Photos & Article By: R. Chad Chorney
I vividly recall the first time I fished Silver Creek a decade ago. It was a bright, crisp September day, and by the time I geared up and walked the path to the water, small Baetis began hatch.
Fish were rising throughout the section of water I planned to fish. Without hesitation, I waded to midstream and made my first cast to a nice rainbow trout feeding just off the far bank. I immediately put the fish down. In fact, I put the next several fish down.
Having never fished a spring creek, particularly one as renowned and challenging as Silver Creek, I was woefully unprepared. While I did manage to raise a couple of small fish and land a rainbow trout of about 14 inches, my day began and ended in frustration.
The experience I had that day on Silver Creek is not unique. While "the Creek," as it's known by locals, is an incredible fishery that draws fly fishers from all over the world, many leave the water frustrated and disappointed. It doesn't have to be that way.
While I make no claims of being a Silver Creek Zen master, I have fished Silver Creek countless times and guided there for the last several years. Hopefully what I've learned will help visiting anglers increase their odds for success, and make their first experience with Silver Creek an enjoyable one.
Watch and Wait
Whenever I fish or guide on Silver Creek, I never rush. When I get to the water, the first thing I do is stop, sit down, and take a good look. Silver Creek is a bug factory, and at any time, there can be multiple insects hatching. Or, there may be several stages of an insect (emergers, duns, and spinners) present. Baetis hatches overlap with Callibaetis, which overlap with hatches of Pale Morning Duns (PMDs).
Blindly knotting on a fly at the car and casting to the first rising fish is a mistake. On the Creek, it pays to be observant. Take the time to look at the streamside vegetation. Watch the riseforms of trout. Stand at the water's edge and try to identify what bugs are on the water. If you're able, scoop up a few bugs and compare them to your flies. Once you have made a good determination of what the trout are eating, then it's time to fish. As the old saying goes, only fools rush in.
Take it Easy
Of all the mistakes I made on my first trip to Silver Creek, careless wading was probably the most egregious. The water in Silver Creek is placid and clear. Rough or reckless wading is guaranteed to spook fish and set the stage for a bad day. After years of fishing the Creek, I minimize my wading as much as possible. I spend a good deal of time casting while kneeling along the banks. And when I do wade, it's done slowly and with care.
The bottom of Silver Creek is a mix of silt, vegetation, and gravel. Avoid wading through the muck and weeds. Doing so sends clouds of silt downstream, spooking trout and perhaps ruining another angler's chance at a good fish.
In the fall, look for redds of spawning brown trout and stay clear. The redds are lighter-colored, "clean" patches of gravel that have been turned over by spawning fish, and should be avoided.
Walk softly and gently along Silver Creek. I make a point to stay several feet back from the edge as I walk along the stream, and only approach the water when I'm ready to fish.
Be mindful of casting a shadow on the water. Stomping along the banks and throwing your shadow over fish sends trout fleeing in all directions.
Go Early and Stay Late
Some of the best fishing on Silver Creek occurs before most anglers have arrived, or after they have packed it in for the day. Excluding the early morning Trico hatches (late July through August) and the late evening Brown Drake hatch of early June, the bulk of the fishing pressure on Silver Creek happens during "banker's hours."
While there is certainly great fishing between 9 and 5, anglers who fish earlier and later are often richly rewarded. In the summer, PMDs can appear throughout the day, especially during rainy or cloudy conditions. But many of these bugs only make their presence known during the off hours. PMD spinners are frequently the first bugs on the water, and they are often all gone by the time most anglers are stringing up their rods.
On bright sunny days, a few early rising anglers are often greeted by trout lazily rising to spinners. Poorly named Pale Morning Duns, on the other hand, frequently emerge late into the evening, with the action lasting until dark. A benefit to this late appearance is that fish tend to be less selective and easier to fool.
The stay-late tactic applies to caddis as well. During the warm summer months, most caddis appear during the late evening, and good success can be had by both dead-drifting low-riding caddis patterns and by skating high-floating drys.
If you decide to stay and fish Silver Creek at dusk, a word of caution — at times, mosquito activity can be brutal. This is especially true in wet years and earlier in the season. Don't forget to wear insect repellent and long-sleeve shirts.
