Silver Creek

Silver Creek is a seductive and enchanted princess. She inveigles her followers with alluring curves, a gentleness that belies her fickle demeanor, and a warped sense of fair play. Her constituency is comprised of a large population of splendid trout, each a clone of Her Highness, beautiful, but contrary. Yet, in spite of the frustrations and regardless of recurrent foibles, Silver Creek's disciples queue up early and often to seek her favor. Though commonly disgruntled and disappointed, rarely are they disheartened; they return day after day, year after year for more epic servings of humble pie.

Because of Silver Creek's fame through the entire domain of fishing with the long-rod, feathers and fur, favored runs must periodically be shared from July 4th through September. But for the balance of the fishing year the pleasures of tranquil solitude are the norm, not the exception.

Sunset on Silver Creek

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 Creek trout.

Entrance to Silver Creek 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

Silver Creek Brown
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 ended.

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.

Early Fall

. . . 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 here.]

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 here.

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.

Large Silver Creek Trout 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 environs.

Float Tube Fishing on 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 here.
For the FLIES for Silver Creek, click here.
To ORDER Silver Creek direct from the publisher, click HERE.

Credits: From Silver Creek part of the River Journal series, published by Frank Amato Publications. We greatly appreciate use permission.

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