Most anglers do the majority of their fishing close to home — check out my “Five Local Hot Spots” article for some easy-to-reach fishing holes. But every once in a while, it’s fun to plan a trip, pack your gear and make a weekend of it.
If you’re going to put forth the extra effort to make a long trip, you want the results to pay off. Big fish, stunning scenery and unique experiences are a few factors that make for good destination fishing. As you plan your 2018 fishing calendar, here are a few trips worth taking.
1. HENRY’S LAKE
Where: Island Park, eastern Idaho. Approximately 5 hours from Boise.
Why: Henry’s is Idaho’s premier trophy trout fishery, with a chance to land fish over 10 pounds.
The Scoop: If your grandpa has a monster trout mounted on his den wall, there’s a good chance it came out of Henry’s. Long managed as a trophy fishery, Henry’s has a well-earned reputation for churning out some of the biggest fish in the state. Brook trout up to 5 pounds, cutthroats approaching 10 pounds and cutthroat-rainbow hybrids that regularly break double figures on the scale all are possibilities. And even if you don’t catch a wall-hanger, odds are good that you’ll at least tangle with quality fish in the 2- to 4-pound class. The trick with Henry’s is access. It is closed January through Memorial Day, and the first month or so after opening usually brings great fishing until the summer weeds take over. The vegetation usually subsides enough to bring good fishing in October, and by mid-November, the lake is typically frozen. Ice fishing is often most productive in the first few weeks, and the season closes for good on Jan. 1. Spinners, Rapalas, ice jigs, bait and chunky streamer and leech fly patterns are go-to tackle options on Henry’s. Campsites and lodging are plentiful nearby — if they fill up, try a VRBO or stay in West Yellowstone, just 30 minutes up the road.
2. SALMON RIVER
Where: Central Idaho, 3-5 hours from Boise.
Why: The Salmon is Idaho’s top wild fishery for catching anadromous salmon and steelhead.
The Scoop: If you fish to get away from the crowds and lose cell phone service, you’ve come to the right place. Cutting through some of Idaho’s wildest wilderness terrain, the Salmon offers breathtaking visuals, second-to-none adventure, and a chance to tangle with majestic ocean-run salmon and steelhead. From Riggins to Stanley, the Salmon offers literally hundreds of access points for all kinds of river recreation, including whitewater rafting, kayaking, hiking and, of course, fishing. When seasons and conditions allow it, tributaries such as the Little Salmon, South Fork Salmon and Middle Fork Salmon offer many of the same opportunities on a smaller scale. Be forewarned — a fishing trek on the Salmon is not for the faint of heart. The terrain is rough, access can be difficult and anadromous fish are notoriously tricky to hook. But if you overcome the obstacles and emerge victorious, it will be the most rewarding, unforgettable trip you take this year.
3. WARM LAKE
Where: Just northeast of Cascade, 2½ hours from Boise.
Why: Year-round beauty, unique fishing opportunities and a cozy place to sleep.
The Scoop: No matter what kind of fishing trip you’re looking for, chances are you’ll find it at Warm Lake. Nestled deep in the mountains above Cascade, Warm Lake is home to five species: rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, brook trout, protected bull trout and elusive Mackinaw trout. It makes for endless possibilities that include trolling pop gear from a boat, launching bait from the shore, paddling around to flip spinners or flies from a small watercraft, jigging through the ice in the winter months, or targeting the big Macks in the lake’s 90-foot depths. There are plenty of places to camp at Warm Lake, but nothing beats a stay at cozy North Shore Lodge — a rustic, family-friendly setup featuring 10 rental cabins right on the lakefront. North Shore is open year-round (there’s no running water in the winter, but it’s totally doable), and the cabins are a stone’s throw from the South Fork Salmon River if you want to catch the summer Chinook run. It’s an ideal place for a weekend getaway — book your campsite or cabin well in advance, as space tends to fill up fast!
4. COLUMBIA RIVER
Where: Eastern Washington, 4-5 hours from Boise.
Why: Expanded opportunities to chase Chinook salmon, sturgeon and more.
The Scoop: It can be easy to overlook, but the mighty Columbia River is just a half-day journey from the Treasure Valley. Fishing on the Columbia requires a Washington license (a day pass is only $20), but it opens up a world of possibilities. Chinook salmon counts are typically higher on the Columbia, and restrictions on keeping them are more lenient than salmon rules in Idaho. Depending on the time of year, you might have an opportunity to catch and keep a sturgeon. For salmon fishing, I recommend fishing the Columbia in one of two places: The Dalles, Ore., which offers lodging, a cool downtown scene (think wineries, craft beer and local art) and access to great fishing at the confluence of the Klickitat and Columbia Rivers; or the Hanford Reach section northwest of Richland. Both areas have dozens of professional guides available — you can grab a seat for less than $200, or rent the whole boat for a family adventure. If hiring a guide isn’t your thing, the Columbia also offers great fishing for smallmouth bass, walleye and more.
5. WHEREVER YOU GO!
The Scoop: Here’s the beauty of fishing — you can do it anywhere in the world! By packing some travel tackle or hiring a guide, you can experience a different kind of fishing every time you take a trip. In recent years, my wife and I have caught a beautiful mahi-mahi in Hawaii, landed more than a dozen tropical species in Belize and wrestled monster Mackinaw trout from the depths of Lake Michigan. All it takes is a can-do attitude and an open afternoon, and just about any trip might produce the fish of a lifetime.