Photo © Jason Lugo

Falling snow usually means one thing for Idaho anglers: Time to case the rod and unpack the decoys. However, if you have had your fill of 4 a.m. wake-up calls, sky-busting poor sportsman, and nasty “river-liver” dinners you pretend to enjoy but truthfully only suffer through out of guilt, there is an alternative. Winter fly-fishing in Ketchum.

Like any moderately sane human being, if given my choice of January fishing destinations, I would choose Islamorada, not Idaho — the Big Island, not the Big Wood.  Yet like me, you are most likely not a Gates or a Rockefeller. Accordingly, the closest you will get this winter to an expansive blue ocean flat is watching Boise State play a home game. Nevertheless, do not despair, if properly prepared winter fishing can be quite enjoyable.

While winter angling is similar to the summer variety, there are some particulars you will want to know. For starters, when water temperatures drop, fish move into deeper and slower water. Thus, concentrate your efforts in runs and pools with slow or moderate current speeds. There are no “secret” spots you need to know about. The Wood is full of fish throughout, so just locate good water and you will be fine.

Photo © Jason Lugo

A large tungsten Copper John and a small Zebra black midge work well on the Big Wood in the early winter months

Concerning flies and rigs, remember the sagacity of Thoreau: “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” Nothing fancy here. Remember hands will be cold, so less is more. Except for the rarest occasions, you will be nymphing (drys don’t get good until late February or March). My preferred rig is simple: one large tungsten Copper John (perhaps a #12), trailed by a small Zebra midge in black, red, or pearl; no split shot. Vary the length depending on the depth, but if you are not catching, change the depth of your rig or the water you are fishing before switching flies.

Photo © Jason Lugo

With 360 degree scenic views the Big Wood River is more than just a great fishery for native rainbow.

For many of you, the Wood River Valley is a bit of a drive, so before setting out, a little due diligence concerning weather is in order. If the high temp for the day will be below 25 degrees, I simply wouldn’t go, it’s not worth it. Cold feet and hands take the fun out of it in a hurry, and frozen rod guides will frustrate even the most patient fisherman.

Nothing new here, but dress warmly. Also, I like to wear boots at least a size or two larger than normal if at all possible; you will be amazed how much warmer your feet stay. I find pocket hand warmers (the big ones), usually superior to gloves. I fish bare handed, holding the warmers inside my pockets to unthaw my hands when necessary. This is just a personal preference; I know many others who prefer gloves.

Photo © Jason Lugo

The native Big Wood Rainbows are beautiful creatures and seem a bit darker in the winter time.

A few last minute things to remember: fish barbless hooks, jettison your net, bring hot chocolate. Barbless hooks are a must, not because they are often legally required and the morally correct thing to do, but because small barbed hooks are exceedingly difficult to remove from a fish’s mouth.  Remember, it is cold – if the fish gets off, all the better. You don’t want to touch the freezing things anyway. In fact, it is a lucky break when the fish throws the fly at your feet, hence the no net explanation. Also, net bags often freeze, rendering them useless anyhow.  The hot chocolate, I hope, is self-explanatory.

One other thing: Graphite rods are easily broken in cold temperatures so be careful. If you have any further questions, call the guys at Silver Creek Outfitters or Lost River Outfitters. They are well-informed and always glad to help.  Have fun, be safe, and I hope to see you out on the “Wood” this winter.

About the author

Pete Wood - Pete Wood has been a guide at Silver Creek in Ketchum, Idaho, for eight years. A native of Gooding, the 30-year-old began working at a fly shop in Twin Falls when he was 14. Since then, he’s traveled and fished in Argentina, Belize, Mexico, Bahamas, New Zealand and much of the United States. He has a bachelor’s degree in U.S. history from Boise State University.

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2 comments

I really enjoyed this story. Great writing style, great photos – love the addition of the video too!

Good job Pete! Thanks for the tips and the photos. – Ben R.