Fishing the Boise River, Idaho
The crystal clear Boise River flows through the urban setting of downtown Boise, Idaho, giving the city a unique outdoor feel. More than 100,000 visitors float the river every summer on rafts, paddleboards, kayaks and - my personal favorite - air mattresses! The greenbelt stretches for miles on both sides of the river, giving fishermen access to innumerable fishing holes. If you've made plans to fish the Boise River, you've made a good choice. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Types of Fish in the Boise River
The Boise River is always cold, even in the dead heat of summer. This is because the river flows out from deep beneath Lucky Peak Reservoir where the water is always cold no matter how warm the surface of the lake gets. As a result, only 3 types of fish survive in the upper part of the river that flows through the city of Boise, Garden City and Eagle.
Rainbow trout are the most common fish in the Boise river. They are stocked throughout the year and are the most willing to bite.
Brown trout are less common than rainbow trout in the Boise river, but that's what makes them more fun to catch. Also, I've seen more huge brown trout (huge being 18 inches or bigger) than rainbows. I would note, however, that some very large rainbow trout have been caught near Lucky Peak dam.
Whitefish inhabit some of the more languid pools of the Boise river. They are a real bonus fish!
Techniques for Catching Trout in the Boise River
Trout in the Boise river love spinners. Fishing these spinners is easy. Simply cast them out and reel fast enough for the blade to spin. Make sure you don't let the lure break the surface and "drag" across the top, but don't let it drag on the bottom either. A steady, medium retrieve is usually perfect to keep the lure in the strike zone. Just remember to avoid fishing spinners in areas that are too swift.
I prefer 1/16 oz. spinners in rainbow trout color, brown, or green. If you are fishing in faster current, you may want to fish a heavier 1/8 oz. spinner to keep the lure from "dragging" on the surface.
Worm on a Bobber
Using a worm on a bobber works great when it is colder here in Boise. In the early spring, I have found this is the only way I can catch 'em. One thing you must do is use a small hook. Two people can be fishing in the exact same spot with the exact same tackle, but the guy with the smaller hook will catch twice as many fish as his "unfortunate" buddy.
Also, use small bits of worm, and I mean small. My brother has cut one nightcrawler into five pieces. Don't think for a second that big trout won't bite a small piece of worm. I've caught my biggest Spring trout on a piece of worm about an inch long.
Find eddies or bends in the river where the current slackens. Cast your rig up river and let it drift down with the current. Sometimes the bobber will go down as if caught on a rock, but always set the hook, no matter what, because many of those "rocks" are actually the bigger trout. An old Tennessee fisherman once told me, "remember, son, hooksets are free".
Plain Jane Worms
In some situations, just using a plain hook with a small piece of worm can be dynamite! Because this rig is so light in weight, you won't be able to cast it very far, but you can use it for drift fishing. Simply wade out into the shallow water, and let the little morsel drift into promising holes. Trout of every species, size and shape will gobble up a piece of worm drifting naturally in the current!
Brown Trout Can Get Large in the Boise River
Catching Brown Trout in the Boise River
You catch brown trout using the above techniques, but if you really want a brownie, here are some things you can do to up your odds.
Brown trout like more languid parts of the Boise river. My favorite place to catch brown trout was an area where a part of the river was diverted to make a small stream that ran through a neighborhood. I fished in a gently flowing part of the stream and never failed to catch a good brown trout. Unfortunately, this area was gated off as land for a nearby home! I still may or may not (ahem) jump the fence and fish this spot when no one is looking...
Use brown or copper colored lures if you want more brown trout. Believe it or not, you can catch more brown trout on brown, orange, and copper colored spinners than any other color. Fish these the same way as I described above.
Catching Whitefish in the Boise River
To give yourself the best chance of catching a whitefish, use small worms or pieces of worms on a bobber, but there are fishermen who catch whitefish on spinners.
