Where to fish in Idaho, whether you have a little free time or a lot

If you’re ready to fish as soon as you clock out of work, go on the Snake River.
If you’re ready to fish as soon as you clock out of work, go on the Snake River. Idaho Statesman file

There’s no better feeling in the world than having nothing to do, and all day to do it. And if you’re a diehard angler like me, when those precious days come around, that nothing quickly turns into fishing.

Many times, we don’t have a full day to devote to our favorite hobby. Or, on some lucky weekends, we have multiple days to spend on the water. But efficiency is a big part of planning a successful trip. You want to maximize your fishing time and make sure you get the biggest bass for your buck!

With that in mind, here are a few friendly suggestions for planning your next fishing trip, depending upon how much time you’ll have. I’ve included a variety of destinations in terms of fishing styles and available species, in case you’re competing in the 2016 Species Challenge.

So pack a lunch and grab your gear. It’s time to go fishing!


Scenario: There’s nothing on your a.m. calendar, but you need to be back around lunch.

Destination: Boise River (zero miles from Boise)

The Plan: This one might seem too obvious, but the Boise River is an excellent fishery that runs right through our backyards. If you live or work in the Treasure Valley, you simply can’t beat it for convenience. Rainbow trout are usually the catch of the day. Find deep pools and riffles. Sweeping cut banks, swirling eddies and manmade structures like bridges and dams are good places to seek out. I’ve always been surprised by the quality of trout you can catch in the Boise, as well as the relatively modest fishing pressure it receives. Fly-fishermen can wade right in and cast to planted and wild rainbows as well as big, elusive browns. Small midges, stonefly nymphs, BWOs and streamers are popular choices. Spinners, spoons and worms are the go-to options for spin fishermen. And with almost zero drive time, you’ll have ample opportunity to relax, catch some fish and still make your afternoon meeting.

Alternatives: Lake Lowell (bass), Payette River (trout), Treasure Valley ponds (mixed bag).


Scenario: Your tackle is in the car, and as soon as you’re off work, it’s fish on!

Destination: Snake River (38 miles from Boise)

The Plan: The Snake is an incredible fishery, and you can find several popular access points less than an hour from Boise. The Snake is a deeper, wider and slower-moving river, making it ideal for boat anglers. Shore access abounds as well. Smallmouth bass are the fish de jour on the Snake, but you can also catch catfish, largemouth bass, panfish, carp and even trout, in some stretches. For bass, try drifting soft plastics, retrieving crankbaits or throwing top-water poppers. Flies like woolly buggars and leeches in dark colors will catch fish, too. When in doubt, tie on anything that looks like a crayfish. As dusk begins to fall, try throwing worms, cut bait or chicken livers into deep channels and holes. The Snake offers world-class catfishing, with channel cats, flatheads and bullheads lurking in the deep. Productive and angler-friendly access points include Swan Falls Dam, Celebration Park, Marsing and Steck Park.

Alternatives: South Fork Boise River (trout), Horseshoe Bend Mill Pond (bluegill), C.J. Strike Reservoir (mixed bag).


Scenario: It’s no work and all play today. Time for a sunup to sunset fishapalooza!

Destination: Crane Falls Lake/Cove Arm Lake (68 miles from Boise)

The Plan: Get ready to catch some serious fish today! Crane Falls and Cove Arm are two small, neighboring lakes south of Mountain Home that make for a perfect double-whammy. Start your adventure at Crane Falls, a trophy bass lake with healthy populations of bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish. Most of the bass are in the 12-inch range, but with the trophy regulations in place, there are bound to be some monsters. Plastic worms, spinnerbaits or top-water frogs will do the trick. Or, throw out small panfish jigs, poppers or a good-old-fashioned worm on a bobber and catch bluegill and pumpkinseed until your heart’s content. Power motors aren’t allowed, but Crane Falls is perfect for a canoe, kayak or float tube. You can also fish from your motorboat using the trolling motor. After a picnic lunch, pack up and make a short jaunt down the dirt road to Cove Arm. It’s a slightly larger lake with tons of species to choose from — largemouth and smallmouth bass, perch, bluegill, crappie and catfish, just to name a few. Motors are allowed at Cove Arm, so fire up the boat and do some exploring. There’s even a small canal that leads to a channel of the Snake River. And it’s still a small enough lake to fish from shore or a smaller watercraft. Bring a variety of lures, because you never know what will be biting!

Alternatives: Lucky Peak Reservoir (kokanee salmon), Owyhee River (trout), Lake Cascade (mixed bag).


Scenario: The lawn is mowed, the chores are done and the forecast is fantastic. It’s time to fish the weekend away!

Destination: Alpine lake (take your pick)

The Plan: Idaho anglers have a unique opportunity to explore dozens of high mountain lakes. These alpine gems are perfect for a weekend getaway — quiet, scenic and bursting with wildlife. If you’re willing to hike a little farther, you can often have a pristine lake all to yourself! Most alpine lakes are dominated by cutthroat trout, but you can also find rainbow, brook and golden trout, arctic grayling and even tiger muskies. Spin and fly-fishermen alike can enjoy great fishing on dry flies, terrestrials, leeches, spinners, worms or grasshoppers. Most alpine lakes are fairly small, making them easy to navigate on foot. But if you pack in a small raft or float tube, you can explore the entire lake with relative ease. There’s nothing quite like a hot summer day with the high mountain sun on your face, the cool alpine water on your feet and the strong tug of a trout on the end of your line. Camping amenities are limited at most mountain lakes, so come prepared. Setting up camp at a more established site and hiking in to explore lakes during the day is another way to go. Maps and fishing regulations are must-have items — rules vary from lake to lake, so make sure you know where you’re fishing and what the regs are. Popular spots include the Goose Lake area north of McCall, the mountains southwest of Cascade and Central Idaho’s Sawtooth and White Cloud ranges. One last hint: Come prepared for the cold. Chilly temperatures and snow sometimes persist long into summer.

Alternatives: C. Ben Ross Reservoir (bass), Warm Lake (trout), Salmon Falls Reservoir (walleye).


Scenario: It’s a holiday weekend, with no family reunions in sight. Pack the tent and load up the cooler, it’s time for the road trip of the year!

Destination: Hells Canyon (168 miles from Boise)

The Plan: It’s a bit of a drive from the Treasure Valley, but Hells Canyon is one of America’s most renowned outdoor recreation areas, and fishing is a big part of the draw. Smallmouth bass, trout and giant white sturgeon are year-round attractions, while the chinook salmon and steelhead seasons draw anglers from all around the globe. There are several ways to attack a trip to Hells Canyon. Backpacking in and accessing the river on foot is one way to go, or you can cruise the Snake via jet boat. Guided tours for sturgeon, steelhead and salmon are available, too. Bass and trout anglers typically throw soft plastics, jigs, spinners or live worms. Salmon and steelhead aren’t actively feeding once they enter the river, but they’ll strike shiny spoons, plugs, brightly colored jigs and yarn, roe and a variety of streamer fly patterns. In addition to fishing, Hells Canyon offers awesome camping, hiking, hunting, wildlife viewing and whitewater options. The scenery itself is worth the trip, and the opportunity to cast a line in North America’s deepest river gorge should be on every angler’s bucket list.

Alternatives: Henry’s Lake (trout), Dworshak Reservoir (mixed bag), Massacre Rocks State Park (bass).

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