Fishing Tips from Families That Love to Fish

June 17, 2019

There is something inherently familial about fishing. Maybe it’s because most of us get introduced to the sport by our dads or grandparents or a favorite uncle. There’s something reassuring about making a cast or feeling a fish tug at the end of a line. Maybe it’s because fishing, like family time, can sometimes be frustrating and lead to cursing fits; yet we always— happily—come back to it.

For many families (especially the one I married into) angling along the Big Wood River, which runs past America’s original ski resort of Sun Valley and right through the heart of central Idaho, is a big part of their heritage.

“The Big Wood River is a great place to learn how to fish, especially fly fish, with its easy access and abundant, aggressive fish,” says Dave Faltings, when asked why “The Wood,” as locals sometimes call it, is so popular with families. Faltings knows. He has been managing the guides at the world-famous Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum for over a quarter of a century now.

Faltings explains that because of its diverse regulations—some stretches are catch-and-release only, while others are stocked regularly and allow healthy bag limits—the Big Wood has long been an extremely popular fishery for anglers of all kinds.

“It’s a really diverse river,” he says. “It’s nice for kids and fun for families who want to keep fish because there are places where it’s allowed. But it’s also a great place to learn to fly fish, because it’s a healthy freestone river so you don’t have to be perfect to catch a fish like you do on spring creeks. And there are also a lot of wild fish, which appeals to seasoned anglers.”

For all the aforementioned reasons, plus its numerous easy-access points along Idaho’s Scenic Highway 75 and close proximity to the world-class resort community of Ketchum Sun Valley, anglers of all ages and abilities return to The Wood year after year. And for five generations now, my family has been casting amongst them.

So when I take my two young sons, Jack and Sam, down to the river or to one of several “kids’ ponds” sprinkled near its banks, it dawns on me that what we’re doing consists of a lot more than fishing. Like many kids, my dad taught me how to fish … but that took place far away from the Northern Rockies. “Pops” would take my brothers and me out along the rocky shores south of Boston to drown worms for flounder, or to Sandy Neck along Cape Cod to shore-cast for stripers.

I don’t remember the catching ever being too good or ever thinking about how lucky I was to be fishing. But I do remember the thrill of feeling a fish fight against my line: the mystery, the challenge, the long periods of quiet waiting interrupted by bursts of excitement.

Now, decades later, I find myself casting on waters of a much different sort. I traded the saltwater tackle for a fly rod, the worms for wooly buggers, the salty sea for the swift currents of Rocky Mountain rivers. And now it’s my turn to be dad, passing on the gift of fishing. Yes, the gift.

And like a lot of dads in this situation I occasionally feel overwhelmed—not just by all the gear, extra clothing and wind knots from hell you have to deal with, but by how much there is to teach my young sons, beyond cinch knots, how to cast or the proper way to handle and release trout.

The Big Wood is, after all, the same river where their grandpa fished each summer when he was a boy and where he was first introduced to fly fishing by his own grandparents, who would come over from eastern Idaho each year to fish the picturesque trout stream. So I must teach them to treat the river with respect.

The Wood is the river where their grandma fished as a child herself. She and her sisters would be roused out of bed by her dad “at some Godforsaken hour to go catch trout,” she says. Raised on farms not far from the river’s banks, their grandma ate so much trout as a child she can’t even stand the smell of it now. So my boys must learn to appreciate the river, how it flows through our family heritage and all that it provides—which is far more than food and fun.

If trout are your favorite sport fish, then you’ll have a hard time finding a better place to angle than the Sun Valley, Idaho, area. The region offers nearly year-round easy access to spectacular fisheries like the Big Wood River, the Copper Basin and the blue ribbon, spring-fed Silver Creek. Countless mountain streams and lakes teeming with trout are tucked into the mountain ranges encircling Sun Valley: the Boulders, the Pioneers and the Sawtooths. It’s easy to find a quiet place to cast.

With long, warm days, summer is peak season on Silver Creek, the landmark preserve famous for its monstrous rainbow and brown trout as well as its mind-blowing mayfly hatches like the brown drake. East of Sun Valley, Copper Basin is a secluded spot well worth the excursion. Three species of trout beckon anglers to isolated waters with a great mix of pools, pocket water, riffles, and runs.

The Big Wood and a small stretch of Silver Creek remain open to fly fishing through the autumn, which can be downright fantastic as the leaves fade and drop from the trees and hungry trout rise to midges and blue-winged olives. Even the winter angling (catch and release, barbless hooks only) on the Big Wood River can be terrific, so long as it’s not too cold for down jackets and long johns. Midday and, surprisingly, snowy days are best. Double Headers—fishing and skiing in the same day—are quite common for Wood River Valley residents and visitors.

The Big Wood closes for spawning from April 1 until Memorial Day weekend. These early spring days beckon anglers north toward Stanley and Challis to chase after the seasonal sea run trout known as steelhead that make their way up the Salmon River.

These are the same fishing holes where their East Coast, Big City granddad learned the simple joy of casting a fly rod amongst the glorious backdrop of crystal clear water coursing through the mountains. It’s also their dad’s other “office.” It’s where I sneak off for a couple of hours of mental health now and again, and why I usually come back smiling. For just like other rivers much more famous than the Big Wood, there’s something magical and healing about its waters. So my boys need to learn to enjoy it all, for that’s what fishing and being a kid—heck, a human being—is really all about.

It’s during those quiet moments, when the river and the wind whisper and my son quietly and sincerely scouts the water that I’m reminded there are times in life when it’s best to just shut up and fish. And I’m reminded of the joy of simply being, and sharing, and that there are few better places on earth to do so than the Big Wood River.