No doubt at all that Silver Creek is a tough venue for the fly fisherman.
A long and fruitless day of watching those gnarly heads, dorsal fins and
paint-brush tails bulge the surface will convince you of that. If you feel
obliged to reach out and smack a fish with your rod tip, you won't
be the first. Boiling trout will often swamp your fly as they rise for a
natural floating side-by-side. Refusal is a way of life here, and anglers
with sensitive egos will probably not enjoy the experience. But all this
should not discourage the serious neophyte from pitting his or her
modest skills against the always-finicky, sometimes-belligerent Silver
Hopefully, the following . . . will provide some assistance in coping with
the conditions encountered on the stream. Hold the thought, however,
that some pretty adept fly casters have taken advance courses in "Learning
Humility" from this venerable trout fishing place. It comes with the territory.
A frequent comment is heard from anglers departing the creek with furrowed
brows, "Well, (sigh) Silver Creek wins again." It is one of the few contests
in the sporting life where there is really no such thing as losing. The rewards
on Silver Creek are great and the temporary "setbacks" are shared by the
multitude who have passed this turbid way before.
Averill Builds A Ski Resort . . . And Uncovers A Treasure
In the fall of 1935, Averill Harriman, then Chairman of Union Pacific Railway,
had recently returned from Europe where Alpine skiing was flourishing in the posh
Austrian, Swiss and French Alps. The United States had no such facilities then
and the far-sighted Harriman sought to change that.
Because his railroad was without any of the famous tourist attractions served
by his competition, Harriman hoped that the ideal site for America's first-ever
luxury ski resort could be found within a short distance of an existing UP
railhead from which he would then transport skiers to the slopes.
To research and oversee the selection of such a perfect setting, Herriman
enlisted the aid of Count Felix Schaffgotsch, an Austrian skier of some
nobility whom Harriman had met earlier in New York and who knew well
the requirements for a first class mountain.
. . . in December of 1935, the Count stepped of a train in the town of Shoshone,
Idaho, and into a raging blizzard. The 60 mile drive to Ketchum in blinding
snow was completed in total darkness. It is said that the Count awakened in
Ketchum to two feet of fresh powder snow and a bright, crisp Idaho winter
morning. The steep, resplendent mountains surrounding the Wood River
Valley glistened in the warm sun and Schaffgotsch knew his search was
Harriman had chosen to build his ski area smack in the middle of one of the
truely great trout-fishing regions God had ever created. No doubt Harriman
had been apprised of the fabulous fishing sometime during the acquisition and
construction period in 1936, but there is no indication that the fishing had
any bearing at all on the final decision to put the resort where he did.
. . . But the ski season was short; Christmas through April at the longest, and
the huge and luxurious Sun Valley Lodge could be left empty for the remaining
eight months of the year. That much of a vacancy factor just wouldn't
"pencil" and it posed problems such as restaffing.
That was probably the gist of the conversation between Harriman and Steve
Hannagan [Sun Valley's public relations whiz] quite soon after that first winter.
"How can we get people to come here after the snow melts?", surely must have
been the question asked by all concerned.
So it was that Hannagan invited the world's most famous writer-hunter-
outdoorsman, Ernest Hemingway, to come and sample some of Idaho's
hunting and fishing, and the word would quickly spread among outdoor
writers and enthusiasts; Sun Valley was a paradise.
Hemingway was also told of the terrific duck and goose hunting on a placid
spring creek about 20 or 30 miles south of Sun Valley. Silver Creek it was
called, and he visited the creek often when staying in the valley, frequently
taking his young son "Bumby" along. Years later, Jack Hemingway,
having outgrown the childhood nickname, would spend much of
his adult life living in the revered Wood River Valley of his youth.
