Fly Fishing Silver Creek in Idaho

Sometimes we do get lucky…

In May of 2018, we set out for adventures to new places, new waters. Runoff was in full swing in our home waters of Montana so time to explore new locations. A skiing friend had a second home in Ketchum, Idaho so why not check out Sun Valley? Ketchum was the perfect ski village. Very nice. But not our scene.

Out came the fishing guidebooks and to our delight, there was a spring creek just a short distance away. And so began our love affair with Silver Creek in Picabo, Idaho.

It was just luck that we arrived on opening weekend and as the famous Brown Drake hatch was beginning. Big bugs, big fish, a gently flowing stream, life is good.

Fly fishing Silver Creek in Idaho

Silver Creek 

Bend of Silver Bow Creek near Sun Valley Idaho

View from North Picabo Road

Preservation and the Creek

Less than 15 miles long, Silver Creek begins as cold waters percolate from the aquifer into the tributaries which form the creek; Stalker, Loving, and Grove.

In 1975, local anglers worked with the Nature Conservancy to purchase 479 acres of the creek’s headwaters from the Sun Valley Corporation. The group purchased the land and the Silver Creek Preserve was created.

Jack Hemingway, son of beloved author Ernest Hemingway and an Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner, worked to make the preserve open to fly fishing with catch and release regulations. A section of the creek is reserved for float-tube only access.

Map of the Silver Creek Preserve

Silver Creek Preserve in Picabo Idaho - The Nature Conservancy

Click to Enlarge

Fly Fishing at Silver Creek Preserve

Fishing at the preserve is welcomed. There are several areas to park with paths that lead along the creek. The Nature Conservancy asks anglers and visitors to the preserve to sign in at their interpretive center.

In season, you’ll be greeted by a friendly volunteer whose passion it is to share their knowledge of the preserve, the flora and fauna, and pass along tips on accessing the water. Donations are requested but not required.

During our visit, the friendly volunteer informed us about a moose who was seen in the willows. While chatting, sure enough, out of the willows came the moose!

Pick up a free map at the interpretive center and head out and find a spot to fish for selective trout on this famous spring creek.

Sullivan Lake

If the stream is crowded with anglers, try Sullivan Lake. HUGE rainbows cruise the still waters sipping insects from the surface. A delicate cast with an invisible leader ahead of a cruising fish’s path can occasionally fool the Ph.D. trout.

Amazing Scenery

We fished the preserve several times during our trip. We saw moose, mule deer, hawks, songbirds, sandhill cranes, and owls. The landscape was covered with yellow lupine, paintbrush, columbine, and flox, while the air was sweetly scented by chokecherry blossoms.

Today the preserve comprises of 874 acres along the creek and the Nature Conservancy has protected more than 10,000 acres through conservation easements in the area.

If You Go

If you go, this is a great starting point for fishing the creek. The paths are easy to follow and lead to some sweet places to fish. Take your time before crashing into the water. Watch for rising trout. Observe what they are eating. Plan where to step into the stream. This can be a challenging fishery.

Fly rods in magnetic rod holders on truck. 2 helios rods, a pink Abel reel and an Orvis reel

Silver Creek Preserve

Sullivan Lake at the Silver Creek Preserve

Tim choosing a fly before storm clouds end fishing at Sullivan Lake

More Access

Some of the land on the creek is private such as the Purdy Ranch and much of the downstream section as it winds through ranch lands. But there is still plenty of public access.

Point of Rocks

Idaho Fish and Game own a large tract of land along the creek where stream access is permitted, there are pit toilets available, and overnight camping is allowed. Point of Rocks and Silver Creek West are accessed from a gravel country road off Highway 20. Silver Creek East fishing access is at a bridge crossing on the county road, North Picabo Road, turn north by Picabo Angler.

Highway 20 Bridge

Park on the north side of the highway and climb the ladder over the fencing to access the stream on the downstream of the bridge. Access is signed and easy to follow. There is a large, swirling pool as the water dumps over the small dam.

I had a fun evening throwing a big, black-ish beetle-looking-thing into the foam and easily fooling medium sized trout as the froth and foam worked to my advantage.

Priest Rapids

Priest Rapids, located off Highway 93 or the Picabo Road, offers access to the creek along with camping. The terrain changes greatly, however, as the stream tumbles from the lush valley into the craggy desert and ancient lava landscape. BLM owns and manages the site and it is the last access before the creek joins the Little Wood River on its way to the Snake River.

View of angler fishing Silver Creek in Idaho

Angler fishing Silver Creek in Idaho

Tying on a fly while fly fishing

Selecting the Perfect Fly

Silver Creek Season Opener

The trout in Silver Creek are well educated and are challenging to catch. But on opening weekend, anglers have a slight advantage. For most of Silver Creek, trout fishing is closed from November 30th to Memorial Day Weekend with the exception of a no-harvest season winter trout season December 1 to February 28.

