We were drifting down the South Fork of the Snake River, the Grand Teton behind us, when my guide began rowing frantically across the stream. This is the telltale sign, of course, that the man on the oars has spied a patch of water that is lousy with trout. He pointed to the left bank. “Cast to the grass,” he said. “Downstream angle, six inches from the edge.” There are times when fly-fishing is all about the tension of waiting—those few seconds after your bug lands on the water, when you enter something like a fugue state of anticipation. This was not one of those times. The moment my size 10 Schroeder’s Hopper lit, the water exploded. Set! Rod tip up! Strip, strip, strip! Just like that, I had a hook-jawed bruiser of a brown trout.
Located 30 miles northwest of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Idaho’s Teton Valley has all the same outdoor charms, without the Range Rovers, sticker shock, or crowds. It’s also home to a trio of rivers that offer first-rate fly-fishing experiences. The wide South Fork of the Snake is the place to go for monster browns. The pretty, small Teton is renowned for big cutthroats. And the legendary Henrys Fork is arguably the best, and toughest, rainbow fishery on the planet. I’ve also seen shirtless poachers packing out trout in their coolers on the Idaho side. Not everything is manicured and perfect here—which is part of the allure. Not long after landing that trout, I fished a section of the river known as Hollywood, where I got fouled up on my first cast, missed half the run, then lost one of the biggest brownies I’ve ever seen. The bartender down the road ought to thank that fish.