Steelhead on Idaho’s Salmon River

Big Swings, Moonshine Swigs and Steelhead on Idaho’s Salmon
I couldn’t take it any longer. The two-hander’s been sitting in the closet and the steelhead have steadily swam upstream in Idaho since last fall. Now they’re just two and a half hours away from my home in Montana so I called it good on Friday, March 5, grabbed the big Winston and headed to Salmon, Idaho with as much excitement flowing through me as I’ve had in a long time.

Oh yea, success on the swing, Salmon River, Idaho.

Got in on Friday afternoon, suited up and walked to a run that a friend told me about. Said a couple acquaintances caught 18 there last weekend. Lordy, lordy. Swang and swang for a couple hours then started at the top again. It wasn’t until the tailout, when I was almost ready to say, where next, when the swing just started and I got hammered. Turned out to be an eight or nine-pound hen, a hatchery fish that I could have whacked. But that’s hard to do when you consider those fishe’s entire lives and all the hell they encounter along the way. Each is a miracle, whether you choose to take that fish or not, and should be treated as such.

That night I shared beers with a guy from Ogden, Utah. He was in the run when I got there and he’s fished it a lot over the years. These days you’re just as likely to meet a dud on the river as a cool dude. Fortunately this guy was top notch, a generous guy with info and a great guy to share the run with. After I landed my fish he made a pass through and picked up another strong steelhead, his third of the day I believe.

A little bit of a rough start in the a.m.'s. Cold fingers and a headache to boot.

That night a couple friends from Missoula showed up and we agreed to have two or three beers around the campfire. But that quickly turned into, say, nine and then the fire jumping began. I’ve got two little ones at home so I declined an invitation to jump, but I was more than happy to do my part and stoke the fire to skyscraper height. Luckily the boys came through it unscathed except in the morning when we all felt like death until we made it to North Fork for coffee.

We were on the run shortly later, but the fish weren’t cooperating and by that afternoon one of us was in a tent sleeping while me and another headed to another run. That’s when things got iffy because we visited my cousin instead of fishing and anytime I visit my cousin anything can happen. Before we went into his house I told my friend Jim, Whatever you do, don’t touch that skunk!

Eyes of Satan, ripping up a bag.

A few minutes later, after a liquid hit of something very clear and very, very, very powerful, we were outside at the pen, with my cousin holding the skunk, and Jim offering his finger to that overweight devil, like he would when befriending the common Labrador. That’s when the skunk got jumpy and Jim said, “Has he had his glands taken out?” and Gary said, “Oh, no, he still has them.” Gary nearly got bit and had to place the beast back in its pen where it sank teeth into a sleeping bag and proceeded to shake its head back and forth like a starving lion encountering a baby wildabeast.

That's the way to expedite the fire building process.

The following day I threw for a few hours and picked up one fish, which was a disappointment. I learned something, however. I was doubting that many, if any fish were in the run I was working. Numerous boats with gear guys had passed through and nobody hooked up. Four of slammed the water for a few hours and I only hooked up at the end. Then, just when I was getting ready to leave, a few boys from the University of Montana arrived and they proceeded to hookup immediately and often. Goes to show you that technique and finding the right fly has a lot to do with successful steelheading and reinforces the advice to fish like fish are there even when you start to doubt. Following are  a few photos from the weekend trip. Interpret for yourself. The Salmon River fishery should keep cranking through March and into April so get over there if you can or head to the Clearwater or Washington’s Grande Ronde for similar action.

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