Opening weekend is a celebratory event. At Picabo Angler, throws a big party and everyone is invited. This year the party started Friday night with beer, fly fishing industry reps, more cool, fishy folks, and funny man, Hank Patterson. Saturday featured food and fun.

Brown Dake Hatch

On our first visit, opening weekend coincided with the Brown Drake hatch, our visit this year did not. Winter lingered longer than usual in the northern Rockies delaying many hatches by as much as two weeks. And the brown drake hatch was no exception.

According to the guidebooks, the hatch occurs the first week of June. Fish a size 10 pattern dry or an emerger for the more wary trout.

Brown Drake Flies for Silver Creek

Brown Drake Dries and Cripples

Local Experts

Picabo Angler’s fly shop is great. The folks are friendly and are quick to offer tips on where to fish and what flies to use. They sell Orvis, Simms, Rio, and more. They rent equipment – which was helpful since Tim packed a friend’s wading boots for me – 2 sizes too small. Ouch!

They are more than a great fly shop. They are a gas station, convenience store, post office, and restaurant. They run the Silver Creek RV Park and sell Idaho fishing licenses. They offered guided fishing and wingshooting. They have access to private water on the creek. And there is probably more I am not aware of. Be sure to check them out if you are in the neighborhood.


Nearby Fly Fishing Waters

In May, nearby waters – which are amazing btw, are swollen with run-off. If you visit in summer, there are lots of fly fishing waters nearby.

  • Big Wood River
  • Little Wood River
  • Magic Reservoir
  • Big Lost River

Current Silver Creek Stream Flow

USGS Water-data graph for Silver Creek in Picabo Idaho

The Fly Fishing Rig

Silver Creek Preserve in Picabo Idaho - The Nature Conservancy

Flies That Worked For Us

It’s always wise to check in with the local experts. Here’s what we used during our trip from May 24 to June 1, 2019.

  • Pale Morning Duns (dry and emerger variations)
  • Baetis
  • CDC Caddis (olive and dun bodies)
  • Beetle
  • Hatching Pupa
  • Olive Marabou Streamer

Memorable Moments

If it weren’t for the angle of the sun that late Tuesday morning, I would have never seen him. I was walking along the willows section of Silver Creek, poking my head through the bushes here and there looking for activity. The fish lay motionless beneath the undercut bank on the creek’s far side. I watched for a few minutes not really sure I was looking at a fish or some trailing spring creek weed growth. My pulse quickened when at last he moved slightly to take a nymph as it drifted by. It was the beginning of the brown drake hatch and a few duns started to appear on the water. Fumbling for my fly box, I thought I’d try a float a dry fly over him.

My first cast was spot on. The fly landing four feet above him and drifted perfectly over his nose. Good enough to move the trout towards the fly, but no take. A hasty second cast didn’t move the fish at all. I watched quietly for an indeterminate amount of time wondering what might entice this bruiser brown. The big fellow looked like a meat eater to me, so out came the streamer box.

My cast landed upstream in the bushes. A twitch of the rod dropped the beadhead soft hackle streamer into the water. A few quick strips and the flow of the current had the desired effect. The fish began to chase the fly clear across Silver Creek. When nearly at the end of the swing, a smaller, faster brown trout, nearly 18 inches long, ate the fly with abandon. I played the smaller fish to net while the big guy returned to the depths.

It’s hard to feel disappointed after missing the brown of a lifetime when the one you do land, could have been the fish of someone else’s lifetime.  I fished down the rest of the willow section with some success but I never did see that big brown again.

~ Tim Savard, May 2018

The Necessities

Our picks for fishing information, food, and places to camp.

Picabo, Idaho

I must say, Picabo, Idaho is one of the prettiest and well-kept little towns I’ve experienced. Streets are lined with lilacs and other flowering trees and shrubs. Lovingly planted and faithfully irrigated, the town is an explosion of blossoms and scents in late May.

The blue water tower on the K-K Ranch rises as the above the valley floor as the Picabo Hills, which change color as daylight fades, rim the horizon.

My morning jogs and bike rides through the quiet village were almost as enjoyable as landing a huge rainbow on Sullivan Lake in the Silver Creek Preserve, almost.

Side Trips

Fishing is fun, but in such a special part of the world, it’s good to take a day or two and look around. Here you’ll find ancient lava fields, spectacular waterfalls, and amazing mountain scenery.

Fishing Guidebooks

Go with knowledge! We keep guidebooks in the camper and the state atlas in all of our rigs. If you’re serious about fishing, here’s our recommended reading for this water.

*The link takes you to Amazon where you can read more about the titles and purchase the guidebooks if you choose. We do receive a small portion of the sale for providing the link which helps to support this site. We appreciate your support!

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