I'm Declaring This the Start of Steelhead Seasonby Roger Phillips
Idaho Statesman, September 15, 2011
Truth is, people have been catching them for months on the Clearwater, but it's mostly trolling near the mouth and sometimes at night, which is kind of like saying trout season started because someone caught one through the ice.
I am talking the real steelhead season when we load boats and gas tanks and take long road trips in hopes of landing a few fish.
If you've been waiting for that, I think it's here. It's early, especially considering we will be steelhead fishing through April, but the fish are heading up the Clearwater and Salmon rivers.
Let's start with the Clearwater. The flows have dropped, so waders have more options, and boaters have their usual run of the river. Fish and Game's catch reports are looking favorable, but it's a pretty small sampling so take it with a grain of salt. I'm no expert on the Clearwater, but I know that you will have to work hard for your fish. They rarely come easy up there.
Which brings me to the Salmon River. If I were to bet, I would wager people have already caught fish, but they're being pretty quiet about it. The lower Snake is cooler than usual this time of year, which is reflected in the dam counts. Steelhead counts at Bonneville are under the 10-year average, but over the 10-year at Lower Granite. That tells me the fish are moving up the Snake earlier than normal, which is a good sign for the Salmon River because the river gets cooler the farther you get upstream.
If you go, plan to cover lots of water in either river. Steelhead are just starting to trickle in, and they're likely on the move, unlike later in the season where they settle into certain areas. Be a prospector, hits lots of spots and don't spend too much time in each one.
Also, rivers are low and clear, so expect fish to be spooky. The best fishing is mornings and evenings when the sun is off the water, but you just never know. Fish hard, make no excuses and hope for the best.
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