Fish Rap by Roger Phillips: Early season steelhead is slow, but so good

rphillips@idahostatesman.comSeptember 12, 2013 

If you're like me, your steelhead fishing memories often include cold feet, bitter wind and layers of clothes.

That's because steelhead usually arrive in big numbers midway through fall when the weather turns cold.

Early season fishing is a different experience. It's relaxing, and even if you don't catch fish, you still catch perfect September weather.

Since June 1, about 7,000 steelhead have crossed Lower Granite Dam.

Most are probably headed into the cool waters of lower Clearwater, so that's also your best option for fishing.

It's catch-and-release fishing until Oct. 15 unless you fish below Memorial Bridge.

The Clearwater is cooler than the Snake or the Salmon because much of its water is coming from the cool depths of Dworshak Reservoir, so even fish headed toward Hells Canyon or the Salmon are likely to pause there before continuing their migration.

Early season fishing tends to be slow because a fraction of the run has arrived. But the fish are fresh from the Pacific, and chances are good one will put on a tail-walking fight worthy of a tarpon.

Whether you're swinging a fly, pulling a plug, or bouncing bait, you can catch a steelhead, and that's exciting even if the odds aren't solidly in your favor.

Water temperature in the Salmon and Snake rivers is around 70 degrees, which is too warm for steelhead.

Rivers will gradually cool in the weeks ahead and fishing will improve, but we've been waiting since spring, and the lure of the new season is hard to resist.

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