying out nice straight line, false casting and roll casting.
By all accounts, everyone in the class felt that after only 45 minutes, their skills had improved exponentially and that fly fishing was really not as complex as imagined.
Silver Creek Outfitters provides, free of charge, rods, reels and priceless instruction from guides like Jim every Tuesday through Saturday from now through Labor Day weekend. Whether you are curious, rusty, or could just use some professional tips, come on out. Then, if you’re, um, hooked, be sure to book a guide from Silver Creek to explore the area’s pristine waters and put those newly honed techniques to work.
See you on the river!
The Lodge is a picturesque backdrop for your first venture into fly fishing
For my family, summer is all about being outside. When, in late June, the sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 10 p.m., there is time to indulge in everything that makes the season so memorable.
After much consideration and heated debate around the dining room table, here is a list of the top five activities that define our Sun Valley summers. It would have been easy to name 50, but the winners are:
When you reach Pioneer Cabin, this is your reward
My favorite way to enjoy the wilderness and scenic beauty of the Wood River Valley, the Sawtooth Mountains and beyond (and beyond and beyond) is on foot. Whether I have a two-hour window in my schedule or the luxury of a full day to get out into the woods, the possibilities for eye- (and lung!) popping hikes are as limitless as the amazingly well maintained, beautiful trail system that originates in our backyard. In-town hikes like Adams Gulch, Proctor Mountain and Chocolate Gulch offer diverse topography and challenge. A short drive from town gets you into the White Clouds, the Smoky Mountains, the Pioneers and the Boulders. Tucked among these mountain peaks are some of the most spectacular high altitude lakes you will ever see, and even during “high season,” many of these trails are surprisingly lightly traveled. My all-time favorite in the Smoky Mountains is the Norton Lake/Big Lost loop — spectacular and easily manageable in a half-day. Given a full day, the Sawtooths are my destination of choice, with trailheads in the Stanley area about an hour’s drive north of Ketchum. One of the destinations in that region isn’t called Shangri-La for nothing! Oh! And hiking up Baldy to Roundhouse for lunch and a gondola ride down is pretty terrific, too! And cresting the final ridge up to Pioneer Cabin is probably one of the most beautiful payoffs, beauty-wise, in the world. This list goes on and on!
People travel from all over the world to fly fish Sun Valley. Try it and you'll see why
As the band the Talking Heads sang in the 80s, “Take me to the river, drop me in the water,” and for our family, this is gospel, as long as we get to bring our fly rods. Sun Valley is surrounded on every side by some of the most pristine, productive trout water in North America. Steps from town, the Big Wood River fishes fantastically throughout the summer, tempting novices to get hooked and offering more sophisticated fishing to experienced anglers. For children, Penny Lake is fishing heaven and a great introduction to the lifetime sport. Over Trail Creek pass, Copper Basin and the Big Lost River beckon with some of the most spectacular scenery in the state and south of Bellevue, Silver Creek draws fly fishing aficionados from around the world with its notoriously selective natives that challenge and delight.
Skating on the outdoor rink isn't just child's play, but it certainly is fun
With two figure skaters in the family, much of our summer is spent at the Sun Valley ice rinks. But skating isn’t only for those working on their Double Salchow! Taking a few turns around the iconic outdoor rink that hugs the Lodge’s terrace is a fabulous way to spend an afternoon. In fact, it is the coolest place to be on hot summer days. Skate rentals, attire to make you look like a gold medalist and admission to general sessions are all available at the historic skate house, as is the opportunity to sign up for a few lessons with one of the rink’s highly accomplished pros. Then on Saturday nights, beginning in July, the stars of the skating world shine under Idaho’s canopy of stars in Sun Valley’s world famous ice shows. We love to enjoy the bountiful dinner buffet before the show or wrap up in a blanket on the bleachers to see, up close and personal, the finest athletes in the world. This year’s lineup includes luminaries like Evan Lysacek, Ryan Bradley and Ashley Wagner. This may be your last chance to glimpse future Olympic champions as they finalize preparations for Games in Sochi.
