Beautiful Idaho is well-known for its vast swathes of protected wilderness, spectacular mountains, and outdoor recreation areas. Idaho is a landlocked State in the northwest of the US that offers anglers a unique array of fishing waters with mostly sunny days. So bring your favorite eyewear if you plan to hit the lake.
You can fish large natural lakes, man-made reservoirs, and crystal clear winding rivers and creeks in pursuit of many different fish species.
The Gem State of Idaho makes a fabulous vacation destination for those who enjoy spending time in the Great Outdoors. If you want to take a break from fishing, you can revel in the peace and tranquility of the countryside, hike through the unspoiled wilderness, spotting wildlife, and just re-connect with nature.
That said, for those who find themselves missing the hustle and bustle of urban life, Idaho’s cities offer visitors the chance to take in some local history and enjoy the local culture. The State capital, Boise is world renowned for its jazz, indie music, and theater, as well as boasting some top-class restaurants and lively bars.
Idaho surely gives its visitors the very best of both worlds! Let’s look at why we love Idaho for fishing!
To fish legally in Idaho, anyone over the age of 14 needs a fishing license.
Idaho fishing licenses can be obtained online through the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at this link or from one of their regional offices. Fishing licenses can also be bought from some outdoors stores.
Note that you’ll need a separate permit if you plan to fish for steelhead or Chinook salmon, or if you intend on fishing with two poles.
Top Fishing Locations
There are so many fabulous fishing locations to choose from in this beautiful State that visiting anglers are spoilt for choice.
We’ve drawn together a wide variety of fishing experiences that should appeal to experienced leisure fishermen, fly fishing experts, beginners, and families too, whatever time of the year you plan to vacation in Idaho.
So, here are our top 10 fishing locations in spectacular and diverse Idaho.
1. C.J. Strike Reservoir
C.J. Strike reservoir located here, is a 6,759-acre man-made body of water that is located in the southwestern corner of the State, just to the south of Boise. The reservoir is an impoundment of the Bruneau and Snake Rivers and is home to a wide variety of fish species, including:
- Lunkers (Largemouth Bass)
- Smallies (Smallmouth Bass)
- White Catfish
- Brown trout
- Brook trout
- Rainbow trout
- Yellow perch
There are limits imposed on fishing some of the species that can be found here. To ensure you stay within the legal fishing regulations’ limitations, check out this link to the IDFG website before heading to this spot.
Facilities at the C.J. Strike Reservoir are excellent, including restrooms, boat dock, boat ramp, and ADA access to most areas. For those wishing to enjoy the outdoor experience, there are several campgrounds nearby, making this location perfect for families.
Fishing the main reservoir, close to the dam, allows easy access for boat and bank angling. You can catch perch, bullheads, and trout from the bank, using worms, marshmallows, and eggs. Marshmallows will float the bait off the bottom and into the view of the fish. Boaters who are after trout should try trolling with rooster tail, rapalas, or flies along the front face of the dam, in the narrows, or along the south shore.
Visiting during the spring and early summer months will see excellent smallmouth bass fishing along the dam and in the numerous shallow coves and rocky areas around the shoreline. Use plastic grubs, lures, jigs and keep your bait moving for best success.
If you fancy a battle, visit C.J. Strike during the fall and spring and fish from the bank or a boat for sturgeon. You’ll need a sturdy rod and reel and a test line of at least 30-pounds to land an 8-foot monster. Use 6 to 9-ounce weights and some large, barbless hooks to fish waters of 20-feet or deeper.
2. Brownlee Reservoir
Brownlee Reservoir can be found at this location on the Oregon border to the western part of the State of Idaho. This impoundment was created by the damming of part of the Snake River and extends for 50 miles over 15,000 acres.
The Reservoir is very popular with anglers, and species you’ll find in good numbers here include:
- Largemouth bass
- Smallmouth bass
The Reservoir has no motor HP restrictions, making it a great destination for pleasure and fishing boaters, canoes, and different types of boats for anglers.
There are lots of good access points via various parks along the reservoir, and you’ll find some well-maintained campgrounds too with restrooms, fresh water, picnic areas, RV hook-up points, and hosts on-site.
3. Big Wood River
Big Wood River (located here) is a 137-mile long waterway that branches off from the Snake and Columbia Rivers to flow through the central part of the State. The breathtaking scenery and utter serenity you’ll find here is unequaled.
