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With Rain Comes Steelhead Fishing Season

by Roger Phillips
Idaho Statesman, October 6, 2011

Steelhead swim up to 900 miles from the ocean to the headwaters. Anglers can keep only hatchery steelhead, which are marked with a clipped adipose fin, the one behind the dorsal fin. All fish with an adipose fin must be immediately released unharmed. I think I announced my official start of steelhead season a few weeks back. That was actually the announcement of fish arriving in the rivers in decent numbers.

Now we have our first storm of fall, which is the real start of steelhead fishing. Most trout fisherman put away their rods, and most steelhead fisherman get steelie-eyed and that fire lights in their bellies that keeps them warm on frigid days when other anglers would rather stay home.

Rain typically pulls fish upstream, but what else it does is purely speculation. Steelhead are creatures of paradoxes. They like cool water, but a sudden temperature drop tends to put them off the bite. But if the water is too warm for comfort, cooler water gets them active.

Steelhead tend to be spooky in clear water, and more likely to hold in prime spots when there's a little color in the water. But water that's too murky makes it harder to catch fish.

Rain tends to pull fish upstream, but fish that are migrating often don't bite very well.

You see where I am going with this? It's darn hard to predict exactly what steelhead will do. I've had days of seemingly perfect weather and water conditions when I couldn't beg or buy a bite, and landed multiple fish on days when ice chunks were bouncing off my legs.

But weather is definitely starting to look and feel more like fall, and I've heard reports of steelhead being caught in all our steelhead rivers. They're arriving all the way to the town of Salmon and at Hells Canyon Dam, which tells me fish are well distributed, and dam counts show more fish are arriving every day.

Now it's time to put in your hours and hope for the best. That's really the key. We all like to read the tea leaves and guess when fishing will be best, but it's darn tricky, especially if you don't live close to a steelhead river.

You just have to pick your weekend, brave the weather and go for it. No one said it's easy, but there are few things more exciting than hooking a steelhead.

Roger Phillips
With Rain Comes Steelhead Fishing Season
Idaho Statesman, October 6, 2011

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