Eastern Idaho casting call

These fishing spots get overshadowed by the big names, but they’re worth a look.

tightlinemedia.comFebruary 26, 2014 

The Henrys Fork and the South Fork of the Snake rivers are world famous Idaho fishing destinations that tend to hog the glory of rich and diverse fisheries in eastern Idaho. But there are many others that also provide great angling in a variety of settings.

If you can’t pry yourself away from the big names, no harm. They got famous because they’re great places to fish. But if you want to branch out to other waters, here are some options.

BEAR RIVER

Closest cities: Grace, Soda Springs and Logan, Utah.

Famous water nearby: Bear Lake, Blackfoot Reservoir.

Why: The best public access for fishing is Oneida Narrows below Oneida Dam.

Thirty-fish days are common in the Narrows, and that’s no fish tale. The Oneida Narrows stretch of Bear River is loaded with trout. It’s also the most accessible stretch of the Bear. Walk the road along the river and watch for rising fish. The Narrows fishes well summer through late fall, but sometimes the people outnumber the fish.

“This canyon is used extensively,” said angler Jeff Seamons. “We often joke that’s there’s an inner tube hatch in the summer, July through August. The river is just full of people floating.”

JACKKNIFE CREEK

Closest cities: Swan Valley and Alpine, Wyo.

Famous water nearby: Salt River, Palisades Reservoir.

Why: There’s a recently restored native Yellowstone cutthroat trout fishery.

Jackknife Creek doesn’t have a crowd of people on its water. It’s foot and horse traffic only, and you won’t see many other users until hunting season opens in late summer.

Start fishing at the new pedestrian bridge less than a mile from the parking lot. Along the way, notice the new trail replacing the road and the transplanted willows shading the recently restored watershed.

“A project like this initially is intimidating,” said Louis Wasniewksi, Caribou-Targhee National Forest hydrologist. “But if you do what Mother Nature is indicating needs to be done and you do it well, success is in your hand.”

Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Forest Service reconnected Jackknife Creek in summer 2012. The creek is historically known as native Yellowstone cutthroat trout spawning grounds. Those fish returned to Jackknife the following spring.

“It’s kind of a historic event,” said Matt Woodard, Trout Unlimited watershed project manager. “It’s pretty neat to see water come back to a place it hasn’t been for a long, long time.”

Jackknife Creek is skinny with deep pools on the bends. Eight-inch cutties on the curves are common. Crossing from one bank to the other only takes a few hops. No waders needed, but pack a lunch. The Jackknife drainage is a beautiful hike, and you can fish along the way.

BIG ELK

Closest cities: Swan Valley and Idaho Falls.

Famous water nearby: Palisades Reservoir, South Fork of the Snake River.

Why: Kokanee run mid-July to October.

Another walk worth taking with your rod is up Big Elk Creek. The kokanee run up the creek in the summer. They’re in Palisades Reservoir, and they run up Big Elk Creek to spawn from mid-July to October. The run screams for attention with its flashes of bright red bodies in the clean, clear water.

“I was impressed,” said Bryan Vohs, first-time kokanee fisherman. “Just the visual beauty of these fish was worth the trip.”

There’s no need to start the trip early. The water is too cold for much action before lunch. Hike a mile up from the parking lot. Pay attention to horse trailers in the lot so you have an idea of how many horses will be on your path. Use the well-traveled trail system along the river and look for deep holes. Start casting when you see red, but watch your back cast.

“It was difficult to put a fly down,” Vohs said. “A lot of it was stripping line out and letting it float down and strip it back in.”

Vohs and his three buddies spent four hours hiking and fishing. Each angler caught and released at least one kokanee, and a few caught more than one. Vohs has only one regret about the day.

“If I knew I was going to have that picture taken, I would have taken a different color of shirt,” Vohs said. “Just the sheer image of that bright red shirt with that fish looking as bright as that, it’s just unbelievable to me.”

FALL RIVER

Closest cities: St. Anthony and Ashton.

Famous water nearby: Henrys Fork of the Snake River.

Why: Best stonefly hatch is in June between hatches on Henrys and the South Fork.

Another unbelievable sight takes off farther north. The stonefly hatch on Fall River has epic potential. The finger-length fly is an eye-popping sight for anglers of all ages.

On Fall River, the big bugs come off in June between the hatches on Henrys Fork and the South Fork of the Snake.

Timing is the key here. Casters from around the world come for stoneflies on famous water. The Fall is easily stepped over, so step in while no one else is around.

“The biggest thing about the Fall River is it looks like a long riffle, but there is a lot of good holding water that holds a lot of trout and a lot of whitefish,” said Jimmy Gabettas, Jimmy’s All Seasons Angler owner. “If you just want to have a little bit more water to yourself, it’s a good alternative in the summer.”

The wade fishery runs through seed potato country and has a lot of fencing on both banks, but access points are provided at ladders and bridge crossings over the low and clear flow of the fall.

BUFFALO RIVER

Closest cities: Ashton and Island Park.

Famous water nearby: Henrys Fork of the Snake River, Island Park Reservoir.

Why: This is a winter holding pool for Henrys Fork fish.

The Buffalo River in Island Park also runs low and clear. Low water equals easy wading and that’s why the Buffalo accommodates kids. Little feet can work the riverbed, and the flat flow makes bug watching simple.

“The water is so calm and so clear, you can see the little sailboats of the mayflies,” said Steve Smede. “For a little kid learning insects, there’s no better classroom for that kind of thing.”

Smede is after 8-inch brookies and rainbows, but even empty creel days hold potential.

“If you’re along the banks of a little river like the Buffalo, you’re not going to get as much foot traffic,” Smede said. “Where there are less crowds, there tends to be more wildlife. I’d put it in my top five places to go, and that’s comparing it to places that are world famous.”

The Buffalo runs into it, and its true fishery value shines as nursery status in the winter.

“A lot of Henrys Fork fish are coming from Buffalo,” said Brandon Hoffner, Henrys Fork Foundation executive director. “They spend their first winter in Buffalo so it’s extremely important to the Henrys Fork.”

What’s important runs downhill, so take advantage of the opportunity to explore where that water is coming from. The not-so-famous fisheries hold value in their own right. “Sometimes it’s the out-of-the-way, quiet places that are the most important to discover,” Smede said.

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