Steelhead, 30 hour fishing trip

April 27, 2011

Fly Fishing Idaho, Steelhead


Great email send over by Jeff Donovan about his Steelhead trip last week, great write up.  Only a little bit left in the season and the Steelhead are still running so get out while you still can.


“A couple of you accepted the invitation to jump at the short notice opportunity to go steelhead fishing with me in Challis Idaho. Doug Gray of Midway and Lance Merrill of Farmington and myself made an adventurous 32 hour trip.We left Farmington Utah at 8pm on Thursday night (I was going to leave earlier but I cut my hand Wednesday night which required three stitches Thursday morning) and we arrived in Challis at 1am, got up at 6am, and we were on the water by 8:30am in our kick boats. (Thanks to Keith Facer for loaning his rods and kick boat for Lance to use).

We launched our kick boats and floated down the beautiful Salmon river. We nearly had the river to ourselves. The water is clear and the spring air was crisp and cool. The float is easy with rapids every couple hundreds yards and easier than the kinds of rapids on the Green River. We stopped every few hundred yards or on islands and searched for Steelhead. In case you don’t know what a steelhead is, it’s a rainbow trout that starts out in fresh water, then goes to and lives in the ocean for one to three years, and comes back to the fresh water to spawn. These particular steelhead travel approximately 950 miles from each way to and from the Pacific ocean. Amazing!

We struggled to find any steelhead for the first few hours (blame the guide) and finding the first group of fish only took place when I got separated down a different channel of the river from Doug and Lance. Fortunately, when I first spotted four Steelhead, I continued down the channel a hundred yards and no sooner did Doug and Lance appear from their channel and I called out to them. We hiked back up the channel together and I spotted two beauties on the other side of the river. I had Lance throw first and after giving it his best shot, and no takes, he let me cast a Skunk Green Butt fly and upon the third cast, a 26″ female took my fly and the fight was on. Lance helped me land the beauty and Doug snapped some nice photos.

Jon Carter of FM 103.5 had advised me to look for smaller creeks and islands…that proved to be great advise. While the main river had few fish we could see in our 8 mile journey, towards the end of the day, we found one creek that turned out to be magic. Within one hundred yards, I spotted a fish just below a big fallen tree. Doug casted only a couple times and fish ON!  It ran up and down and under a large branch and Doug and we chased it…unfortunately, when I tried to net it in the midst of tree limbs where it knew safety, it got the better of us. We proceeded up the stream and Lance was up and within a few minutes, landed a beautiful fish. Then Doug repeated the same and landed a beauty. We continued to find more and more fish. Then it began to snow and as we pounded the fish, the snow pounded us. After a couple hours of catching and snow, we returned to our kick boats and once again headed towards the end of our day. We were pleased that our day had ended with several fish for each of us and an incredible float with beautiful scenery including bald eagles.

As we floated down the river, the weather improved, and Lance and Doug were ahead of me, I spotted two very large Steelhead along the edge of the river below a bank of small trees. I couldn’t resist and pulled over a couple hundred feet below even though I knew my buddies were too far down the river to help me land a fish and take pictures. I hiked upstream slowly and when I spotted the two large fish, I was about fifty feet away. I snuck up to about thirty feet from them, at about a sixty degree angle from them. I first threw the skunk pattern at them and no success. I changed to an orange egg…nothing. We had caught all of our fish on these two but neither was working. I tied on a couple more egg patterns and nothing worked. Besides not working, I had to cast below overhanging branches and get the drift just right or the flies/eggs would move away from them. Then I tried a black/red/crystal flash minnow with an eye and on my first cast, the female moved away and the male took the fly and I set, only to miss and set too early….I was so bummed but also excited that the fish had taken the fly. Three casts later, he took it again and this time i got a real good take and set. He shot forward straight up the river about 30 yards, then turned and went downstream, then back up, and down, you get the point…and when he wore out and I tried to net him (five different time), he was twice the size of my net and I could not get him to fit in my large net. See the attached picture and you’ll understand why. Finally, I resorted to reaching down with my left hand and grabbing it by and slightly forward of the tail. I lifted it with exhilaration and showed it off the world. There was another angler standing in the middle of the river about 100 feet from me. He was very excited for me and congratulated me. I asked him to wade over and take pictures of me as I feared Doug and Lance would never believe me and to boot, we had a first fish and big fish $ contest and I knew without pictures, they wouldn’t pay up.

This other angler waded through some very fast moving water and up to his waist to help me, to which I am very grateful. He introduced himself as Zac and he said he is a professional guide and ties flies and guides on the Salmon river, other rivers, and Alaska. He also ties flies and will tie any fly you want especially steelhead flies. You can reach Zac for guide services and flies at Zac took pictures of me holding my trophy steelhead. He measured it at 34 inches and around 15 pounds. He showed me his steelhead flies and they are a sight to see. He shared with me that though we couldn’t see them, there were dozens of other “hot” steelhead in the riffle we were below or near. I thanked him for his helping me and with great gratitude for his help and for landing such a big fish, I headed down the river to catch up with Doug and Lance. I had taken so long that Doug and Lance were in their truck and looking for me. I spotted them and they saw me and we loaded up and drove home. Even though we had a great time fishing and we each caught the biggest trout of our lives, the best part of our trip was the drive up and back, and sharing stories and life’s experiences and building a bond that will last a lifetime. We arrived at my house at 2:30 am Friday morning (thanks to lots of coke and no doz and Doug’s drinking his monster drink) and stories that kept us at the edge of our seat. Many thanks to Doug for driving and taking his truck.



, , , ,

3 Responses to “Steelhead, 30 hour fishing trip”

  1. Tim Says:

    Nice article and pics Jeff. Looks like you had a great trip. I just joined your blog. We were up there a few weekends ago. Caught some nice fish as well. Nothing like steelhead on a flyrod! Thanks, Tim


  2. Paddy Says:

    next year go earlier in the season. the fish are hotter, prettier, and you won’t have to rake them off the gravel. Glad you had fun! :-)



  1. Steelhead with Dec Hogan | Fly Fishing Frenzy - December 9, 2011

    […] don’t know who he is, you might want to look him up. You will find one of the best books on Steelhead fishing there is! What I love most about this guy is his enthusiasm for Steelheading. He recently has moved […]

Leave a Reply