Steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River in Idaho is a very popular sport for anglers all over the Northwest including Western Montana. From Missoula the long winding highway to Orofino, Idaho seems longer than it really is, especially during the winter months. Last week Jim Johnson from Lincoln and I made the trip to try our luck fishing. Water level and flow on the Clearwater River is critical to having a successful trip. The conditions of the south fork of the Clearwater River were blown out and high. It was unfishable. The two mile stretch of the north fork of the Clearwater River that runs from Dworshaak Dam to the south fork was running a little high about 10,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) but after Johnson, who has fly fished for steelhead before on that stretch of the river, checked out several areas of the river he determined we should give it a try the next morning. It was the right choice. “See those steelhead on the redd” said Johnson pointing from the bank, “those fish are spawning and we will try to get them to take a fly as we roll it passed their nose”. The fish on the redd were about 20 feet past the bank. So the next morning we hit the river at sunrise.
Johnson started to roll cast his 9 weight fly rod and fly line out towards the fish while wading in water up to his hips. Attached to the floating fly line was his eleven foot set-up equipped with two black and red nymph flies that Johnson tied himself. The eleven foot of leader started off with the three feet of 20 pound test fluorocarbon fishing line with a 1 ¼ inch in diameter bubble bobber. Johnson then tied a #7 swivel onto that line with three feet of 15 pound test. He then spliced a foot of 15 pound test to that leader and at the end of that line tied the first of his two flies a #4 nymph. He then tied a foot of 15 pound test to that fly and then spliced another foot to that line of 15 pound test and tied his other #4 nymph to it. Ahead of each of the two splices he placed three #7 split shot. The splices stop the split shot from moving down the line. The swivel is important because it enables the line to roll on the rocks. Ideal CFS for this method of fishing is 4000-5000 on the north fork. The flow is determined on how much water they are letting out of the dam.
It ended up being one of the most successful days that Johnson has had steelhead fishing. “I hooked 14 fish and landed four and released one” added Johnson, “I have never caught my three day limit until today” I even hooked six steelhead and landed two fish for the day. Site fly fishing is a fun way to fish for steelhead. Oh and don’t forget to rub a little crawdad smelly jelly on the nymph. To view our steelhead fishing from the banks of the Clearwater River log onto wwww.montanaoutdoor.com