Tag Archives: Samlon River Steelhead

Winter Steelhead on the Salmon River

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaJust can’t get enough, can you?  I have to admit, this steelheading thing is straight addictive.  Once we learned these fish are merely an hour and a bit from Hamilton, one just can’t help themselves.  So here we go again, Chris and I decide just one more trip down south will be the end all to the season.  Late November, the earlier fall weather giving way to winter, we boogied out of Darby towing a raft in a full on blizzard. Lost Trail pass was four wheel drive all the way while wondering what our dumb asses are thinking trying this late in the year.  Finally hitting the Salmon, we get to see what we’re looking at as far as actual river conditions.  Not to bad, really.  Just a little slush here and there but full on fishable from our perspective.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaWe post up camp for the night and awake to a seven degree morning.  “Hey, how’s the river look?” I ask, huddling the Mr Buddy heater in the tent.  “Not good.”  ” Should we go?” ” Might as well, we’re here.”   Confidence.  If your gonna be stupid you have to be tough.  Being in no real hurry to commence the madness, we fire up my frozen diesel and sit in the comfort of the heated cab while waiting on espresso pots on the MSR outside.  Eventually we set sail and floated a short stretch with a ton of good water, as long as the slush cleared enough to get a drift through.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaAt three o’clock the magic happened.  Battling slush and frozen guides, lines, beers, boats, you name it, we finally pulled it off.  Every run we knew was choked with slush and ice, especially in the sexy gooey water where the steelies hang.  Screwdaddled on every turn, we laid our coins on our final and all time epic run, Power Eagle.  It actually had a different name up to this point, but from now and forever it shall be Power Eagle.  With Chris sitting up front and me in the rear, we worked that run like a well oiled machine, while anchored just perfectly beside the goods.   With the ice clearing and run opening up, we finally willed those damn steelies out of their lies.  Four fish in the last hours of the last day that river will be floated for the rest of the year.

Steelhead on the Salmon River, Idaho

bitterroot fly fishing guidesGod bless Idaho.  I used to drive 31 hours from Wise River, Montana to reach Smithers, British Columbia where the turnoff for one of the most famous steelhead rivers in the world, the Kispiox, can be found if one is heads up enough to find it.  That’s all I ever knew of Steelies until I learned a little bit about our neighborly southern state of Idaho last November and December.  Driving just an hour past Lost Trail, Chris, Ian and I found ourselves on some sexy looking runs with nines in our hands, looking at deep gooey tailouts and bottomless inside turns.

bitterroot river fly fishing guidesNow to step back a bit, we planned on just buying one shuttle for this float and staying out overnight on the river.  We decided on our chosen water from Ian’s and local know how, then loaded up his big battleship steelie boat with all the camp necessities, including wood, and set off onto the mighty Salmon.  Ian, an Alaska native and guide there, dialed us in right away on how to get it done with these fish.

bitterroot river fly fishing guidesSitting just where you’d expect once you have the eye for it, Salmon River steelies were plentiful throughout the twenty mile stretch we ran.  Swinging and nymphing, we dinged many many steelies both days of the float, and even got to keep a few hatchery fish to fillet out at the end of the day and cook on the grill in camp.  The best fish was just under 32 inches, with most between 26 and 30.

bitterroot river fly fishing guidesCamping on some deserted island on the river, we grilled a sacrificial fillet that first night with butter and cajun blackening, paired with Sierra Nevada and bratwurst.  Now if you’ve never grilled the day’s catch late at night over open coals, you’re missing out big time.  This was the most incredible fish I’ve ever laid into, hardly resembling their brethren the rainbow but more similar to the Pacific salmon of Alaska: rich and filling, Salmon river steelhead rival any fish around for table fare.

bitterroot river fly fishing guidesWe woke to clean skies and another day of steelie hunting.  We searched as we floated, eyeing up runs for the tell tale water signatures that hold the fish.  One run that raised our antennaes ended up producing nine fish that first encounter, and has since become our all time sweetest steelie lie, Power Eagle. We kinda found fish here there and everywhere that first trip, sometimes going for a mile with nada then suddenly doubling up on some good looking bank.  With another night approaching, we wound it up and headed for the corral.  The rig was a blessed sight with its heater and stereo after more than 24 hours on the water.  We caught enough keepers for everyone to take a couple home, which we filleted on the spent aspen leaves covering the lower end of the boat launch, giving thanks for an amazing trip and fresh bounty from the Salmon.

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