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Steelhead Fishing on the Main Salmon River


The 455-cubic-inch Oldsmobile big block V8 was a little cold-blooded at 6 o'clock on a crisp November morning in Riggins. As it sputtered to life after some careful coaxing, the marriage of excitement and expectation began to take shape. We had a jet boat. We had every conceivable fishing setup known to man. We thought we had a little luck.

Turns out, luck was with our fellow fishermen, but we still had a hell of a good time.

Late fall is prime time for steelhead fishing on the Main Salmon. Hundreds of anglers line its banks hoping to catch a sea-run monster--to return home victorious. However, there is far more to the experience than just catching fish. Breathing that cool, clean Idaho air is perhaps the most valuable aspect of spending a weekend (or a week, for that matter) on the Main Salmon.

My group of four grade-school and college friends set up shop on Short's Bar, gateway to the Main Salmon Corridor. Having tackled a six-day Main Salmon rafting trip earlier this year (BW, Rec, "Mainstream: Answering the Call of the Main Salmon River," Aug. 7, 2013), my expectations were high. I had had a bountiful run at the Main's cutthroat and rainbow population in late June, so I naturally assumed that the steelhead would be equally willing.

They weren't--at least not for us.

You have to get in the water early if you want to stand half a chance of securing a good hole to fish. We were the fourth boat in after sun-up on this particular Saturday and, by lunch time, Short's Bar looked like the weekend taxi line at the Boise Airport. We dropped anchor upstream and tried myriad drop line and yarn configurations. I even tossed a plug off the back of the boat to see if an angry beast was looking for a colorful, wobbly fight. No such luck. We drift fished, we used shrimp, I even attempted to chuck a few spinners in the mix, but to no avail.

A wall tent was home for the weekend--a luxurious addition by most standards. The evening's revelry consisted of chowing down on hearty carne asada hobo dinners, playing cards and supping the ancient wine (Coors Original and Maker's Mark, that is) around a piping hot cast iron sheepherders stove. The stories told are not fit for print.

The spring run will hopefully yield better fishing results, and the experience off the water ought to be par for the course.