Best Fly Fishing in Idaho

Close up of a man fly fishing
Caiaimage/Richard Johnson / Getty Images

Where’s the best fly fishing in Idaho? A better question might be: Is there really a bad place to fly fish in Idaho? That answer, if you’ve ever fished there, is "no". Idaho is one of the last frontiers in terms of Western fly fishing, and it is among the best destinations the West has to offer. And with proper conservation, Idaho has a chance to remain that way for our children’s grandchildren.

Idaho Fly Fishing Access

More than 65% of Idaho land is government owned, which means a lot of that land will continue to be protected as we move forward. And of the remaining 30-plus percent, much can also be fished thanks to the state’s water access laws--which for the most part allow anglers to fish below the high-water mark in a similar fashion to the laws in nearby Montana. (Provided fishermen access the stream legally, without trespassing.)​

Protecting Idaho’s Trout

The key here will be protecting those rivers and the species in them from pollutants that stem from mining and other man-made activities, along with keeping non-native invasive species from harming those waters.

Idaho is no longer the sure-fire haven for cutthroat trout it once was, due to the introduction of rainbow trout and brook trout, among other species. But I still find Idaho to be as good as it gets when it comes to Western river fly fishing--right up there with Montana.

Favorite Idaho Fly Fishing Destinations

It’s tough to pick a handful of favorite fly fishing destinations when it comes to Idaho, just because the state is so large and there are so many unique, amazing fisheries. So I'll go region by region and list off some of my favorites, which don’t always match up to what the masses believe.

The criteria I've used is not only to catch big fish but also to get away from the crowds and enjoy the scenery as much as possible, too. In other words, a popular lake that pulls out monster fish and is #1 on everybody else's list might not make my list.

Northern Idaho

In Northern Idaho, I love fishing out of Coeur D’Alene and Lewiston, just because those are such fun towns; and because there are other out-of-state options that are close, as well--in Montana and Washington.

In Idaho, I’ve really enjoyed my time on the Clearwater River, which is a great fall destination for big trout on terrestrial baits. Closer to the Montana border, if you make it in that direction, are a couple of fun destinations in the St. Joe River and often-overlooked Kelly Creek. If you can find some time on any of those fisheries, there are some fun fish to be caught.

Central Idaho

Then there’s the heart of Idaho, fly fishing big waters such as the Big Lost River (East Fork, Lower River) and the Salmon River (Main, Upper and Middle Fork).

When it comes to the Big Lost rivers, check with the shops in nearby Sun Valley for the best bites, but you can’t go wrong fishing the East Fork near Copper Basin, or the stretch below Mackay Reservoir.

On the Salmon River, there’s nothing better than a spring fling. Get out on the East Fork below the city of Salmon, away from the crowds. If you are up early, the confluence with the Pahsimeroi River near the hatchery can be good, but it gets crowded in a hurry once the word gets out that fish are striking.

Eastern Idaho

But most of the best fly fishing takes place in the eastern part of the state, below Yellowstone National Park. Now, the Park can get crowded in the summer, but the spring and fall are always great times to fish. And even in the summer, there are guided trips that can get you away from the crowds.

Must-fish waters on this side of the state include Henrys Lake and Henrys Fork, Falls River and the South Fork Snake River. Many believe the South Fork is the backbone of the state’s fly fishing waters, with 60 miles of unbelievable fishing.

The most accessible section is probably the stretch from Swan Valley Bridge to Black Canyon, although if you can access Table Rock or downstream from Palisades Dam, by all means, enjoy the ride. There are some monster brown trout down there that can surely take you for a ride.