Dining al fresco
Dining outside is one of the great pleasures of life, especially when you live in a climate where it is only possible for a short window of time. Whenever eating out is on the calendar, we chose to go al fresco. At the Resort, dinner on the Ram terrace is our absolute favorite, both for the food and the terrific view of activity in the Village. The swan pond, surrounded by soft green grass, couldn’t be more picturesque if an artist painted it. Other terrific outdoor dining at the Resort includes the terrace at Gretchen’s restaurant overlooking the ice rink, light fare and drinks on the Duchin Room terrace and of course, my other favorite, outdoor dining at the historic Trail Creek Cabin. A short drive from Sun Valley takes you a world away to enjoy outstanding food as Trail Creek burbles nearby and the surrounding mountains look, at sunset, as if they are draped in velvet. Other al fresco dining opportunities also abound in Ketchum and Hailey when decks and patios are the place to see and be seen all summer long, whether you’re enjoying a burger or a gourmet four-course dinner.
The terrace at the Ram is a wonderful place to enjoy a meal under the sun or stars
Leisurely bike rides
Nearly every night of the warm weather months, my children and I hop on our bikes, hop onto the Rails-to-Trails bike path that runs right by our home and pedal the evening away. This paved path is appropriate for everyone as it gently leads past Hailey to the south and well past Ketchum to the north. The route often runs next to the Big Wood River and offers more than 32-miles of pedaling possibility. My advice? Don’t rush. This is a great opportunity to simply enjoy the surroundings and the company.
Family bike rides are a terrific end to a busy day (and no worries, my daughter only took off her helmet for the photo!)
Summer possibilities are so varied, whether you are visiting for two weeks or have lived here for 20 years, there will always be new hikes to try, new mountain bike trails to explore, another stretch of river to fish or to whitewater raft, campsites you haven’t visited, a new stretch of beach at a mountain lake at which to picnic, a swimming hole to jump into, another opportunity to work on your handicap. Phew!
No matter what you like to do, though, the critical thing is to just get outside, be with friends and family and remember what summer is supposed to be about. Unplug, enjoy, unwind, explore. It’s summer in Sun Valley.
Everything that makes summer wonderful is at the end of this rainbow in Sun Valley
One of the exquisite, healthy trout in our local rivers (photo courtesy Bryan Huskey, Silver Creek Outfitters)
Unlike many people who relocate to Sun Valley or become frequent visitors because of our amazing skiing and snowboarding, my family was first drawn to Sun Valley by the area’s world-class fly fishing. Raised by a father who is a consummate fisherman and a mother who also caught the bug, my brother and I were put into waders, handed a fly rod and placed in western trout streams when we no more than eight years old. Fishing was just what we did.
In 1983, the trout streams we waded into were Sun Valley’s. That year, our family’s summer vacation included throwing flies from drift boats in Montana, exploring desolate waters in western Canada and, finally, landing in the Wood River Valley. Before our two-week stay in a Wildflower condo on the Resort property ended, my parents had hired a real estate agent. The fishing, and everything else that comprises a Sun Valley summer, was that good.
Fish on! Just another glorious day fishing in Sun Valley
So, when the winter runoff begins in earnest, when ski runs begin to transition to hiking and biking trails and when facets of bright sunlight bounce off of the currents of the Big Wood River beneath the bridges on my daily errands, my mind turns to fishing.
With May just around the corner, so is fly fishing season. The Big Wood, the river that wends through Hailey and Ketchum, opens on May 25, as does fabled Silver Creek south of Bellevue. According to Silver Creek Outfitters, the area’s leading fly fishing authority with outposts both in the Sun Valley Village and downtown Ketchum, indicators are pointing to good early fishing. According to the shop’s report, “Our snow pack is currently at about 80 percent of average and the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA is calling for below average precipitation for the next several months in Central and Southern Idaho. For the angler, this means the fishing should be good earlier this year on our freestone rivers due to the lower flows and often when the flows are lower, the hatches, like the Green Drake, will also come off a bit earlier.”
Unlike the past two years, when the Big Wood ran high (making for tenuous wading) until well in the early summer, this year’s conditions may let us get our feet wet much earlier. All signs point to productive fishing on this very accessible and very beautiful river in the not-too-distant future, with wade-ability most likely by the end of June.
