The talk has been spreading fast through Missoula about the big salmon run taking place on the Clearwater River in Idaho.
Last week, it was time for me to walk the walk, instead of just talk the talk.
Pin Larson called last Tuesday afternoon. His message was pretty straightforward and to the point — “Let’s go fishing, now!”
He had gotten a call about a half-hour earlier from our friend Pat Bailey, who lives right on the river. Bailey told Larson he had caught six king salmon that morning. In other words, the bite was on.
The only condition that would alter the salmon bite would be if the Clearwater River were to rise because of runoff or rain and become muddy. There was no rain in the immediate forecast, so we headed down.
It only takes about three to three-and-a-half hours to get to Orofino, Idaho. We arrived at 7 p.m., Idaho time. Bailey has a dock on the river and was just pulling in.
We met with the normal greetings, but got right to the subject at hand. “How is the fishing?”
Bailey said he just lost what he estimated to be 22-pound salmon. If you have ever fished by yourself for king salmon, you know how hard it is to catch and net a fish that large.
We all agreed that it would be best to get an early start at around 5 a.m. the next day. The morning bite for these king salmon had been the most productive.
In Orofino, the light of the day comes early — before 5 a.m. By 5:30, we were on the water heading upstream. We passed a few other anglers along the way to our fishing spot, but luckily no one was in the spot that Bailey thought would be the most productive for us that morning.
Have you ever heard the saying, “You should have been here yesterday”? Well, that saying didn’t come into play on this fine Wednesday.
Bailey started us drifting down the river close to the bank. Within 10 minutes, my rod had a king salmon bend in it as the fish began pulling the Flatfish lure I was using down the river. Bailey instructed me not to horse the fish in. “Let it tire itself out. We will follow it to calmer water,” he said.
It is just about impossible to fight both a big salmon and the strong current of the river. If you do, then the salmon has a good chance of tearing the hook out of its mouth.
About 15 minutes later, we landed our first salmon of the trip. It weighed in at around 12 pounds — small compared to what we would end up catching on the trip — but nevertheless it was a salmon and we were on our way to a great day of fishing.
The three of us wound up boating five salmon that day and hooking three more that got away. The biggest weighed 17 pounds.
The next day was not as productive. Larson was the only one to boat a salmon. That fish wound up being a wild fish — as opposed to a hatchery-raised-and-released salmon — so we put it back in the river so it could continue its journey upstream.
As to tactics, we fished exclusively with a Size 14 or 15 Flatfish. The one we used was chrome colored with light green stripes. We tied a piece of sardine to the bottom side of the lure. The Flatfish was attached to a four-foot leader. Above the leader was a diver that was attached to a two-foot leader.
We also rubbed some secret, smelly lotion on the Flatfish that Bailey had used with success. I would tell you what the lotion was that we used, but I would like to get invited to go fishing again. I am sure one of the local sporting goods store will “smell” you in the right direction.
We power-drifted about 25 percent of the time and anchored in a hole 75 percent of the time. The power drifting method is a good way to cover a lot of river. Just run your trolling motor just fast enough to get your boat to go slower than the river current. When power-drifting, your lures will than have great action created by the force of the river’s current.