South Fork of the Boise
I donít particularly want enemies, so Iím leaving my name outathis. I fully realize that certain blue-ribbon waters are preferably not discussed even though they are already famous. I do, however, believe in not giving exact locations of the best spots on such precious waters. OK?!
Dry southwest Idaho has some of the stateís best warmwater fishing, plus enough trout-filled reservoirs to keep most anglers happy. In high-quality trout streams, though, our most populous region doesnít compete well with fabled eastern Idaho and the well-watered forest lands up north.
All the more reason for regional residents to treasure the South Fork of the Boise River from Anderson Ranch Dam downstream to Neil Bridge near the headwaters of Arrowrock Reservoir. This 28-mile stretch of desert canyon contains one of Idahoís very best blue-ribbon trout streams. The setting may look like lizard-and-cactus country, but clear water spewing from the depths of Anderson Ranch Reservoir remains icy cold year-around.
Anglers on this famous section of the South Fork are limited to artificial lures and flies only. No natural baits of any kind are allowed. All lures may have just one hook (no trebles) and the hookís barb must be totally flattened. If you manage to land a few trout on such a rig (itís not all that hard), you must immediately release most fish unharmed. Itís currently legal here to keep two trout under 12" daily, or two trophy trout over 20". But most South Fork devotees tenderly release all trout to help preserve the streamís superb fishing.
And the fishing is indeed superb. The first time I cast a fly in South Fork waters, I netted and released more 13 to 17 inch trout in one afternoon than I had taken over the previous month or two! All fish were rainbows, though I did hook into an enormous finned submarine at dusk that swam upstream slowly and steadily till the barbless hook on my black woolly worm pulled free. It might have been a big sucker or whitefish, but I like to think it was an outsized rainbow or bull trout, the only other salmonid in the South Fork. Bull trout are forbidden, however, and must be released without taking them from the water.
During summerís irrigation period, this riverís flow is heavy enough to allow whitewater rafting down to Neil Bridge. Trout are a bit scattered in all that water, but those who can "read" western rivers know about where to fish. Itís also easier to approach spooky and often-hooked rainbows when water isnít low and clear as it is after Labor Day. Fall angling on the South Fork can be terrific, with fish concentrated in much less water. With cold weather approaching, trout feed actively in canyon shadows late in the afternoon. With a cautious approach, youíll also do well here even in mid-day during autumn months. Fewer competing anglers are around, and seas of yellow cottonwoods whisper in cool breezes against a high October sky. Itís a gorgeous time to visit this lonely desert canyon stream!
If you want to escape summer weekend crowds on the South Fork, try rafting from roadís end roughly 16 miles down to Neil Bridge. The river here contains some whitewater, so your first time through probably should be made with an experienced South Fork boater. This section of canyon is roadless, though a few hardy anglers hike down to the river from rough roads on the rim above. Watch out for rattlers!
Most South Fork visitors content themselves with fishing the first 12 miles of water below Anderson Ranch Dam. A good dirt road parallels the river here, and undeveloped campsites are plentiful under shady trees. Many anglers park in the road and hike down to the river in hopes of finding water not recently cast over.
When competition is high, try tumbling "pocket water" rather than slow pools and smooth glides, at least till dusk or insect hatches trigger feeding action. Another South Fork trick is to wade across the river where possible, hike well upstream or down, then cast to promising spots inaccessible from the road side. A few tubers work deeper pools, while the sorely frustrated resort to spinning tackle to avoid clumsy backcasting. Tiny single-hook spoons and spinners work fine, though many spincasters prefer a water-filled bubble and one or two flies.
Dry-fly casting can be wonderful on the South Forkís many long glides, particularly at dusk. I recently flipped a bushy floater repeatedly across a wide, tumbling pool. Several fat rainbows knocked the fly out of the water every time I got a decent float, but the hackle was too big for them to grab. I couldnít keep a smaller fly on top long enough, but I was having a ball anyway just in watching those fish hit!
Trout fishermen/women who fish mainly for meat are strongly invited to stay away from the Boiseís South Fork. Most of this streamís fans would like to see it become a total catch-and-release water, with winter-time bait-angling for whitefish also banned. They argue lots of other area streams are loaded with whitefish, so why subject the South Forkís beautiful trout to baitís deadly deep-hooking temptations. Winter bait angling and the present two-fish limit also provides handy cover for slob anglers to kill whatever trout they catch, size and number limits be damned.
Much illicit angling clearly occurs on the South Fork. Bait containers can be found scattered openly along its shores, for example. With most fish running above the 12" maximum keeper limit, you always wonder when blood and scales are seen on streamside rocks. I once looked into the Forkís clear water near my waders and spotted a non-legal 15" rainbow struggling on a stringer tangled in mid-stream rocks. I released the fish and cursed the ignoramus who had nearly, or probably, killed it.
Fastest access to this stream is off U. S. 20 between Mountain Home and Fairfield. The road is all dirt below Anderson Ranch Dam, and there is no commercial lodging, shopping, or anything else short of Mountain Home or Hill City. As the signs along the stream say, this is a wild trout river -- and a purists trout anglerís paradise!
For those of you who would like to keep some of your fish hereís the
Idaho Department of Fish and Game Fishing Rules for all sections of the South Fork of the Boise River
Check the soon-to-be-released 1998 Fishing Rules to be sure there have been no changes:
Magic Valley Region: from the mouth of Big Smoky Creek downstream to the mouth of Beaver Creek, only rainbows and kokanee can be taken. Only two trout and only six kokanee are allowed. Only artificial flies and lures are to be used with one barbless hook per lure. No bait allowed. Bag and Possession limits are the same.
Magic Valley Region: from Pine Bridge, flat water only, to Anderson Ranch Reservoir, all species allowed for harvest from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (in May) through November 30, EXCEPT closed to all fishing from August 1 through October 31. Fish available here are: bull trout, kokanee, rainbow trout, whitefish. Bull trout cannot be taken any where in Idaho. Do not even remove them from the water and release them immediately. Six trout are allowed, which includes kokanee. Fifty whitefish are allowed per day or in possession. Bag and Possession limits are the same.
Southwest Region: from Anderson Ranch Dam downstream to Neil Bridge, of the rainbows, cutthroat, bull trout, and whitefish, only rainbows and cutthroat are allowed, and only two total. One barbless hook on artificials or flies can be used. No bait allowed. The trout taken cannot be between 12"-20". The season here is from Memorial Day weekend (May) through November 30.
Southwest Region: from the same area, Anderson Ranch Dam downstream to Neil Bridge between December 1 - March 31, you can fish, but NO fish can be kept. Return everything carefully to the stream. Use barbless hook ONLY. While fishing for whitefish, insects and insect larvae may be used, but no other bait is allowed.
Southwest Region: from Neil Bridge downstream to Arrowrock Reservoir, fishing is open all year for all species available EXCEPT bull trout. Six total of either cutthroats or rainbows can be kept, or a mix of both. Fifty whitefish can be kept.