Lift Line: Winter Fly Fishing on the Big Wood

Don't miss the Fly Fishing Film Tour this Thursday night at the Sun Valley Opera House most poetic practice

Angling’s most poetic practice

By Mike McKenna

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 FISHING TIPS from the pros at Silver Creek Outfitters located in the Sun Valley Mall.

. 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.