Captain’s Column: Trial and Error for King Salmon on the Clearwater River
By Kjel

Posted: June 14, 2012

When I put together a fishing trip and I want to catch fish, I usually try to stack the odds in my favor. The first question I ask is,  “Are the fish biting?”

Last week, I heard that the king salmon were biting in Idaho. Shore fisherman, boat anglers just about every report that I received was positive. So with that information in hand I asked Steve Hellegaard from Missoula, who I have nicknamed “Salmon Steve,” and Arlyn Lemer of Lolo, who has had success fishing for kings on the Clearwater River in Idaho, to go with me.

I also consulted Tom Steinbrenner of Missoula, who caught 16 salmon the week before, as well as by Bill Brown, who works at Bob Ward and Sons and has had success going after the big kings in Idaho.  I went one step further and lined up one of the best guides on the Clearwater River, Scott Willhamson who was raised in Missoula, to take us out for one of the days we were there.  Willhamson guides for The Guide Shop in Orofino.

On the afternoon we arrived in Orofino, we stopped in to get some input and eggs to use as bait from Willhamson. The decision was made to start fishing the North Fork that evening because the main river was blown out. We didn’t have a bump in three hours of fishing.

The next day we started in the North Fork at 5:00 a.m., but didn’t see a fish caught for six hours. We decided to head up river to the town of Kooskia and launch the boat to fish an area by Clear Creek, where we heard fish were being caught.

No Luck again, so by 4:00 p.m. we needed to re-gas the boat and grab a bite to eat. We were back on the water by 5:00 p.m. and fished till 7:00 p.m. with no success. We did see a couple of fish boated, so we knew that there was salmon in the area.

The next day we headed out with Willhamson and Lemer’s rod went down in the first five minutes. It was a salmon. Now I thought to myself, “We are fishing!” But the next eight hours again didn’t produce even a bump.

We headed back to Missoula Friday night, then on Sunday I headed back to Idaho to try my luck with Steinbrenner.

We plan on fishing Sunday through Tuesday of this week. Since the deadline for this column was Monday, you can go to or listen this Friday to the Catchin’ the Big Ones radio show at 8am on KGVO 1290AM to hear the results of our trip.

The Montana Sportsman for Fish and Wildlife (MTSFW), an organization focused on maintaining abundant habitat, access and wildlife for hunters is having their 3rd annual BBQ/fundraiser this Saturday June 16th from 2-7 p.m. at the Lumberjack Saloon on Graves Creek Road. It is your chance to support MTSFW in a family atmosphere.

There will be raffles, auctions and games featuring many fine items including an Alaska fishing trip. For tickets call Paul Rossignol at 406-544-0420 email:

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