Idaho Fly Fishing 6 min read

DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Idaho

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

June 1, 2024

Every state seems to be known for something and when it comes to Idaho’s claim to fame it’s all about adventure and outdoor activities year-round. As soon as spring rolls around it’s all about the blue-ribbon trout fishing opportunities here.

The trout streams are superb and for many people they are unmatched. It’s not just the streams, however; there are also reservoirs and lakes just brimming with a wide variety of fish. Besides trout, anglers love the challenge involved with catching the great king salmon.

Idaho Fishing Map

map of places to fish in Idaho

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

An interesting fact about Idaho is that it is the only state that is landlocked in the west of the country that also offers steelhead and salmon. Of course one of the most incredible parts about your fishing experience here is the fact you are surrounded by sheer beauty when it comes to the scenery.

So let’s get right to it and take a look at the top spots for fishing and some tips you can use when planning your fly fishing adventure, such as the perfect time to visit, what to pack, and when the hatches take place each year.

Best Places to Fish in Idaho

Usually the first thing you ask when setting up your fly fishing adventure is, “What is the best place to go?” Well here’s an answer you may not be expecting, in Idaho there is no “bad” place. In fact many call this the best state in the west for fly fishing. What makes Idaho very unique is that the government owns a whopping 65% of the land in the state, keeping it protected and pristine and ideal for fishing. And not to worry, the non-government owned land is also accessible in many areas and just waiting to be fished.

While there are well-known places all across the state, the eastern section seems to be the most popular area for fly fishing. This is where you’ll find the South Fork of the Snake River and Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, both incredibly well-known among anglers. Here’s a better look at these and other places to go in Idaho.

South Fork of the Snake River

This area is located in the Swan Valley of Idaho and is ideally visited during the summer months. This area is found right below the Palisades Dam and is a canyon with no road access. You’ll be catching trout here, and it is best enjoyed by floating on a boat/raft. This one is a fairly easy stream to fish and features small-sized riffles and waves. The South Fork is almost 60 miles in length and winds and slithers around; it makes for a really interesting journey. Keep in mind the water speeds are a bit much for wading, as is the water level. Instead opt for tail-water fishing.

Henry’s Fork of the Snake River

When it comes to the most well-known areas this particular area of the Snake River is a gem and a real star among anglers. In fact this trout stream has been voted number one in the whole country. This one is just teeming with large trout such as browns and rainbow. If you like dry fly fishing, this is the place to be. It is located in a floodplain area of the high-desert. Expect spectacular scenery, a gentle river, and tons of greenery. It’s got a really serene feeling to it. This area is open spring, summer, and fall but is usually best in the summer. The most popular section of the Fork runs from Island Park Dam to Riverside take-out. This area runs alongside a highway, making it very accessible. If you plan on visiting Henry’s Fork, bring your waders or a boat for floating.

Kelly Creek

Kelly Creek is another gem, which is located in the northern part of the state. It is in the Clearwater National Forest, with the nearest city being Pierce. Kelly Creek features ideal opportunities for catching cutthroat trout. Catch and release regulations are in effect here, so it’s important to be aware of this. As well, you will need to use artificial lures and flies. Typically the area is pretty quiet so if you like solitude when fly fishing this is the place to find it. Just like most areas in Idaho, fishing can be done spring through fall, but August and September tend to offer the best conditions for anglers.

Yellowstone National Park

The famed Yellowstone National Park runs through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana offering fly fishing opportunities for each of the states. Within Idaho this part of the park is quite gentle as it is a plateau. You’ll still see all the mountains surrounding you, and you’ll have a variety of rivers and streams to choose from. To reach these areas you’ll need to hike to them, and taking proper precautions is essential. The wildlife in this park includes such animals as elk, moose, bison, deer, cougars, mountain goats, wolves, and grizzly bears. This isn’t to say you can’t do the hike – just be prepared and be mindful of your surroundings.

The area is open from spring through to fall, but summer and fall are usually the best time for fishing. The nearest city to the park is Cody. Typically you’ll find cutthroat trout in the waters of the park, but there are others.

Additional Places

Idaho has such a wealth of places to choose from, there are other options such as Silver Creek, the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, the South Fork of the Boise River, Silver Creek, and St. Joe River. All of these are favorites among anglers so you can expect great conditions at each.

Best Time to Fish in Idaho

While the season may differ slightly depending on where you are heading, typically the fly fishing season begins in mid to late May across Idaho. The reason this is often seen as the real start of the season is because this is when the first significant hatches occur. Spring is ideal for dry fly fishing. Then, come summer things step up even more and you can add floating and wading to your options.

The hatches will be even more plentiful during the summer months of July and August so visiting the smaller lakes and rivers can work out well. Finally at the end of the season the temperatures will start to cool down, not just with the air but the water temperatures. There are still great conditions for dry flies and wading, and many find this is the best time for streamer fishing. Hatches start to taper off, and by the end of October they will be finished. Depending on the location you choose to visit, fall may actually be the best time of year for fly fishing.

The hatches will vary depending on what region of the state you are visiting, but as a generally rule you’ll find the most occurring the months of June, July, and August. Pretty much everything tapers off by mid-November. With that said there are some regions that see hatches year-round. It is the midges that can continue all year.

Best Flies for Idaho

Before packing your gear it’s important to be aware of the regulations where you plan to be fishing. There are a number of rivers, streams, creeks, and lakes that only allow artificial lures and flies, so it’s important to know this in advance. If you’re unsure of what flies to pick, matching the current hatch is the best plan. You can always visit local fly shops to find out more about what is popular and what is in season.

Gear Recommendations

While you don’t have to spend a fortune on your rod and reel, you do want to opt for ones that will fit the conditions of the state. Experts suggest you aim for a fly rod that is between seven to nine feet and has the fly reel mounted right to the rear seat of the rod. As for your fly line, one that is six to 10 feet should be adequate. This has a bit to do with where you plan to fish.

Idaho Fishing Regulations

For those who are 14 years of age and older you will require a fishing license or a permit in order to fish in Idaho. This goes for non-residents as well. You can get yours through the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. This is also where you can find more information on regulations and special permits that may be required. Limits can change from year to year, as can the requirements and regulations. Even if you’re a resident who is familiar with the rules, it’s best to brush up on them each year.

Trip Planning

Idaho is a state filled with natural beauty, friendly people, and outstanding fly fishing opportunities. It’s the kind of place you can build a whole fishing getaway around and be extremely pleased with your choices. Anglers are encouraged to get out there and explore the wide variety of lakes, rivers, creeks, reservoirs, and especially the blue-ribbon trout streams.

Looking for more places to fish?  Check our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing Destinations in the U.S.