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Idaho's Salmon river  "The River of No Return"
Anglers flock to the Salmon River
By Kelton Hatch 

NORTH FORK — Sparkling water dotted with drift boats and wading anglers is what residents in the small towns from Salmon to Riggins have seen for the past three months along the Salmon River.

Anglers, thousands of anglers from around the country have come to Idaho in pursuit of the steelhead. The Department of Fish and Game estimated 44,000 anglers have caught around 43,400 fish, since one of the biggest steelhead runs in history hit the borders of Idaho this fall.

“Somewhere around 230,000 come over this spring,” said Dick Scully, Fish and Game regional fisheries biologist. “This is the most fish we have had over Bonneville Dam since they started keeping records in 1938.

“This is a great year to catch a fish,” he continued. “People will continue to fish until the slush ice starts pushing them off the water.”

Kent Sawyer of Pocatello, who has been chasing steelhead since 1960, is loving this year’s fishing. He pulled out 20 fish on his second fishing trip.

“This is
Tom Keegan, of Salmon, gets his photo taken with his first steelhead by his wife Beth Waterbury.Journal photos by Kelton Hatch

much better than any year I can remember,” said Sawyer. “I was up here twice in October and I had to come back because I couldn’t leave it alone. The fishing was too good. It’s the best I have ever seen. As long as the weather holds, I’m coming back again.”

Sawyer generally takes the trip alone and hooks up with friends from Pocatello on the river.

“I don’t know who will be down there, but there is always one of my friends from Pocatello,” he continued.

On Sawyer’s first trip in October he was skunked, but on his return trip a week later he landed a bunch.

“I caught around
Ray Reynolds of Salmon caught this giant steelhead. It weighted 14 1/2 pounds and measured 34 1/2 inches long.

20,” he says. “I don’t keep them, though. When you’re up here for seven or eight days you can’t keep them fresh. If I catch one this time closer to the end of my trip I might just keep one.”

Other avid anglers from the around the country have headed to North Fork in search of steelhead.

“This has been a really busy fishing season,” says Ken Hill, owner of the North Fork store and cafe. “I haven’t ever seen it like this and I’ve been here for 26 years. We are getting people from all over, a lot from Pocatello and Idaho Falls areas and quite a few from Utah and Washington.”

“This year has been fabulous,” says Butch Bradshaw, an employee at the North Fork Store. “There’s a lot of fish out there and there’s a lot of people coming to catch them.

“If you can’t catch a fish this year there’s something wrong with you,” he continued.

Fishing should continue to be good in the area for the next few weeks or until cold weather moves in and freezes the river.

“You just have to come up and take your chances,” says Sawyer. “It’s fishing. You have good days and bad days and you can have someone next to you catch a bunch of fish and you might not catch one. But it’s still a lot of fun.”

The steelhead season will continue to be open until the end of April. Next spring is expected to continue to be good with the same batch of fish in the river moving up to their spawning areas.

“About 80 percent of the fish are hatchery fish,” says Scully. “After the ice leaves the fishing will be dynamite in the spring as they start funneling upriver into the hatcheries near Challis and Stanley.”


Fishing gear

For first timers on the water, here are a few ideas on gear to use on steelhead:

Spin fishing

Use a heavy pole with around 10-pound test line. Steelhead will weigh five to 15 pounds.

With the water cooling, it is recommended that anglers fish with a corky, with a piece of bait. Bait could include night crawlers, a piece of uncooked shrimp or salmon eggs.

Fishermen could also try a bright-colored weighted jig with a feather tail in any bright color. To fish with this, anglers need a pencil bobber and a bobber stop. Try to get an estimated depth on the water and place the bobber stop on the line so the jig will be just off the bottom of the river.

The bobber stop allows the bobber to slide down the line to the jig when the angler is reeling in a fish or casting. When the line is cast, back the bobber slides up the line to the bobber stop and suspend the jig just a few inches from the bottom, where the fish lie as the temperature of the water goes down.

Fly fishing

It is recommended that fly fishermen use weighted streamer patterns in bright colors. Patterns like the green butt skunk or polar shrimp are popular.

They should cast it on a sink tip or sinking head fly line with plenty of backing. The sinking lines will help get the bug down closer to the fish.

Fly rods should be in the six to 10 weight range and around nine feet.



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