The summer months see anglers flock to Big Wood River to cast and fly-fish for brook, brown, and rainbow trout. Fishing is open here all year round, but please consult the IDFG online information page at this link for full information regarding limitations, bag limits, etc.
There are several well-equipped campgrounds nearby, offering picnic tables, restrooms, water, and ample parking.
4. Silver Creek
You’ll find the idyllic fishing spot of Silver Creek (here) just outside of Garden Valley in the west-central part of the State. Hiking and birding are extremely popular pastimes in the tranquil beauty of Peace Valley, as the area surrounding the Creek is known.
The fly-fishing at this high-desert, spring-fed creek is legendary, drawing anglers from far and wide. Brown and brook trout are always abundant here, thanks to the constant insect life that offers such good feeding opportunities for the fish.
As well as the opportunity to fill your creel, you and your family will enjoy spotting the many species of wildlife that live here. Waterfowl, eagles, and songbirds share this land with deer, elk, mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes, all contributing to the ecosystem and abundant insect life that fuels this blue-ribbon fishery.
For those looking to extend their visit to this lovely place, there are several well-equipped campgrounds nearby, sited beneath the partial shade of a mixed-wood and lodgepole pine forest and within easy hiking distance of the Creek and its numerous fishing spots.
5. Lake Cascade
Lake Cascade (located here) is found on the western side of Idaho to the north of Boise. Cascade is one of the largest bodies of water in the State at over 27,000-acres and is a brilliant location for family vacations. Boating, swimming, jet-skiing, and water-skiing are all enjoyed on the Lake, as well as hiking, birding, and wildlife watching in the surrounding scenic countryside.
The fishing is profitable here too. Popular species that draw anglers from across the State include:
- Largemouth bass
- Smallmouth bass
- Kokanee salmon
- Mountain whitefish
- Channel catfish
- Northern pikeminnows
The Lake boasts almost 50-miles of easily accessible, clean, sandy beaches that are ideal for bank fishing, and there are boat ramps too. There are several campgrounds equipped with restrooms. Be sure to check the Lake Cascade Park website for campsite availability, especially during the busy summer months.
If you plan to take your vacation during the winter, you’ll be interested to hear that ice fishing is popular on Lake Cascade, where anglers can enjoy an abundance of monster perch. As with any ice fishing adventure, always be sure to check on ice conditions by calling the IDFG for current information.
6. Priest Lake
Priest Lake (located here) is found in the northernmost part of the Idaho panhandle, 80 miles to the northeast of Spokane, Washington. The northern end of the Lake extends to within 15 miles of the US-Canada border.
Angling opportunities are wide and varied at Priest Lake. Fish for trophy-size Mackinaw (lake trout) in the Lake, or try fishing for cutthroat in one of the nearby alpine lakes. If fly-fishing is your thing, you’ll enjoy hiking to one of the numerous streams in the Priest basin in search of brook trout. In the winter months, there’s great ice fishing to be enjoyed out on Cavanaugh Bay.
During the summer months, Mackinaw seek cooler waters at the bottom of the Lake. Try downriggers, wire line, lead line, and jigging to present lures near the lake bottom; many trophy-size fish have been landed this way, including the current State record holder, a 571/2-pounder that was landed way back in 1971!
When the weather is cooler in the spring and fall, Mackinaw can be seen swimming near to the surface of the Lake and in relatively shallow water. For the best experience at this location, it’s recommended to hire a good local guide who will also be up-to-speed with local fishing restrictions and regulations.
Note that the year-round bag limit for trout per person is six. Also, there’s a strict catch-and-release policy in force for bull trout and the native Westslope cutthroat.
7. Clearwater River
Clearwater River is located (here) in north-central Idaho and is famous for its large “B-Run” steelhead that return to the area’s spawning grounds following two years growing and maturing in the open ocean.
The Clearwater is around 75 miles long, flowing westward from the Bitterroot Mountains along the Montana-Idaho border. The River has gentle rapids that are easily navigable, allowing time for boaters to take in the tranquil beauty of the wilderness through which you’ll pass while waiting for the fish to bite.
Other species that draw anglers to the Clearwater are Chinook salmon and native cutthroat trout.
Come to fish the Clearwater River during the summer months for cutthroat. For steelhead, you need to visit in the fall when the season kicks in. September sees catch-and-release fishing, but from October through to the end of April it’s catch-and-keep. B-run steelhead in this location average between 12 and 14-pounds, but it’s common to catch 20-pounders too.
Camping in this idyllic location is a must for visiting anglers, and there are several well-provisioned campgrounds along the River.
