Chasing Steelhead in Idaho

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to be able to join Jeff, Ty Elliot, and my Dad for a mans weekend in the panhandle of Idaho chasing steelhead – ocean run rainbow trout. It is a trip that Jeff does each year, but it was the first time for my dad and I.

I drove to meet them in Kamiah, ID where we would be fishing the South Fork of the Clearwater River near Stites, ID. I arrived in Kamiah literally 1 minute before the rest if the group rolled up, and we ran down to the bar to have some food and a few pitchers of beer with Kamiah’s finest. Think deer mounts on the walls, chew spit on the floor, and karaoke blasting 80s butt rock – this should set the scene.

A steelhead morning comes early. Especially a Jeff Weedin steelhead morning. We were up and at it by 415am, and at the rivers edge by 6am. We got a good fire going, and Ty fired up some camp coffee as we waited for sunrise.

Jeff caught his first massive steely just after sun up, and there was no doubt the rest of us were going to slay ’em the rest of the weekend. Boy was I wrong!

Jeff and Ty (both former guides) explained that he steelhead were moving up river, stopping in deep pools to wait, and make beds for spawning. The only way to catch one was to bump the egg right in their face, where they simply eat the egg out of frustration. Not exactly what I wanted to hear, as I had been thinking the trout would be eagerly feeding much like a hungry trout hunting for caddis in Montana. Not so fast my friend.

Jeff hooked up with a second monster, and Ty followed by hammering a couple of his own. My dad and I fished our asses off to no avail. The whole time we fished, many locals came out of the woods (literally) and heckled us a bit, as they fished with good ol fashion bobbers and we had fancy-schmantzy fly rods.

The ability to overhear these hillbilly/redneck (and I use those terms in the nicest way possible) conversations was something to behold. Discussing potential prison time, and parole hearings seemed to be top of mind for some (one in particular who we nicknamed “flannel”).

After two days of skunked fishing for my dad and I, and two nights of heavy consumption, I was determined, with a foggy head, to land one of these bastards. On day three we relocated to a new stretch of river bright and early, and were greeted not only by the beautiful Idaho sunrise, but also a woodtick hillbilly waking from his trailer yelling to his buddies that “the fly fisherman were already fu*kin’ up the hole early!” All I could think, as I was so determined to catch a fish was, “you’re damn right buddy, I hope I mess up this hole with all the fish I catch today”.

By mid morning we were still on the schnide. When all of a sudden I heard my dad grunt like a wadered-ape. He had hooked a steelhead earlier that morning, but in his haste to land it he broke off. Thinking he had blown his one shot, he sank into a quiet monk like state. But this time he was hooked good. The minter thrashed through the hole, and he gradually reeled him towards the shore to land. And sure enough he landed one of the biggest fish of the weekend!

I fished and fished and fished, and finally I had to accept the fact that it just wasn’t in the cards for me that weekend. Disappointed, I said my goodbyes and made the lonely trip back to bend, with no fish pics to show. I was a failure as a man, but I came back with great stories of one of the funniest boys weekends I have had in a really long time. Great stories, lots of beers, early mornings, and some of the prettiest fish around!

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