Steelhead moves upstream, which often means better access and smaller rivers
Steelhead has spent most of the winter in deep water, waiting to make its final push upstream, and in late winter and spring the time has come. Anglers looking to cure cabin fever can start the fishing season early and catch one of Idaho’s most prized fish.
Steelhead empties into the headwaters of Idaho’s famous Steelhead Brooks in late winter and spring, which it concentrates in the upper tributaries of the Clearwater and Salmon Rivers. Anglers are looking in these areas for the opportunity to catch these large, ocean-going fish that travel 900 miles to hatcheries or spawning areas.
“” The South Fork Clearwater River and the main trunk Clearwater River in the Kooskia / Kamiah area are just beginning to turn, while the main Clearwater River near the Dworshak Hatchery and the North Fork Clearwater River have been fishing well throughout the winter and should continue to fish well through the spring. Finally, expect catch rates in the Little Salmon River and the Snake River near Hells Canyon Dam to increase once the water temperatures warm up a bit. “
In the Upper Salmon River, the Deadwater ice jam was still in place on Feb. 16, and Salmon Region Fisheries Manager Greg Schoby reckons it won’t be early March before it clears up and the steelhead spring season begins in earnest region.
Dupont said catch rates are likely to remain high for most bodies of water well into April, but added that they will vary over the course of spring depending on weather and river conditions.
As most people know, Idaho weather is unpredictable during late winter and early spring. Warm weather or rainy weather can turn rivers into muddy streams and make steelhead fishing difficult. Therefore, paying attention to the weather and river flows is critical to success.
Anglers can see a measurement of river flows thanks to the US Geological Survey, which has gauging stations across Idaho. By observing the weather and the river, anglers can see what is happening to the rivers in real time.
Steelhead usually likes “goldilocks” conditions, not too high and not too low, and with a little bit of color in the water (think emerald green) but not muddy. Warm water (even a few degrees) often offers better fishing.
Steelhead fishing also tends to improve when a river recedes after a large outflow pulse. Good or lucky steelhead anglers can catch fish in almost any condition. However, using these guidelines can improve your chances of catching fish.
For fish that congregate in smaller headwaters and tributaries, anglers usually follow suit, which means that bottlenecks can occur. In some cases, this gives steelhead fishing a social feel, but there can also be intense competition for top-quality fishing spots.
You don’t have to stand shoulder to shoulder with fellow anglers to catch steelhead. There is plenty of river access and fish to frolic. For example, the upper Salmon River between Salmon and Stanley has more than a hundred miles of mostly road accessible river where you can find places to fish.
To further refine your knowledge, anglers can refer to the Fish and Game crop reports to see what the angling is like.
“The most important thing I always remind anglers of is the fishing quotas,” said Dupont. “If you see catch rates of less than 10 hours per fish, we call it good. If it’s five hours of fish, that’s excellent. “
When it comes to monitoring crop reports, be aware that if the reports are good, you may still be missing out on the main fishery as the fish may have passed this section of the river.
Another option is to check breeding yields to keep track of when fish arrive at hatcheries and to see how many remain in the nearby river.
A call to the Fish and Game regional offices or local fishing shops can also provide anglers with useful and up-to-date information.
If you do some homework and watch the weather, the best time to fish is when the rivers are in good condition and there are fish. Remember these dates as there is a good chance they will be similar in the next year.