Idaho’s Silver Creek offers bird-watching, hiking, canoeing, and the chance to stalk a feisty trout.
Ask not for whom the trout strikes; it strikes for you. When Ernest Hemingway wasn't bagging game or banging on his Underwood in Ketchum, he was landing rainbows and browns at spots like Silver Creek, the Big Wood, or the Big Lost River. These Western streams promise a range of blue-ribbon fishing grounds—some perfect for intrepid beginners, others better suited for experts like Papa.
My own grandpa, Boppa, fly-fished too, and his spirit inhabits my cast—especially at 6 a.m. on Silver Creek, a tricky river noted for unusual insect hatches. This spring-fed, slow-moving stream is flanked by grassy vegetation, making it a perfect habitat for mayflies, caddises, and wily trout. The key? Match the fly with what's hatching, then cast and drift it delicately.
When the sun warmed my back, I finally got lucky and the glittery thrash was mine. But fly-fishing isn't about numbers; it's about windless blue skies, the push of the current against your waders, and the mystery of what lies beneath. Each stream has a voice of its own. Later that day I tackled the Big Wood, a bossy freestone river that runs right through Ketchum, with plenty of public access. It's suitable for all levels of fly-fishers, though some parts are limited to catch-and-release.
My biggest thrill, however, arrived the next day. The Big Lost River is an hour's journey into the mountains. My personal guide, Tommy, from Bill Mason Outfitters, drove hell-bent over gravel roads to what I call heaven: dazzling private waters, sagebrush, and the yellow splash of a western tanager among the cottonwood trees. In the midst of this idyll, Tommy growled about my casting, disapproved of my slow uptake on a strike, and corrected my reeling style. Annoyed, I nonetheless adjusted my technique and soon a three-pound rainbow whomped on the line. Tommy cheered. By day's end I'd not only landed (and released) several more monster fish, I'd added new skills to my creel.
That night, happily fatigued, I was welcomed back to the historic Sun Valley Lodge radiating its rugged elegance. I pictured Hemingway returning from a day with Gary Cooper, lugging in a string of trout for the European chef to prepare. Before sleep, I could almost hear the clickety-clack of typewriter keys down the hall in Room 206 where he completed For Whom the Bell Tolls. I uttered a blessing to the ghosts of Papa and Boppa and dreamed everything silver.
To fish Sun Valley in style, consider hiring a professional guide. Both Bill Mason Outfitters (208-622-9305) at the Sun Valley Resort and Silver Creek Outfitters (800-732-5687) in Ketchum rent gear and provide transportation to the sweetest local spots. Silver Creek also offers casting clinics and classes. Guides can supply all your flies.
Photography by Glenn Oakley
This article was first published in May 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
The region's free publication, the Sun Valley Guide ( www.sunvalleycentral.com), highlights events and has listings for lodging and restaurants as well as stories on local arts. To sleep where Hemingway did, call the Sun Valley Lodge at (800) 786-8259 or visit.www.sunvalley.com.
Hop on Horizon Air from Seattle or SkyWest Airlines from Salt Lake City to fly directly to Sun Valley. Shuttle and van service are available from Boise, and the Ketchum/Sun Valley Transit Authority (KART) system provides free transportation throughout Ketchum, Sun Valley, and Elkhorn.
Ketchum and Sun Valley have a full range of restaurants, from K.B.'s to Ketchum Grill, Michel's Christiania Restaurant, and the famous Lodge Dining Room (with live music). Locals prefer Pioneer Saloon, a fun watering hole with fresh beef. Eat a delectable, reasonable lunch at Cristina's Restaurant, where you can have freshly squeezed lemonade.
Sun Valley Lodge $189-$449. Built in 1936, the lodge sports 148 French-country guestrooms, a bowling alley, ice rink, and spa. (800) 786-8259, www.sunvalley.com.