The only time I caught a whitefish in the Boise river was when I was using a small worm on a bobber in the early Spring. My bobber drifted into a deep, swirling eddy and got jerked under. It was one of the first times I had been fishing in the Boise river, so I thought whitefish were common. The strange thing is...I have not caught one since!
Have You Ever Caught a Whitefish in the Boise River?
2 Mistakes to Avoid
Here are a couple of common mistakes to avoid when fishing the Boise River.
(1) Don't bottom fish. This will only end in snags and frustration. Trust me, I've tried it. The current is too swift for bottom tactics to be effective, and even if you can find slower pools, snags will find your line before the fish can.
(2) Don't use power bait. As much fun as it may be to use power bait when lake fishing for trout, it does not work in the Boise river.
Are Steelhead in the Boise River?
A lot of new people ask me, "Are their steelhead in the Boise river?" Yes! They are not common, but they are there. Idaho Fish and Game stocks them once a year - usually around November. The river is very busy, at this time, as you can imagine. I've only caught a handful of steelhead in all my times fishing the river. When you hook one, you will know it! They fight much harder than the stocked trout, jumping sometimes several feet into the air trying to throw the hook. They usually hang around where the current is swifter, or below levees and the man-made dams.
For more info on steelhead, visit Idaho Fish and Game website.
Tips for Catching Larger Trout in the Boise River
Catching small trout in the Boise River is the norm, and while it is fun catching these feisty beasts, it can be a while before you catch one worth a picture. I've spent many hours fishing the Boise River, and I've learned some tricks to catch the larger trout.
If you want to up your odds of catching larger trout, you gotta put away those spinners and bits of worm and pull out some small jerkbaits. Don't get me wrong, you can still catch a heavy trout once in a while on that rooster tail, but if want to tangle with big, bully brown trout more often, you'd better be slinging a flashy jerkbait.
If you were ask this jerk, you really need only 2 colors of jerkbaits for the Boise river: bronze and rainbow color. Believe it or not, the bronze color will catch mostly brown trout, and the rainbow color will catch mostly rainbow trout. No joke.
I use two types of retrieves with jerkbaits. The one that usually works for me is to work the bait with a series of short snaps - say 5 to 8 of them - and then pause it. Then another 5 to 8 snaps and a pause. The other retrieve I use, is just a slow steady retrieve, letting the jerkbait "swim" in the current and only occasionally giving it a snap. Try both at the start of each day and let the trout tell you which one they want.
Remember not to set the hook too hard with a trout on a jerkbait. Trout have soft mouths, so be a little more careful. I use a soft action rod to help soften the blow, in case I get carried away on my hookset.
Fish Log Jams
Many times, logs from the winter runoff will jam up and make great areas to fish.
Some of the largest trout I catch in the Boise river come from these areas. I also snorkel in the summer and see the largest trout of the year hanging out in the swift water around these jams.
Find an area of the bank or wade out into the water above the log jam and spin your spinner or jerk your jerkbait close to the sweet spots. Be careful not to get it snagged! A $7.89 Rapala jerkbait hung up in the wood can sour your day in a hurry. One of my favorite spots is an area where a tree grows over the water at a bend in the river. I like to walk out on one of the sturdy trunks and fish the logs that have piled up below. One of the largest steelhead that I've ever pulled from the river, has come from this type of structure.
Whenever you see a bend in the river where dead trees have piled up in the water, you better make a bee-line for it and t̶r̶y̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶r̶ l̶u̶c̶k̶......ply your skill for some larger trout.
Fish Waterfalls and Wing Dams
Waterfalls and wing dams also hold greater possibilities of larger trout. There are several along the river even right in the heart of Boise. Some of these man-made structures get very crowded when steelhead are first released. In fact, most of the time, I avoid these areas because they get fished out, but I'm one of those fisherman who does not feel comfortable fishing around other people and am always looking for "new" or "undiscovered" spots.
Don't be afraid to throw your jerkbait right in the foam and froth of a waterfall. Those big trout will be right in the thick of it, and when they see the flash of a jerkbait......well, let the fun begin!!