Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don't miss out ... go catch a steelhead!

Rick Gerrard with a fresh Hells Canyon steelie

Steve and Quinn with B-run Clearwater River steelhead (it fed 12 people)

A wild Middle Fork Salmon River steelhead (this fish was released)

We had a great float trip on the Snake River in Hells Canyon recently, and we brought home a gorgeous steelhead on Sunday afternoon after I guided my friend Rick Gerrard into a perfect fishing hole with my 16-foot raft, and he nailed a nice one.

We had been catching rainbows and small-mouth bass frequently, so Ricky wasn't sure what he had at first ... Then after about 30 seconds, he whispered "this feels like a big fish, Stueby," to which I leaped from the captain's chair and grabbed our fish net in the bow. We brought more of a trout net than a steelhead net, so when I had a chance to net the steelhead, I scooped it up and brought the fish into the bow of the boat, only to have the dang thing leap out of the net!

Luckily I had these neoprene gloves on with special grips in the palms, so I was able to grab that thing like an oversized football and wrestle it to the floor of the boat.

We checked and it was a fin-clipped fish as expected (no wild steelhead venture into Hells Canyon anymore to my knowledge), so we kept it and ate it for dinner with about 8 people a couple days later. Yee-haw! Great way to round out an awesome cast-and-blast weekend in Hells Canyon.

My outdoor tip this week is to urge everyone to reserve some time in your busy schedule to go steelhead fishing this fall. The steelhead run this year is more than 2x the 10-year average, with 200,000+ fish forecast to move into Central Idaho to spawn the next generation. The mighty steelhead -- ocean-going rainbow trout -- are found on the Snake in Hells Canyon, the Salmon River from Riggins to Salmon, and the Clearwater River in the Lewiston-Orofino area. Go bank fishing, take your own boat or hire an outfitter and guide.

I personally am not too proud to hire a guide. It definitely can increase your chances of success. I booked a trip with the Guide Shop in Orofino a couple years ago and brought home a beautiful B-run Clearwater steelhead. I'd always heard that the B-run fish are huge (they stay two years in the ocean), and put up a great fight, and there's no doubt about that!

When I was working on my book Salmon River Country with Mark Lisk, we went steelhead fishing with Jerry Myers and Mark Troy from Idaho Adventures, and we caught a bunch of fish on a five-day trip from Corn Creek to Mackay Bar ... big Middle Fork wild steelhead that were nearly as big as the Clearwater fish I caught.

The guides are out on the river every day. They know the exact holes where they caught fish the day before. They know what kind of lures, bait or flies are working. Put some friends together and book a trip of a lifetime.

On the Salmon River, near Riggins, you can book a trip with a jet boat or a drift boat. The jet boats can go upriver or downriver and cover a lot of ground in a day. They often will pull plugs or "hotshots" and drag them on the bottom of the river in deep steelhead holes, and that often can be a very effective technique. Drift boats are very maneuverable and can fish practically every patch of fishy water as you move downstream.

Fly fishing for steelhead is another possibility for those so inclined (more skill required). Here's a web site with some tips on what kinds of bait/lures/flies to use.

So I say go for it and celebrate one of the finer things in life as an Idahoan. Even if you don't bring home a steelhead, maybe someone else in your party will, and it will be a memorable day on the river no matter what. - SS