March 4, 2013

The Big Wood: Tenkara Among the Rich and Beautiful

This past weekend I had to go to a conference in Sun Valley, ID. OK, I really didn't have to go, but I wanted to go as it is the spring venue for the Idaho Gut Club -- an educational association of Idaho Gastroenterologists. We get to meet together, hear speakers giving up-to-date information regarding gastrointestinal and liver diseases (ya I know, peg out the fun meter), and best of all, play. I don't ski, so playing for me means fishing the Big Wood River.

A typical stretch on the Big Wood River

The Big Wood River is one of Idaho's centrally located rivers. It is a tributary of the Malad River, which in turn is a tributary of the Snake River. The Big Wood arises in the Sawtooth Mountains near 11,000 foot Galena Peak and flows in a generally southern direction. Over most of its course it is a classic western freestone river. Upstream from the North Fork of the Big Wood it is a high gradient tumbling stream. Down stream from the North Fork the river gradient lessens making a lower gradient freestone as it enters the Wood River valley. Near Ketchum and Sun Valley the Big Wood has a stream bed of small to moderate stones over which the water flows in the classical ripple-run-pool pattern so common to western freestones. The Big Wood averages about 75 feet in width. This makes it much bigger, and slower, than what I have been fishing all winter.

Looking downstream 

If you ever get a chance to visit Sun Valley, ID, and want to fish the Big Wood, make sure that you stop into one of the local fly shops and ask for a river access map. This map is provided free of charge for those that ask, but I have never seen one just sitting out with the other maps! It shows you all of the access points to the river. Although the Big Wood is followed most of its length by Idaho Route 75 and public access is readily available, there are many more access points which are "hidden" from the general public. These extra access spots are listed in detail on the map. This is what makes the map so valuable. BTW, there are two fly shops in Ketchum: Silver Creek Outfitters, and Lost River Outfitters. Personally, I much prefer Lost River Outfitters over Silver Creek, since the guys at Silver Creek are snobs. The guys at Lost River Outfitters are real friendly and willing to talk to you, give information, show you around, even if you don't buy anything. If you don't purchase a rod or reel at Silver Creek Outfitters you are ignored -- at least they ignore me! I must not look wealthy enough in my old shirt and hat!

"The" map
An example of the fishing access spots and easements through Ketchum

I was able to fish the Big Wood over two days. The first day was best, but the second wasn't too bad either. The days were sunny with a slight southernly breeze. That kept the activity pretty slow, but working subsurface I was able to hook into a few nice fish. I used a 14 foot line with two flies, one tied as a dropper. Working the deeper water yielded the fish. All the fish I caught were rainbows.

Nice fish in the net
Pretty rainbow

I had two good hits in this hole but I failed to hook up!  Bummer!!
A little guy

About 2 pm a few smutting trout could be seen in the flat water sections of where I fished. I switched over to an 18 foot fluorocarbon furled line with 7 feet of tapering tippet down to 5X. I used a #18 BWO Barr's Vis-a-Dun and carefully cast across and upstream of each targeted fish. I pulled the fly out of two fish's mouth before calming down and hooking into a nice 16 inch rainbow. Having that long of a line was interesting when trying to land the fish. The water was slow and deep so there was very little current to play the fish. I had to hand line him in quite a ways before getting him into the net!

The large flat with rising trout

Got ya!
Another nice rainbow (net hoop is 11 inches diameter)

I ran into one other fly fisher, who was using traditional western gear, and he had been taking a few fish here and there on a beadhead Hare's Ear and a #18 Zebra midge. I took my subsurface fish on a Prince nymph and #12 Bug and Starling. I didn't get a single hit on a classic sakasa kebari.

I used the Hirame-ML-3909 mostly, but changed over to the Kasugo-4209 on the large flat. It has just a little more reach.

If you ever plan on going to Sun Valley make sure you take your tenkara rod. Watch the "rich and beautiful" as they shop in the high-end cottage boutiques but then head to the Big Wood. I think, like me,  you'll find the trout more fun to be with than the people!


  1. Snobs indeed! I applaud your courage to say it like it is. I don't know when the sport started tolerating the kind of elitist behavior seen at Silver Creek and other shops like Trouthunter in Last Chance, but its bad for the sport and has to stop! Another great post Tom, cheers.

    1. Unfortunately it is all too common in the Fly Shop business. I applaud a shop were the owner/manager/employees make every one feel important and wanted as a customer. I have been in some shops where the guys (usually it is guys, but occasionally a gal) will strike up small talk about fishing in general. After a few minutes you feel like you knew them your whole life. That's very good "shopmanship" and great for business.

      I do not tolerate elitism. If they don't desire my money and business then I'll go somewhere else. I learned this early on in my medicine practice -- (soapbox warning) treat the patient as a friend and a partner in their healthcare, and they will be your friend and partner!


  2. Great post Tom. i do not tolerate elitism too. great hello from Montenegro ( europe ) .

    1. Thanks for the comment. Very nice blog! Good information and flies.