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Trout Tour - Kelly Creek

Sean Visintainer - 07/19/17

Underwater Kelly Creek Cutthroat Trout.

Spoiled in North Idaho

The further you drive the better the fishing should be. Well at least that is what I tell myself sometimes. And sometimes it is true. Kelly Creek and the NF Clearwater are two of those places that can be quite a haul for a one day fishing trip. They are approximately 3.5 - 4 hours away from the Spokane region. That drive time to and from, plus fishing make for one hell of day. However, the scenery and the fishing alone usually make for one hell of a day too.

Alone you will not be though. These places are no secrets. People travel from all over the country to fish these famous westslope cutthroat fisheries. I've been fishing back there for about 14 years and each of those rivers has always had a fair amount of traffic on them. I've seen plates from Texas, Oregon, Kansas, etc, even Florida! I'd say every 5th fly sale during the summer is someone going to the NF Clearwater or Kelly Creek. But rightfully so. The drainages are world class dry fly fisheries with incredible access.

Fishing in this remote part of the Idaho Panhandle is very similar to the St. Joe Rivers. Just a little further back, with more water to fish, and a shorter window to access. With this year's snowpack it wasn't until a few weeks ago that you could even get over Hoodoo Pass and down through the Black Canyon without having some sort of rock slide or washout blocking the road. Actually as of yesterday (7/17/17) when were there road 250 over Deception Saddle still had some issues and was blocked to through traffic.

While the season is a little shorter, what the rivers don't lack is quality cutthroat, bug hatches and picturesque scenery around every bend. Typical fish here will be 12-16" with a few that might exceed 16" but in all the years I've fished I have never encountered a true 20" fish. I'll keep looking though. During the two primary months of July and August hatches of goldens, green drakes, pmd's, caddis, and yellow sallies usually keep fish looking up all day long. Rarely does one have to go too deep to find fish mid day, although nymphing tactics can be quite productive. When nymphing or streamer fishing odds of catching a large bull trout go up quite considerably. Especially in the upper reaches of the drainages. Unlike most of Montana, bull trout can be targeted in Idaho, as long as you catch and release.

If you have never been to the NF Clearwater and Kelly Creek put it on the short list. Don't expect to have the place yourself during the summer, but there is plenty of water to go around and more creative you are at rock scrambling the more you will be rewarded. What you can expect here is to be spoiled in North Idaho.


Wayne Jordan of Silver Bow Fly Shop picks through a typical boulder strewn run on Kelly Creek.
Wayne Jordan of Silver Bow Fly Shop picks through a typical boulder strewn run on Kelly Creek.

Beadhead droppers below a foam golden or chernobyl work exceptionally well during the hot summer sun.
Beadhead droppers below a foam golden or chernobyl work exceptionally well during the hot summer sun.

Mike puts quite a bend on his Scott F2 Fiberglass while Graham patiently waits his chance to chase the trout in the shallows.
Mike puts quite a bend on his Scott F2 Fiberglass while Graham patiently waits his chance to chase the trout in the shallows.

Crippled hopper. Summer months bring on great hopper fishing on Kelly Creek and the NF Clearwater.
Crippled hopper. Summer months bring on great hopper fishing on Kelly Creek and the NF Clearwater.

Drake hatches early in the summer on Kelly Creek and the NF Clearwater bring on feeding frenzies like no other. Hatches are not typically large, but just a few bugs can trigger the action.
Drake hatches early in the summer on Kelly Creek and the NF Clearwater bring on feeding frenzies like no other. Hatches are not typically large, but just a few bugs can trigger the action.

Wayne Jordan of Silver Bow works a typical emerald pool found up and down the NF Clearwater.
Wayne Jordan of Silver Bow works a typical emerald pool found up and down the NF Clearwater.