Kelly Creek Idaho
Kelly Creek Idaho. That three-word phrase is familiar to knowledgeable fly fishermen from all over the world. For many, Kelly Creek in the Clearwater National Forest, is the premier fly fishing water in Idaho, a state with a high number of trophy trout streams. It offers great fly fishing, but many of us older anglers remember when it was even better, as they say, “back in the day“.
From its beginnings way high in the Bitterroot Mountains on the Idaho/Montana border, Kelly Creek later flows into the North Fork of the Clearwater River at Kelly Forks campground. While it's named Kelly Creek, in most places it's really a river.
Very fishable and quite scenic in nature, Kelly Creek Idaho is a Blue Ribbon stream starring Idaho’s native trout, the westslope cutthroat. The “cuts” are generally in the 12 to 15 inch class, with a few larger fish 20 inches and up sometimes being hooked. They're plentiful, and usually not particular about the fly you have selected. Mountain whitefish are present as are a few rainbows, and the occasional bull trout is caught. I have heard about squawfish being hooked, but I cannot confirm that.
To get there, follow U.S. Route 12 along the Clearwater River east out of Lewiston, Idaho toward Orofino. Continue on Route 12 to the town of Greer, then State
Route 11 past Weippe to Pierce, Idaho.
For great information and supplies, stop in at Nelson’s Fly Rod and Reel (Nelson’s Outdoor Supply) on Main Street in Pierce.
THE KELLY CREEK CHRONICLES by Colbert E. Cushing is a good, informative read. Get it here from Amazon.com:
From Pierce, continue on SR 11 for .4 miles and turn left onto French Mtn. Rd., then travel .4 miles to Forest Route 250 (Kelly Creek sign). Note that FR250 is single lane with turnouts. Continue on FR250 for 47.6 miles to Kelly Creek campground sign at FR255. The campground is .2 miles on FR255. You have found Kelly Creek Idaho!
The campground is Kelly Forks Campground and it is located adjacent to Kelly Creek. The campground is open Memorial Day through Labor Day. There are 14 campsites. Campsites are $7 per day, with a 14 day maximum stay allowed. There are no hookups, the camp is pack it in, pack it out, with vault toilets and potable drinking water (2 water spigots). Some fishermen and hikers also camp along the stream at unimproved sites, while others make it up and back in a one day trip.
The stream at and near the campground hosts quite a few fishermen, especially on weekends. The less-frequented waters beginning a short ways upstream from the campground requires some hiking, but it is worth it. The hiking trail up Kelly is not difficult. You will want to keep stopping to fish along the way because the stream is so inviting.
I have experienced good fishing in late July through September, but the water warms then, and the fish head for deeper water, to the end of strong riffles or up into cooler creeks that dump into Kelly. The stream and its tributaries are catch-and-release, single, barbless hooks only.
Fives are wild! A 5-weight rod is perfect, with a 5-weight line, and a 5X tippet is called for. A floating line will suffice in most cases, but if you are skilled at fishing nymphs deep or if you are there when the fish are in deep holes to find cooler water, a line with a sinking tip would be a handy spare.
Favored dry fly artificials include heavy water flies such as Elk Hair Caddis, the Royal Wulff, and Humpies in size 10-14. I also like the Parachute Adams and the Renegade. PMD’s and midges work well early in the year. In July and August, expect Tricos in the morning, PMDs in the afternoon and terrestrials (hopper patterns, for sure) throughout the day. Nymph winners are the Hares Ear, Pheasant Tail and Zugbug in size 12-16.
If you have never fished Kelly Creek Idaho, its probably on your list for sometime in the future. It gets busier every year and, in a lot of ways, is not the same it was years ago. Plan a date with the “cuts” on Kelly Creek soon. Tight lines at Kelly Creek Idaho!