The younger Hemingway's presence in Sun Valley would also have a
major impact on the long term prognosis for Silver Creek. [For
a MAP of Silver Creek click
By 1964, Union Pacific had run its course as operators of America's
Grandaddy of all ski resorts. One era ended and another began when
California skier/real estate developer Bill Janss purchased all UP holdings
in Sun Valley for $3,000,000. An important part of that transaction, for fly
fishermen in particular, was the inclusion of the land surrounding that
wonderful spring creek where Ernest Hemingway had shot ducks 25 years
earlier. In 1975, Janss, too, was ready to move on to other endeavors,
and he began looking around for someone to buy him out, including the
priceless Silver Creek parcel.
Jack Hemingway sensed that here was an opportunity to secure the future
of a precious ecological resource, and he quickly organized a group to
contact the Nature Conservancy. Six months later the Conservancy purchased
the orginal 480 acres of the Silver Creek Preserve, and subsequently
retired the debt by raising $500,000 from the private sector of citizens and
business. That was only the beginning of great things to come.
Fly fishermen, conservationists, bird lovers, and all naturalists near and
far were assured that Silver Creek was forever protected from threats of
development and misuse. In the years that have followed, the Conservancy
has expanded the scope of operations greatly by making a commitment of
more than $3,000,000 to protect over 20 miles of stream and 5,043 acres
of Silver Creek habitat and tributaries.
. . .Seldom would any fly person rank Silver Creek below the top three
or four. Those that should know, the fish and game analysts, stream
biologists, outdoor wirters and university-level fishery specialists rate
this fishery at-or-near the head of such lists. Small wonder. Silver Creek
is extremely rich with mineral nutrients so essential to lush acquatic
vegetation. As is common among spring creeks, with the profuse vegetation
come the dense hordes of mayflies, caddis and stoneflies. During every month
of the calendar, there will be bugs of some variety hatching and feeding the
resident trout. For the FLIES for Silver Creek, click
Silver Creek is an ecologically unique, high-desert cold-spring system formed
by springs that rise from underground aquifers. Therefore the water
temperatures and levels are quite constant when compared to typical
freestone rivers. This consistency of conditions results in nutrient-rich
alkaline cold springs providing ideal trout water, rich and cool and constant.
Several smaller feeder creeks with clean, gravel stream bottoms are the
nurseries for Silver Creek. Here, spawning and reproduction are near-optimum.
What this means to the fly rod angler is perfect trout habitat. Aquatic grasses
flourish and food sources are bountiful. Undercut banks provide safe shelter, and
generally superb feeding, hold and hiding water exists for even the most fussy of the
rivers finny residents. Trout Heaven.
The rainbow, brown and brook trout that are present in Silver Creek are not
native to the system, but are the progency of many generations of wild fish;
no fish have been stocked here since 1975. Interestingly, the trout that
are thought to have been native, the cutthroat, are no longer found in the
river, having been displaced by the aforementioned species. The Rocky
Mountain Whitefish is also native to Silver Creek, and although common
it is not the pest to dry fly anglers it is in many Western rivers.
Sharing this natural Utopia with its piscatorial neighbors are over 150 species
of birds, including bald and golden eagles, sandhill crane, Canada honkers,
trumpeter swans, a dozen species of duck, pheasant, songbirds and shorebirds.
Mule deer, elk, coyote and a rare mountain lion also frequent the Silver Creek
Perhaps the miracle of all this is that the public is allowed to use and
enjoy almost the entire length of river at absolutely no charge. Portions
of the land adjoining the creek are private, but even then the waterway
itself is considered navigable and may be floated by canoe or float tube,
provided the floater does not trespass beyond the high-water mark.
The Silver Creek Preserve maintains a Visitors' Center with educational
displays, merchandise, a nature trail and a knowledgable staff (during
summer). Complete information regarding the Catch-and-Release
barbless hook fly fishing, bird watching, hiking and hunting is available
at the center. The preserve relies entirely upon donations to fund its
operations. ~ W. David Joye
For a MAP of Silver Creek, click
For the FLIES for Silver Creek, click
To ORDER Silver Creek direct from the publisher, click
Credits: From Silver Creek part of the River
Journal series, published by Frank Amato Publications.
We greatly appreciate use permission.