The "Off" Season
By far, most anglers fish Silver Creek during the pleasant summer months of June, July, and August. Summer is a great time to be on the Creek, and few things invigorate you like warm sun, a gentle breeze, and blue, cloudless skies. However, some of the best fishing takes place later in the season, or when bad weather drives most anglers off the water.
One of my most memorable events on Silver Creek happened in mid-November on one of those wet, gray days where Mother Nature couldn't decide between raining and snowing. It was near 11 A.M. by the time I got on the water, and size 20 Baetis were already hatching.
The hatch lasted all afternoon, and fish rose steadily the entire time. It was one of those rare days when things come together, and I had hours of amazing dry-fly action to large, feisty rainbows and browns.
I think I saw one other angler.
After Labor Day, the fishing pressure on Silver Creek drops considerably. The weather is certainly not as consistent as during the summer. In October and November, rain and snow are common. Many locals (me included) turn to hunting upland birds, waterfowl, deer, and elk.
Most visiting anglers never experience one of Silver Creek's best hatches, Mahogany Duns. This hatch usually occurs during the most pleasant part of the day from late August through October, and trout key in on this size 14 to 16 mayfly. The presence of the Mahogany Dun is a breath of fresh air after the hot, busy summer, and is welcomed by fish and fisherman alike.
Enjoy the Wind
Anyone who has fished in Idaho has had to deal with wind. Even though I have cursed the wind often enough, a good stiff breeze on Silver Creek from midsummer through fall says "bring on the terrestrials."
Wind blows grasshoppers, beetles, and ants off streamside vegetation and onto the water. In all but the worst gales, anglers on the Creek can find success by fishing standard terrestrials (deer-hair hoppers, beetles, small fur ants) tight to grassy banks. The wind breaks up the normally still waters of Silver Creek, giving you a bit more cover to work with and perhaps making the trout a little less wary.
Try Something Different
Silver Creek is definitely a match-the-hatch fishery, but on occasion trying something off the wall produces when nothing else will.
The famed Trico hatch on the Creek is something to behold. The sheer numbers of insects have been described as clouds or wisps of smoke. As impressive as the hatch is, it can be equally frustrating. While pods of fish may be rising in every direction, it can be tough for an individual trout to pick out your offering with so many naturals on the water. Anglers often have trouble seeing their fly — Tricos on Silver Creek are #20-24 — and will miss a fish when it finally takes.
Try fishing a small black ant or Renegade smack dab in the middle of a Trico hatch. This "unmatching the hatch" has been successful for me many times.
Another trick I've used during this hatch is to dead-drift a sunken Trico spinner pattern through a pod of feeding fish. While you may not be treated to actually seeing the fish take the fly, more often than not this technique brings fish to the net. My sunken Trico pattern is simply a spinner with a black or gray wire body instead of dubbing.
Long forgotten by most anglers today, fishing a wet fly is a great way to imitate emerging mayflies and caddis. Prior to heavy hatch activity and when trout are keying on emergers, I've had good results fishing wets on a downstream swing. Sparse, soft-hackle Pheasant Tails are a good imitation of mayflies, and the standard soft-hackle Hare's Ear works well as a caddis emerger.
I like to add a small glass bead or a few strands of Krystal Flash behind the hackle of wets to mimic the trapped air bubbles on an emerging insect. [See Dave Whitlock's story "Old School" in the June-July 2011 issue for more detailed information on traditional wet-fly tactics. The Editor.]
The lure of Silver Creek is its world-class dry-fly fishing. Few anglers travel to the Creek with thoughts of fishing nymphs or streamers. And while some may consider it sacrilege, sometimes going "down and dirty" on Silver Creek is highly effective. When there is no visible insect activity, sight-fishing small nymphs to large trout can be as challenging and satisfying as fishing a Baetis hatch.
Much of the time when sight-nymphing, indicators are not required and often spook trout. If conditions call for an indicator (such as fishing deep bend pools or slots), leave the large balloon-type models at home. I favor white Palsa pinch-on foam indicators. They are small and do not seem to bother wary trout. Patterns can be fairly simple. I rely primarily on Pheasant Tails, scuds, and midge pupae in smaller sizes (#16 — 22) and I prefer all of these patterns tied sparsely.
