Hemingway at Silver Creek
The last stop on our whirlwind trip to Idaho was the World Famous Silver Creek Preserve. Even if you’ve never fished there you’ve likely heard about it— either from reading or from firsthand
horror stories accounts. The Nature Conservancy has done a wonderful job of preserving this delicate jewel of a spring creek located in the desert of central Idaho, about 30 miles from Sun Valley. As most spring creeks do, Silver Creek runs cold and clear and boasts an abundance of aquatic vegetation and insect habitat. And a ridiculous number of fish: something along the lines of 6000 trout per mile. Oof.
And like many spring creeks, fishing is um…challenging, at Silver Creek Preserve, where the fish can get very large: Trophy fish, allegedly. And when fish get very large they tend to get rather smart. Trophy fish tend to get smarter than the anglers that pursue them and this is perhaps amplified at Silver Creek, where even the smaller fish have seen just about every imitation fly known to mankind. “Tightlipped” doesn’t due the trout justice here. No, I’d say downright disrespectful is more accurate.
Jimmy, Marck, Morris and I arrived after a 3 hour drive from Victor. One doesn’t expect to encounter complete vacancy at a place like the Preserve and to that end we were not disappointed as the parking area was full. It wasn’t all that surprising given that this place is legendary. I mean, it’s not everywhere that an angler can walk in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, who wrote in a 1939 letter to his son, Jack:
“You’ll love it here, Schatz…There’s a stream called Silver Creek where we shoot ducks from canoe…Saw more big trout rising than have ever seen…Just like English chalk streams…We’ll fish it together next year.”
With only 3 hours at our disposal we didn’t have time to visit the Hemingway Monument. Dictating our schedule was our return flight to Seattle that evening. This is a place that definitely requires a return visit simply to take it all in—there’s more to just fishing at the Preserve, but we were there to do just that on this particular day.
An older gentleman was just preparing to depart his vehicle for the creek so we chatted briefly with him, noting that we’d never been here before and had only a narrow window of opportunity in which to angle. He was kind enough to share some information with us that would
surely hopefully aid us in the quest of catching fish, “Small dries, size 22, ” he offered. “Cast downstream to rising fish.” Sage words from someone who was clearly a seasoned Silver Creek angler. He looked the part: Patient. Wise. And, patient. With the shared wisdom we quickly geared up, signed in, and left a small cash contribution in the donation box at the Cabin.
As we found our way down the trail to the creek we passed by a half dozen others standing in the creek looking very serious. Their grave expressions suggested that this was not a place one comes to enjoy a light-hearted trout outing. A short walk further upstream afforded several entry points to the creek. It should be noted that many access points are closed for stream-side vegetation restoration and we honored those signs, walking until we found suitable access.
Once we dropped into the water it became immediately obvious that the numbers of fish are not exaggerations. Hundreds of browns and rainbows could be seen cruising the clear lanes of gravel bottomed stream-bed. The vast weed-beds hid even more fish.
We spread out, tied on tiny baetis patterns to the end of 6x tippet and began to experience Silver Creek Preserve. There are too many micro-currents to allow for a drag-free drift so one must cast straight down to the fish as was imparted upon us by the Wise and Patient Angler. Suffice it to say most of us began immediately having a certain amount of success catching very small fish. I, however, did not. It was a while before I managed to land my first, though not on a size 22 baetis. After a half hour of no luck I switched over to a size 18 cinnamon ant and managed to land a beautiful, legendary Silver Creek brown. Perhaps not the trophy brown that anglers come here to seek out, but a Silver Creek brown is a Silver Creek brown is a Silver Creek brown. Riiight.
Downstream, Marck, Jimmy and Morris seemed to be enjoying a bit more success. Dumb luck, I presumed, and continued to switch patterns and add a couple more feet of 6x. The fish cruising the gravel lanes didn’t even bother to look up and instead scattered when my artificial offering drifted overhead. I eventually managed a small rainbow on a size 18 Adams, and had several other takes but no hookups. Nothing larger than 5 inches, however. A gentle breeze carried with it a haunting sound—Hemingway was laughing.
As I slowly fished downstream toward my compadres, I could see that Morris was connecting with several fish of respectable size. What he was not doing was casting tiny dries downstream. Instead, he was casting directly to the opposite bank, where larger browns lurked. He was regularly hooking up, so I inquired from a distance, “Say, old sport—you seem to be enjoying a good bit of angling success.” His rod bent sharply as a good fish splashed at the end of his line. “Pray tell, what’s your secret?” Morris’ reply came riddled with colorful expletives that would have made even Hemingway cringe. Not only that, but his methods and choice of fly went against everything this place of genteel angling tradition stood for.
In a fit of disgust I hollered back, “Sir, you are an outrage! Your inferior breeding, foul language and dirty angling techniques will not be tolerated here at The Preserve!” I marched off upstream to put greater distance between myself and the atrocities. Reaching into my bag I realized I’d left my box of “other” flies back at the car. Gosh darn it!
I’d gone through just about every reasonable dry fly pattern in my possession so I decided to revisit the cinnamon ant. Looking toward the far bank I observed what appeared to be a good-sized fish quietly rising. As most large fish are known to do, it ate quietly; gently sipping and making just the slightest riseforms in the glassy surface. An atypically decent cast placed the fly right where it needed to be and then it vanished in a small ripple. Fish on!
Well, for a split second anyway. I set the hook and my line came hurtling back toward me: Missing was the fly, and a couple feet of 6x. I’ve never felt so alone as I did at this point. As I was retying, I saw a disturbance on the water’s surface that caught my attention. Something very large dashed out from under the cut bank—from exactly where my fly had last been seen—and swam downstream very quickly for a distance of perhaps 20 feet, leaving a wake behind. My first thought was some sort of large aquatic mammal—like a seal or small whale. I then rationalized that it was one of those legendary world-class browns, chasing down a grebe for lunch. I commenced to break into a cold sweat.
Downstream I could hear the splashing of large fish attached to the end of Morris’ line. My catching, however, had ended for the day. I desperately wished for more time to target the fish who’d stolen my fly, tippet and pride. I’ll be back some day, and I’ll go armed with flies that catch fish on Silver Creek Preserve. In case you happen to visit this wonderful place make sure you have plenty size 22 baetis patterns. But keep them in your fly box and tie on one of these: The Morris Silver Creek Special.
This was the last leg of our whirlwind journey through Idaho. We’d caught fish on every river we visited, but Silver Creek was the least welcoming, unless your name is Morris. Mine is not.