As the late winter/early spring trout season draws to a close, Rainbows are feeding ravenously as they prepare for their annual spawning cycle. But as the freestone trout approach the end of their season, the Steelhead run on the Salmon River is just getting going. So, whether you prefer casting light tippet and miniscule dries for aggressively feeding trout or dredging the riverbed with leeches and egg patterns for the Rainbow’s larger cousin, the time is right to wet your line and enjoy the beauty of the Northern Rockies in March.
The Big Wood, Big Lost and South Fork of the Boise are all fishing well, especially on warmer days. Midges remain the big story on our local freestones and tail waters, but you may also see a few black stoneflies and Baetis flittering around. The midges are best imitated on the surface with a variety of midge adults and emergers (size 18-22). Griffith’s Gnats are always a good selection but any small black and white dry will work well. Try any number of snowfly patterns and if you find yourself short on imitations, throw your favorite Trico pattern and watch the fish take your fly! Subsurface, fish will be feeding actively both before and after the bulk of the midges make their daily appearance on the water. Successful fishermen are using a variety of midge pupae patterns (size 18-22) in red, black and gray as well as brassies in red and copper and zebra midges in black and brown. Dropped off a mayfly nymph like a prince nymph or flashback pheasant tail (size 12-18), the midge/mayfly combo can be deadly this time of year. Trout are feeding with abandon from late morning into late afternoon when the weather is consistent and the barometer steady. With variable weather forecasted for the upcoming week, you’ll have better luck if you check the weather report and plan to hit the river on sunnier, high pressure days. However, with limited time left for winter fishing, a dropping barometer is not always reason enough to stay home – trout season closes at dark on March 31st and there’s not a moment to lose!
The annual run of Idaho steelhead is nearing the headwaters of the Salmon River and hook rates are steadily rising all the way up to Stanley. The majority of fish are still between Challis and Salmon, but some early runners are already knocking on the door of the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery. Currently, the bulk of hookups are a result of blind fishing runs and deep pools, but soon most of the fish will begin to stage in shallower water as they prepare to spawn. As the Steelhead move towards shallower waters, there will be more opportunities for sight fishing.
There are many ways to fish for Steelhead, but one of the better techniques is to dead-drift flies along the bottom of the riverbed and then let the fly swing across the river as the current straightens out the line. Egg-sucking leeches, egg imitations, string leech patterns and mayfly or stonefly nymphs are all good choices for fooling Steelhead. Almost every color of the rainbow can initiate a strike from these river runners, but pink, purple, black, peach, cream and white are certainly good choices for leech imitations. Dropping an egg pattern off of a leech or large nymph is also a good approach and doubles your opportunity when blind fishing. When evaluating water to be fished, look for the tail out of faster runs and expect fish to hold where the current subsides and they can rest before continuing their ascent. Work your way downstream using the abovementioned technique of dead drifting and swinging and with a little persistence that strike indicator will eventually dive toward the bottom and the adrenaline rush will surely follow!