Summer Steelhead Still Quite a Catchby Rob Phillips
Yakima Herald Republic, DECEMBER 1, 2005
Catching summer run steelhead in late November -- how can that be?
First you have to go way, way, WAY upriver, to where the summer-run fish are at this point in their migration. And then you have to figure out what it's going to take to get the fish to strike.
After fishing this past weekend on the Snake River, in the Hells Canyon portion of the river south of Lewiston, Idaho, I can tell you that it is quite possible to catch summer-run steelhead during the last week in November.
The steelhead of Idaho's Clearwater, Salmon and upper Snake rivers actually begin their 300-plus mile migration during the dead of summer, in August and September when they enter the Columbia River from the Pacific. They make their way up over four major dams on the Columbia and another four dams on the Snake on their long journey to their spawning grounds or hatcheries of origin.
During October and throughout most of November, anglers in the southeastern part of Washington have a great opportunity to catch one of these prized fish as they migrate through the corner of the state before crossing the border into Idaho.
"Late November and December can be a little tougher," said Eric Elben, one of the guides at Beamer's Hells Canyon Tours in Clarkston. "But there are still some fish around. We'll just have to do some traveling to see if we can find them."
Starting at a hole just below where the famed Grande Ronde River feeds the Snake in the very corner of southeastern Washington, Elben had my sons Kyle and Kevin and I put diving plugs of assorted metallic colors on our rods and send them into the relatively clear waters of the Snake.
With the lures working behind the boat, Elben backed the rigs ever so slowly downriver without so much as a bump.
"They're not here. Let's reel 'em up and head upriver," Elben ordered.
In the next hole, the response to the diving lures was a little different. Kyle's rod went off first and, after a healthy battle, a beautiful 10-pound hatchery steelhead was going into the fish box.
On the second drift downriver, my rod buckled over. It was almost a carbon copy of Kyle's fish: 10 pounds with a beautiful rosy blush on its cheek and a very definitive red stripe down its side.
"I think we've found them," Elben said with a big grin on his face. "It's going to be a good day."
By noon we had five nice hatchery steelhead in the cooler. Three had come on metallic red and metallic green Hawg Boss and FatFish diving plugs. The other two were caught on live sandshrimp rigged behind a diver.
By the time the November sun had disappeared for good behind the rim of the deepest canyon in the United States, we had managed to catch three more beautiful steelhead.
"Not a bad day," Kevin declared as we docked for the night at the Copper Creek Lodge some 40 miles up into the canyon.
"No, not bad, but believe it or not, it was better than this two weeks ago," Elben responded. "We were limiting before noon on some days."
A limit of steelhead on this part of the Snake is three hatchery fish per angler per day. Throw in a few native steelhead and that is catching a bunch of fish in a fairly short period of time.
Day two started out just as hot as the first, only this time we were trying a little different fishing technique. We rigged prawn tails with a hank of yarn and a small Lil' Corky below a short piece of pencil lead and did some side drifting -- which is just casting out into the river and allowing it to drift down stream at the same speed as the boat.
Five more steelhead later -- four natives and one hatchery fish -- we were back down at the boat launch, ready for the drive home.
November weekends are normally reserved for hunting in my household. But after having such good luck fishing on the weekend after Thanksgiving, I might very well give up a weekend or two of hunting in November to try some late summer run steelheading next year. Even if the fishing is only half as good as it was last weekend, it will be well worth the time.
It certainly didn't feel like August, or even September, out there last weekend, but I can tell you one thing, the summer-run steelhead were definitely in a biting mood.
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