This has been a great year for us on the Steelhead rivers of Idaho, namely the Salmon. Just last season I could barely manage a bite on the swing, usually fishing too heavy and hanging up on every damn snag in the river. Losing confidence, I’d waste valuable time switching from swing to nymphs, and back again ten minutes later, then switch bugs to the point l I didn’t know what the hell to throw at them.
Fortunately that’s all behind us now, whether we catch fish or not that day, because we finally have this swing thing pretty dialed in. Confidence, as with any fly fishing, is key. Bug choice is easy now-I pretty much fish one pattern- as well as being set to the right depth, which really isn’t as deep as I previously thought. Steelhead are predictable to a degree as to where they lie in the river, whether they bite or are even sitting there is the question. So you pretty much have to fish your arm off covering water, and especially good water, which is the never ending quest.
So back to the river, our days start early and end late. We have runs in mind that we want to fish, most of these we’ve caught steelhead in, but many others just look good, so we give them a swing. Some of these runs are gargantuan, taking hours to cover, some are just little insides that have the look we want, and ten casts says it all. I can’t count the miles of water that have held nothing, but eventually you figure out your favorites by simply covering every square inch of likely looking water. Cast, step, cast, step, cast….tug!
The clients are essentially gone for the year; snow has set in hard in the high country; the elk have bugled, mated, and survived the long hunting season; and us fishing guides are finally released into the wild once again to pursue the almighty of Salmonids, Steelhead. We don’t guide Steelhead trips, though we’re sure starting to think hard about it, because I am licensed as a Montana Outfitter only, confining our commercial operations to this great state alone. But lo, a mere two hours from Hamilton south over Lost Trail Pass, lies the longest run of Steelhead in the United States of ‘Merica on the Salmon River in Idaho.
With 900 miles to cover from the Pacific ocean to their upper spawning grounds in Stanley, these fish don’t really get into our stretch of water until November and even December. You think a cool day in June can suck, just wait till you start wading hip deep for hours at a time in January water temps and the Salmon River fog icing your eyebrows. Utter punishment at times. But the tug is the drug, and at some point in that long swing of the line a fish grabs hold and it’s all worth it.
So while winter grips the valley as we await another great trout season coming up in March, we guides are still packing fly rods on the dashboards and tackle bags close at hand. A string of good weather will get us twitching, and not long after that a phone call sets the madness in motion: 5 am on the road. Two hours and a hundred close calls with elk crossing highway 93, we’re back on the water with the excitement of a summer’s day of guiding… Except now we have 9 weights, thirty plus inch fish, and we’re doing all the fishing!