Story and Photos by Nick Price
Eight guides who make their their living on the insect-rich waters of this desert spring creek, which runs through Idaho’s sagebrush prairie
Silver Creek is often referred to as the graduate school of fly-fishing for trout. Located in a sagebrush prairie in south-central Idaho, the spring creek is flanked by willows, farms and ranchland. Think barley, alfalfa, cows, sheep and a tiny, down-to-earth town named Picabo (pronounced Peekaboo), which means shining or silver waters in a Native American dialect.
The creek is steeped in history. Ernest Hemingway spent years hunting and fishing it. If not for his son, Jack, The Nature Conservancy would not own what it does today: more than 874 acres of land along the upstream reaches of Silver Creek, all open to the public and referred to as The Silver Creek Preserve. A former Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner, Jack Hemingway was a staunch advocate for protecting the unique waterway.
The Faces of Silver Creek
Many spring creeks in the West are private. The public access to Silver Creek certainly sets it apart. Some of the best water — The Silver Creek Preserve, The Willows and Point of Rocks access areas — is open to the public, and the preserve has the greatest hatches in both intensity and diversity.
The creek’s cold, clear water also sets it apart and makes it the perfect haven for scores of aquatic insects. Cold water and lots of bugs are the reasons behind the strong fish population and the size of some of the fish. Brown trout can exceed 30 inches.
Silver Creek has a glassy, smooth surface and very few riffles. It also has a relatively slow current. It’s so quiet that you can sometimes hear the subtle singsong of hundreds of thousands of mayfly spinners in the air.
Anglers can be intimidated by the presumption that it’s not easy to catch fish, even during a prolific, face-tickling spinner fall. I’ve been guiding here for more than 22 years along with, likely, close to 60 other guides; with the resort town of Sun Valley to the north, there’s a constant flow of anglers during the prime season, from the end of May through October.
We fish Silver Creek differently than other waters. For starters, we cast downstream, by and large. Etiquette, as a result, is the opposite of what you find on other Western rivers; fishing immediately downstream of another angler is a faux pas.
We often use long, thin leaders. It’s a dry-fly fisherman’s paradise, but the fish are fussy. It’s possible to fish to a pod of a few dozen rising fish and have, in your mind at least, a perfect downstream presentation ignored. Being ignored at Silver Creek by feeding fish is de rigueur, much like falling is to learning how to ski.
Here are eight guides who are fixtures on Silver Creek. Each one has a unique personality, to be sure, but they all share a hard-earned knowledge of the nuances of Silver Creek that takes many days and years to acquire. They are year-round residents of the area, making Silver Creek their home water.
More important, they are respected as gentlemen on the river. I’m proud to call them my peers.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Anglers Journal magazine.
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