By Mike McKenna
Most people who pass by the Big Wood while they’re roaring along Highway 75 don’t give the river much thought.
Sure, they might think it’s pretty, as the snow falls or the summer sun sparkles upon it. They might think it’s nice to see anglers casting or kids splashing in it. But what they don’t understand is just how powerful and important our little freestone river is, and how many lives it touches and inspires everyday and in every season.
From mushroom hunters roaming its banks in the spring to dogs and their owners cooling off in the heat of summer, or photographers catching leaves floating away in the autumn, there is magic to be had any day of the year when you live by the Big Wood. You just have to go to the river.
While every season has its wonders, for me, nothing beats winter fishing on the Big Wood. Winter fly fishing isn’t for the faint of heart … or footing. It can get cold and slippery and lonely out there when it’s just you and the river, the trout and the falling snow. Yet, it’s enchanting, enjoying nature during her quiet season.
As delightful as it is to have a winter wonderland like the Wood all to yourself, for me nothing beats fishing and exploring it with my boys. Kids not only see things that us adults often miss, but their hopeful energy brings good luck.
My older boy, Jack, has been bringing good fortune to the water with us for all of his eight years, first in a backpack while we searched for fish in the High Sierra, and now casting alongside me here in the Gem State. He’s one of the few kids who can literally fish all day long. The fish appear to generally like him, as he out-fishes me most days, and he’s always good company if I’ve been in a fishing slump.
His younger brother, Sam, is just five, and like most younger siblings hasn’t had as much time or attention as the first-born. Still, as a fifth generation Spud he’s spent countless days at fisheries throughout Southern Idaho, and is even becoming pretty good with a Tenkara rod.
Last winter, Sammy and I hit the Wood for a winter’s day of fly fishing. Bundled up like Ralphie’s little brother in “A Christmas Story,” Sammy helped land a handful of rainbows before we decided to do some exploring.
We stumbled upon all sorts of tracks along the snowy banks including some very large bird prints that looked like the outlines of saguaro cactus. We followed the sporadic tracks around the bend and there in a shallow back eddy stood a bald eagle, nearly as tall as Sammy. The great bird starred at us for a split second before soaring off with a few powerful strokes of its wings.
“Wow,” was all Sammy’s little voice could muster.
I’ll never forget that moment—Sam probably won’t either. There are lots of stories like it, with new ones happening almost daily.
The Big Wood River is home to all kinds of flora and fauna. It feeds the aquifer that supports our community, it supplies water for Silver Creek, and it keeps the historic farms of the area alive. It’s also helps raise my sons, so I’m especially thankful to everyone who helps keep it healthy and accessible.
We’re pretty lucky to have the Big Wood River.