Q: I’ve lived away from Idaho for a few years and have returned, and now my daughter is eager to get into fly fishing. She casts pretty well and loves it. In earlier years I did 90 percent of my fishing at the South Fork of the Boise below Anderson Dam. I enjoy it, but my daughter doesn’t catch as many fish as I’d like. I hear and read about places where there is good late-summer fishing for cutthroats, someplace easier to catch fish on the flyrod. I’ve read about the Lochsa and that fishery, and now I’m considering Yellowstone and the many rivers there. Both of those involve a fair amount of driving. I am willing to do that, but don’t really know the areas at all.
I’d like to get my teenage daughter some real action with her flyrod. What would you recommend? I am hoping to get out quite a bit in August and September.
Doug Gamble, via email
A: The key to fishing cutthroats late season, or any other season, is move up or downstream to find the right conditions, which is usually cool water. Cutthroats can be surprisingly mobile.
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A good rule of thumb for finding them in summer is stick to the headwaters. You’re correct about the Lochsa having excellent cutthroat fishing. It’s is an upper tributary of the Clearwater River that is easily accessible from a major highway.
For sake of simplicity, Idaho’s cutthroat country is spread throughout North/Central/Eastern Idaho starting at the St. Joe River all the way down to the Boise River system and across to the Wyoming border. There aren’t many cutthroat that I am aware of in the Lower Snake River system or in the Owyhees.
So from north to south you have the St. Joe River, the North Fork of the Clearwater, Kelly Creek, Lochsa, Selway, upper Salmon, Middle Fork of the Salmon, South Fork of the Salmon, and Upper Boise River tributaries.
There’s also excellent cutthroat fishing in various rivers in Eastern Idaho, with the South Fork of the Snake River being the crown jewel, but many other rivers and streams over there have healthy cutthroat populations.
The key thing to remember is anytime there’s a healthy cutthroat fishery in a larger river, you will also find them in the upper tributaries. For example, Middle Fork of the Salmon has a world-class cutthroat fishery, and they are also plentiful in Marsh Creek and Bear Valley Creek.
If there’s a “secret” to cutthroat fishing, it’s get away from the easy pickings. I’ve had some amazing cutthroat fishing in the heart of the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness, but I’ve also caught lots of them alongside Forest Service roads that parallel smaller streams. Don’t expect to find them at the end of a well-beaten path to the river. Plan to get wet. Wade riffles and cross the river and hike up or downstream. Plan on covering plenty of water and you will catch fish.
The beauty of cutthroat fishing is it isn’t complicated. Tie on a hopper pattern or a stimulator, keep it floating high and you will catch fish. And while some folks consider Silver Creek or the Henrys Fork the epitome of fly fishing in Idaho, for me, it will always be wet wading a cool, clear mountain stream and casting bushy dry flies to eager cutthroats.