My first dance with ocean-run rainbow: a chase through rocks, wet clothes and success

Fishing columnist Jordan Rodriguez’s first steelhead adventure included two beautiful fish and an unexpected dip in the Salmon River.
Fishing columnist Jordan Rodriguez’s first steelhead adventure included two beautiful fish and an unexpected dip in the Salmon River. Courtesy of Jordan Rodriguez

I have a confession to make — prior to this year, I had never caught a steelhead.

Every fall, my buddy Wade invites me to fish his family’s secret spot on the Salmon River. But every year, scheduling conflicts interfere.

Lucky for me, Wade is a good friend. He kept asking, and this year, I finally joined the party.

It would be a weekend of firsts. In addition to fishing unknown waters for a species I’d never tangled with, I got an introduction to using a side planer. These nifty plastic rudders allow anglers to “troll” from shore by keeping a crankbait wiggling in the current. After a sketchy drive up a mountain road and a long hike into the backcountry, our party of five set up eight side planers, each trailed by a wobbly crankbait.

With our tackle in place, we jammed each rod into a makeshift rock tower and began the waiting game.

It didn’t last long. Within 15 minutes, one of Wade’s rods started screaming. I was right on his heels as he took off downstream and wrestled a two-foot steelhead to the bank. The beautiful, wild fish was an encouraging sign — we were on the board early.

We had barely returned Wade’s side planer to the fleet when my rod went off. I grabbed it and worked a hard-charging fish to the bank, avoiding a nasty pile of rocks on the way to landing my first steelhead — another two-foot beauty.

Unfortunately, this fish was camera shy. As I lifted her up for a photo, she wriggled out of my grasp. I didn’t mind — the thrill of my first ocean-run rainbow had me grinning from ear to ear.

The action stayed hot for another hour. Wade landed a second fish, I lost one on the aforementioned rock pile, and our group had a couple more near misses. But when the sun climbed over the canyon wall, the fish disappeared. Hours went by without a bite as we passed the time with snacks, stories and the beauty of a warm October afternoon.

Emboldened by the lessons I’d learned, I decided to venture out on my own. I hiked upstream, set up two side planers in a promising spot and kicked back to admire the serene wilderness around me.

WHAM! The peaceful scene was shattered by a steelhead erupting from the river. As I gave chase downstream, I slipped on some rocks and tumbled into the water, somehow managing to hang onto the rod and toss my phone up on the beach. The fish stayed on and fought hard — by the time I landed him, I was almost back to the rest of the group.

As my companions approached, I triumphantly lifted 26 inches of steel out of the water, earning a round of applause for my catch and a round of ribbing for my soaking-wet clothes.

“Well, I guess this means you get to come back next year,” Wade’s dad, Dale, said with a laugh.

My first steelhead trip was in the books, but it definitely won’t be my last — I can’t wait to see what adventures this elusive, majestic species has in store.

Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at