During the summer, damselflies are a mainstay on Silver Creek. Given the right conditions, fishing floating adult damsel imitations can induce some incredible strikes. But fishing a damselfly nymph provides far more consistent action, and has saved the day for me more than once.
Fish damsel nymphs by slowly stripping them around any submerged vegetation, or by swinging them along undercut banks. Patterns should be size 10 to 12, feature prominent eyes, and be tied in olive, tan, and green.
When nothing else is working, and desperation seems imminent, a small leech or Woolly Bugger can produce large trout. The Creek's biggest brown trout are fish eaters, and it's not uncommon for big browns to chase smaller fish that you've hooked.
I'd be willing to bet that most of the truly large fish caught on Silver Creek have taken a streamer. Prime areas for fishing streamers include deep, dark pools, undercuts, and breaks in submerged vegetation.
As mentioned, leech patterns and Buggers are effective, as are woolhead sculpins and Zonkers. Streamers are especially effective during low light conditions. Please remember that in the fall, brown trout are actively spawning, so give them a wide berth and avoid fishing to them.
Beyond the Preserve
Some of the best water on Silver Creek is located on The Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek Preserve. The Nature Conservancy owns just under 900 acres here, and has secured conservation easements totaling almost 9,500 acres, encompassing approximately 2 miles of stream.
The Preserve is a classic spring creek, rich in insect life. It's also some of the most pressured water in Idaho. Anglers from all 50 states and over a dozen countries fish here each season. While I certainly feel that a trip to Silver Creek has to include fishing the Preserve water, it's worth exploring some of the Creek's other access points.
Notably, these include Silver Creek West and Silver Creek East, also referred to as Martin Bridge and Point of Rocks. The character of the water at these access points offers a bit more variation than the Preserve. You'll find sections of stream that run through meadows, deep, dark holes, an abundance of overhanging brush, and extensive undercut banks.
Both of these access points offer great hatches (PMDs, Baetis, Tricos, and Brown Drakes) and the chance at some very large fish. Also, limited camping is allowed at these locations. What better place to spend the night than along the banks of Silver Creek?
Flies for Success
For effective dry-fly fishing on Silver Creek, you must have realistic flies. This is not the place for attractors and heavily dressed patterns. Most of the drys I fish are based on René Harrop's CDC patterns, Bob Quigley's Hackle Stackers, and Shane Stalcup's creations. All of these patterns are highly imitative, sparse, have the proper silhouette, and land gently on the water. By simply
changing style and color, you can use these styles of flies to imitate virtually any mayfly.
Without a doubt, the most effective presentation on Silver Creek is a downstream drift. The first thing the fish must see is your fly. By casting across and at a slight angle downstream, you avoid showing trout your leader and fly line.
A downstream presentation also allows for an extended drag-free drift, another "must-do" on the Creek. At times, you will need to make an upstream presentation but fishing across and downstream offers the best chance for success, so carefully consider your possible angles of attack before you cast.
If your sole reason for fishing Silver Creek is to rack up big numbers of fish, you're going to be disappointed. There are many other places where you can land far more fish. I don't measure success on Silver Creek by how many fish I've landed. In fact, I can get skunked and still be happy.
Shortly after my first visit to the Creek, I remember fishing over a large rainbow for almost 30 minutes. After countless casts and fly changes, I finally got the fish to take. Even though I lost the fish in a weed bed (6X tippet rarely forgives those mistakes), I was thrilled to have hooked that trout.
Perhaps one of the best aspects of fishing Silver Creek is that it simply makes you a better angler. The Creek is the perfect place to hone your skills — spotting and stalking fish, wading gently, casting and mending, and landing trout on fine tippet. If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere.
To truly enjoy Silver Creek, you have to take in everything that it has to offer. Few places that I have fished offer the beauty, abundance of wildlife, and serenity of Silver Creek.
There's so much to enjoy; mule deer and moose feeding along the stream, the distinctive cries of sandhill cranes and blackbirds, the smell of wet sagebrush, the pastel colors found in sunrises, sunsets, and wildflowers. It may sound cliché, but Silver Creek is one of those places that make you feel good to be alive. Any day on Silver Creek is a good day.
R. Chad Chorney is a fly-fishing guide and professional photographer based in Twin Falls, Idaho.