Steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River in Idaho is very popular for anglers all over the Northwest, including western Montana.

From Missoula, the winding highway to Orofino, Idaho, seems longer than it really is, especially during the winter months. Last week, Jim Johnson of Lincoln and I made the trip to try our luck.

Water level and flow on the Clearwater River is critical to having a successful fishing trip.

Last week, the conditions on the South Fork of the Clearwater River were blown out and high. It was unfishable. The two-mile stretch of the North Fork of the Clearwater River that runs from Dworshak Dam to the South Fork was running a little high at about 10,000 cubic feet per second, but after Johnson, who has fly-fished for steelhead on that stretch of the river before, checked out several areas he made the determination that we should give it a try the next morning.

It was the right choice.

"See those steelhead on the redd?" said Johnson, pointing to a spawning redd were about 20 feet past the bank where we stood. "Those fish are spawning and we will try to get them to take a fly as we roll it past their nose."

The next morning we hit the river at sunrise.

Johnson started to roll cast his 9-weight fly rod and line out toward the fish while wading in water just below his waist. Attached to his floating fly line was an 11-foot setup equipped with two black and red nymph flies that Johnson had tied himself. The leader started off with the three feet of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon fishing line, with a 1 1/2-inch-diameter bubble bobber. Johnson then tied a No. 7 swivel onto that line with three feet of 15-pound test. He then spliced a foot of 15-pound test to that leader and at the end of that line tied the first of his two flies, a No. 4 nymph. He then tied a foot of 15-pound test to that fly and spliced another foot of 15-pound test to that line and tied his other No. 4 nymph to it. Ahead of each of the two splices he placed three No. 7 split shot.

The purpose of the splices was to stop the split shot from moving down the line. The swivel is important because it enables the line to roll on the rocks.

Ideal CFS for this method of fishing is 4,000 to 5,000 on the North Fork. The flow on the North Fork is determined by how much water they are letting out of the dam.

It ended up being one of the most successful days that Johnson has had steelhead fishing.

"I hooked 14 fish and landed four and

released one," added Johnson, "I have never caught my three-day limit until today."

I even hooked six steelhead and landed two fish for the day. Site fly-fishing is a fun way to fish for steelhead. Oh, and don't forget to rub a little crawdad smelly jelly on the nymph. To view our steelhead fishing from the banks of the Clearwater River, visit

Mark Ward's statewide Montana Outdoor Radio Show airs Saturday's from 6 to 8 a.m. in Missoula on KGVO 1290 AM. E-mail Ward at


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