As of today, March 31st at sundown, trout fishing in the Wood River Valley is closed; however, with the close of trout fishing season comes another spectacular fly-fishing option – steelheading! The annual run of Salmon River Steelhead is in full swing and by all accounts it is one of the most exciting runs to date. Driving north from Sun Valley to Stanley is an enticing excursion and many fishermen are finding success chasing one of nature’s finest fish.
As of March 29th, there were 750 returning steelhead recorded at the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery. On many years our current count might equal 20%-40% of the total return of these anadromous fish. This year, the expected totals could reach as high as nine or ten thousand fish, the largest run in recent history. Our current counts are only the tip of the iceberg, providing first-time steelheaders with the opportunity to hook into their first Sawtooth Steelie or for more experienced anglers to chase their addiction to metalheading.
The bulk of the run has now moved upriver from Salmon and extends from Ellis to Stanley. Many fish are being caught downstream of Challis but a respectable number are being caught in the shadow of the Sawtooth Mountains downriver from Stanley. The vast majority of fish being landed are A-run steelhead. These river runners are returning this spring after having spent one year in the Pacific Ocean before returning to their native spawning grounds. The A-run fish â€“ as well as the approaching B-run fish will have traveled 960 river miles and ascended 7000 vertical feet to reach their final destination. A-runs will occasionally reach 30 inches while B-run steelhead, having remained in the ocean for 2-4 years before migrating back to Idaho, can grow in excess of 40 inches. Regardless of length or weight, all steelhead returning to Idaho are magnificent creatures and sought after trophies.
Most anglers who fish for Steelhead on the Salmon River are bait fishermen and use roe sacks, egg patterns, shrimp or jigs and spoons. This technique is very effective because it relies on the steelhead’s remarkable sense of smell and dependency on habitual feeding. Fly fishermen, on the other hand, tend to find success with plastic or gel egg imitations, egg sucking leeches, string leeches, mayfly and stonefly nymphs and other attractor patterns. Leech colorations in purple, black, chartreuse, cream, pink, peach and white are the most effective in the water. Egg patterns and egg cluster imitations in red, orange, peach, and green can result in good hook ups. Many fishermen will drop egg patterns off of leeches, other egg imitations or nymphs. As for technique, dead drifting with the current before letting the river swing your fly below you is an effective way of presenting flies to steelhead in the deeper runs and pockets. As of last weekend, some fish have begun to dig their spawning beds allowing for sight fishing in the shallow, gravel bars and runs. While wading, look for light colored divots indicating the spawning beds, but avoid wading through them so as not to disturb the egg-laden nests. Whether blind fishing or sight fishing, chasing the Rocky Mountain Steelhead is a grand endeavor, and with the closing of trout season, is the perfect way to spend your day.