Steelhead at Greer, Troy, Ore. and Beyond?
by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, August 2, 2010
Nearly 10,000 steelhead have been counted crossing Lower Granite Dam, 35 miles west of the Lewiston Clarkston Valley. Conventional wisdom says most of those fish are either lounging in the cool flows of the lower Clearwater River or deep in the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers where water temperatures are also quite low.
Steelhead return early and have a lot of time to kill before they spawn in March, April and May. That means they can take detours and find cold water to relax in. It's what makes fishing the lower Clearwater so productive in August and September.
Normally the river wouldn't hold catchable numbers of steelhead until October when the B-run starts to arrive. But A-run fish bound for the Snake, Grand Ronde and Imnaha rivers like to duck into the lower end of the Clearwater simply to chill.
Anglers say most go no further than the first five miles of the river. Once the Snake River cools they drop back out and head to their spawning grounds or hatchery of origin.
But not all fish are loungers. Some will go way up the Clearwater.
For instance Mike (Poppy) Cummins, owner of the Red Shed Fly Shop at Peck told me a friend of his recently caught a steelhead near Greer.
"He thought he had a big ass bass," he said. "It was 22 or 23 inches and was just as bright as a new bumper."
Poppy said it is unusual to see a steelhead that far up the river in late July.
"I've seen them around the Peck Hole near the end of this month but I've never seen one that high this early. But I have no doubt there is a few up there."
Last October, my friend Earl Baumgarten of Riggins caught a steelhead on the Salmon River that had a bright orange tag attached to its dorsal fin. He turned it in and learned the steelhead had been tagged in July, 40 miles up the Deschutes River in Oregon. The biologist he talked to told him it is not uncommon for steelhead to go on such expeditions.
Other early returning steelhead bypass the cool offerings of the Clearwater all together and make a B-line for their spawning grounds. Rumor has it that there are a few steelhead that have returned as far as Troy, Ore. on the Grand Ronde River this year. Bill Vail, owner of Boggan's Oasis tells me that sounds right.
"The first steelhead are usually caught out of Troy. It usually happens sometime in August. Usually there is not a lot up there but they do catch them periodically."
Most steelhead don't hit the Ronde until September.
Tom Farnam, a steelhead fishing guide in Joseph, says it's possible for steehead to reach that far up the Ronde in August but not common.
"I don't go in August thinking I'm going to catch a steelhead down there. In September I have higher hopes." Both he and Vail said any steelhead returning that early will likely be hanging out near the mouth of the Wenaha River where the water is cooler.
Last October, my friend Earl Baumgarten of Riggins caught a steelhead on the Salmon River that had a bright orange tag attached to its fin. He turned the tag in and learned the steelhead had been tagged in July way up the Deschutes River in Oregon. The biologist he talked to told him it is not uncommon for steelhead to go on such expeditions.
So, how far up the Clearwater can you expect to catch a steelhead in early August? I'm not sure but I'm concentrating on the first three or four miles.
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