8. Swan Falls Dam
Swan Falls Dam (located here) near the town of Murphy was built in 1901 and is the oldest hydroelectric dam on the Snake River. The Dam is also a very popular fishing destination, offering a surprisingly wide variety of fish species and some great sport for the leisure angler.
Below the Dam, you can catch smallmouth bass and channel catfish. For best success, use crayfish imitations, crankbaits, live worms, and cut bait. You’ll also catch giant sturgeon here; six-footers are regularly caught, and bigger ones have been reported too! Be sure to abide by local regulations when targeting, handling, and releasing sturgeon.
The reservoir above the Dam is also a popular fishing spot, especially with boaters who come for the abundant smallmouth bass. There are also largemouth bass, channel catfish, bullheads, perch, and crappie. For success here you’ll need a variety of lures, including jigs, crankbaits, jerk baits, grubs, and plastic worms.
Access to the Dam and the park area just above it is by well-maintained roads. There’s also some ADA accessible, well-equipped camping here with all the facilities you’ll need for a short stay.
9. Snake River
If you’re into dry fly-fishing, you must take a trip to the South Fork of the Snake River. This location is considered to be the best cutthroat stream in the west of Idaho. The South Fork is a tailwater fishery that flows from the Palisades Dam on the border between Idaho and Wyoming.
Thanks to well-preserved wild populations of native Yellowstone cutthroat and Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat, there’s dry fly-fishing action here all year round. Other species of trout found here include browns and rainbows. There really is something at this spot to satisfy every angling preference, from dry fly-fishing, dry dropper setups, nymphing, or streamer fishing.
In early June, stoneflies hatch by the thousands along the river’s edge, drawing astounding numbers of fish during this four week period. After this, many diverse fly hatches continue right through until the end of October, keeping the angling action coming.
Although there are lots of easily accessible points for bank fishing, navigating the South Fork of the Snake River by boat is easy; you’ll only encounter riffles and small waves here.
There are numerous campgrounds close to the South Fork of the Snake for those who wish to stay longer than a day.
10. Bruneau Dunes State Park
Bruneau Dunes State Park (located here), located just south of Mountain Home, outside the community of Bruneau is well worth a visit during your fishing trip to Idaho. The park has several large dunes, as well as several small fishing ponds.
The Park makes the ideal family fishing vacation destination, offering plenty to do when you’re tired of fishing. Bruneau Dunes is home to Idaho’s largest observatory, which is open to the public for tours from April through to mid-October. Stargazing, hiking, sandboarding or surfing the family-friendly sandy waves of the dunes are all popular activities. There’s also an equestrian facility on-site, where visitors can stable their horses.
The Park offers several campgrounds with good facilities, and there are a few cabins too for those who prefer not to sleep under canvas.
The fishing ponds in the Park offer some enjoyable fishing for bluegill and largemouth bass from May throughout the summer months; try fishing around the shoreline on foot or from a raft, canoe, or float tube. Note that only craft with electric motors are permitted on the ponds.
Largemouth bass will readily take soft plastics, flies, spinnerbaits, and top-water lures. Bluegill respond most favorably to small flies, live worms, crickets, or panfish jigs. Be sure to check the local fishing regulations before you cast a line here. For largemouth, your limit is two and none under 20-inches in length, pretty much making this a catch-and-release fishery.
Wrapping it up:
Idaho is a wilderness paradise that offers a memorable experience of the Great Outdoors for all the family, including dedicated leisure anglers.
Here, you can enjoy fishing healthy, abundantly stocked waters, including man-made lakes, crystal clear rivers, streams, and natural ponds. Bear in mind that local legislation around fishing is strictly enforced to keep fish stocks healthy, so be sure to check the current bag limits and rules on bait before setting off on your adventure.
As well as fishing, you and your family can enjoy hiking, wildlife watching, swimming, boating, and even stargazing surrounded by the stunning scenery that is the trademark of this idyllic and diverse location.
Daniel C. Warren gradually morphed from a weekend warrior into a full-time outdoorsman and outdoor blogger. From picking up trash in the woods or sleeping under an open sky to hiking until his plantar fasciitis says no more or having a field day fishing with like minded fellow countrymen, there’s little he doesn’t wholeheartedly enjoy while out in the wild. While some might call him a true-born nature freak, he likes to see himself as a “born-again” outdoor enthusiast. Daniel just can’t get enough of nature, and we’re grateful whenever he decides to share his latest experiences with us.