Bugs! Hatches! Dinner is served! (photo courtesy Bryan Huskey, Silver Creek Outfitters)
For novice anglers or those looking to enhance or refresh their skills as the season begins, Silver Creek Outfitters Fly Fishing 101 Clinics begin on May 4 and continue throughout the summer. These popular two-day classes cover the basics of a sport that may seem intimidating, but really isn’t – from casting to knot tying, bugs to wading. Beginning at the end of June, the shop’s top guides also offer free casting clinics on the lawn in front of the Sun Valley Lodge.
And if May 25 seems like an awfully long time to wait to cast some line into a ripple, you can fish now on the Big Lost River. This tailwater gem (surrounded by some of the most inspiring, stunning views in the state) is about a two-hour drive from Ketchum near the town of Mackay. Again, Silver Creek Outfitter’s fishing guru reports, “Hatches on the Lost this time of year are a combination of Midge and Baetis and on the right day they can be spectacular. Some fish are spawning in the shallow riffles, so please wade with caution and leave them alone.”
Be sure to stop by the Ketchum location of Silver Creek Outfitters for the best advice on early season fishing (the Sun Valley store will open for the season when the season opens).
If you’re dreaming of clear trout streams, spectacular scenery and lazy lunches riverside, your wait is nearly over. Be sure to get your Idaho fishing license (for a day or a season), check your fly line, air out your waders and boots. And if you haven’t done so already, maybe it’s time to check in with a local realtor. You may get hooked, too.
Catching (& releasing) is only a part of fly fishing, but it sure is fun
It’s during the cold and quiet days of winter when fly fishing on the Big Wood River is its most poetic. Snow falls, silence reigns, feathered hooks gently float, fishermen are few and far between, trout are hungry, insects bounce about, the wind shows its strength, eyelets freeze, fingertips numb, the river keeps on flowing.
Certainly, winter fishing on the Big Wood is by no means easy. Nor is it as celebrated as its fellow seasons, especially the autumn around here that Hemingway made so famous, "and best of all he loved the fall … leaves floating on the trout streams and above the hills the high blue windless skies."
In the winter, the leaves give way to falling snow and drifting ice. The skies can sometimes be high blue, but are rarely windless. Winter fly fishing in the chilly heart of Idaho usually requires the angler to pack on more layers than a walrus. It also means that outside of local tackle shops and Grumpy’s in Ketchum, most folks will look at you as if you’ve just escaped from a loony bin if you tell them you just went fishing on a day when the temperatures barely hit double digits. And skiers or snowboarders will treat you like you smell funny if they find out you went to the river instead of going up on the mountain.
But that’s okay. Let them think what they will. They just don’t get it anyway. They can’t hear the lyrics of the wintry river or feel the rhythms of the cast. They don’t notice the verses of the rainbows or the tempo of the stoneflies, midges and nymphs. As Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver so brilliantly asked: "And when has happiness ever required much evidence . . . ?"
Landing a rainbow trout on a glorious winter day on the Big Wood River.
. Winter conditions are hazardous and even in its mellow off-season flows the Big Wood River is more powerful than any person. Always err on the side of safety. The river isn’t going anywhere. There’ll be other days to fish.
2. Wading boots must have good soles and be able to handle slick rocks and slippery snow and ice.
3. Always tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be returning.
4. Keep the fish in the water as much as possible. Handling trout, especially with dry or gloved hands, removes the protective slime layer (a fish’s insulation in the winter), and prolonged exposure to cold air can freeze a trout’s gills.
5. Pick the right flies, Silver Creek Outfitters Dave Faltings has a passion and knowledge for fly fishing that runs stronger than the Big Wood during a monstrous spring run-off. So naturally, he loves to fish in the winter.
"The winter is a great time to fish around here," Dave said. "It’s mostly a midge time of year. The bugs are really small in the winter."
[Get the basics of winter fly fishing by taking advantage of Silver Creek Outfitters' special winter guide rates: just $300 for one to two people a day, including all the gear right down to the flies. Stop into their Sun Valley Mall location for more details.]
To read the original version of this fishy story, click here.