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Good old Riley Creek
If there is one stream or creek somewhat close to my home that I have many memories of it has to be Riley Creek south of Hagerman Idaho. Hagerman is a small farming community an hour and twenty minutes east of Boise. It is a quiet community that does not attract much attention outside of its own community and certainly does not have much attention from many out of town fly anglers. I found Riley Creek back in the early nineties while searching out a place to fly fish in the spring when all our rivers were swollen with runoff.
I learned Riley Creek was a spring creek, an artesian flow, not subject to any melting snow pack. I looked it up in the Idaho fishing regulations and found, at the time, the creek was open all year. Riley Creek, because of its artesian water, feeds both the National and State Fish Hatcheries. This now became a fly fishing destination, not far from home, relatively at the time an unknown fishery, and it is fishable all year. Certainly worth a try for a guy like me starved for some clean manageable water with trout in it.
That was around 30 years ago. Riley Creek is born near the Federal Hatchery, not far from the Snake River. It flows unchanged and unstocked for about a mile before the creek enters the State Hatchery system where the water is diverted in a series of ponds, lakes, and an interesting creek system. Riley Creek flows unchanged from the Federal Hatchery where the spring water is shallow, gravel bottomed, and filled with waving biomass. Its mile long run to the state property is a gentle natural flow. The Riley Creek flowing into the state property changes from the innocence of a spring creek to deep runs, boulders, and tight turns. The State has carved out ponds and lakes diverting Riley Creek into sections easily fished.
So there is a huge difference between the creek running through the state property and the creek coming in on the federal property. Riley Creek running through the state property is more suited for the spin fishing community where the creek, ponds, and lakes are more conducive to and easily available to that style of fishing. The creek that runs through the federal property is more conducive to the dry fly angler. Here the creek is shallow, filled with biomass making nymphing or worm fishing difficult at best. But it is Riley Creek on the federal property where the joy of dry fly fishing takes place.
During the spring and fall there is a consistent Blue Winged Olive Mayfly and a nice Midge hatch on the creek near the federal hatchery that happens daily on the creek. This section of the creek, where the road to the hatchery crosses the creek, is where I fished Riley Creek for the first time. It was in the spring and after the short drive from Boise I rolled over the bridge crossing Riley Creek and parked. As I got out to stretch my legs, I walked the short distance from my truck to the bridge. What I saw amazed me. There were trout rising all up and down the creek. At that time it was obvious these trout were feeding on Blue Winged Olive Mayflies in a size 20.
Sitting in my camp chair putting on my waders I just stared at the consistency of how these trout were feeding. I tied on a classic BWO dry fly and marched down the creek to get in on the action. My first cast was perfect, landing my dry fly right in the middle of a pod of feeding trout. I watched cast after cast land perfectly, but none rose to my fly. It soon became apparent these trout were not feeding on the adult but were instead eating the emergent BWO as it floated on or just under the surface. The next fly I tied on was a size 20 BWO soft hackle. Using a soft hackle drift my rod quickly bent and a small 10 inch rainbow was captured on my first try with the soft hackle BWO.
I have been using that same fly, a Soft Hackle, for both the Blue Winged Olive hatch and the Midge hatch on Riley Creek ever since. I have tried other flies both emerger and dry patterns from time to time, even recently using a small streamer, but I always start and end using a Soft Hackle anywhere between size 18 and 22 depending on the hatch. I can usually fish the federal section of Riley Creek in about an hour and a half. If I arrive in the morning I will usually end my session there with lunch. If I do not want to move on to the state side I will do another session and just repeat where and how I fished it in the morning.
However, If I do want to fly fish the State Hatchery side of Riley Creek then I will move on to the State Hatchery and fish the southernmost section of Riley Creek, right before the creek flows into the Snake River at Little Falls. This section of Riley Creek is my favorite on the state property, and I find in the last 20 years that I will only fish this section of Riley Creek while on the state property.
So when is a good time to fly fish Riley Creek? Any time is a good time, however for practical purposes I would say spring and fall. Spring makes the most sense because of runoff and high flows in our tailwater and freestone rivers. Any time for me. Whenever I am going or coming to or from that area a stop at Riley Creek becomes necessary. It should be for you too.