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Steelhead Fishing Season

Photo courtesy of Leo Larson

If you’re not a fishing widow like me, you might not be aware of the fact that it is steelhead fishing season. This usually starts around the first of the year.

This is when the fisher of the house feverishly checks the river flows and weather every hour of every day searching for just the right conditions, which happen to be on the tail end of a water spike (when the river is dropping) and the water is clearing. Of course, steelhead are not found in Montana, so your fish crazed family member has to head for the tributaries of the Salmon and the Clearwater rivers in Idaho to find them.

Steehlead are essentially giant rainbow trout. These trout are born in the rivers where they spend their first few years, then they head to the ocean for two to three years where they fatten up and get really big. They are unique in that they can adapt from fresh water to salt water and then back to fresh water again. After their stint in the ocean they feel the need to spawn, so they return to the exact river where they were born, which is where they can be caught.

Winter steelhead fishing is a mixture of frigid weather and usually long fishless days. In fact, a good day steelhead fishing is catching two fish in a matter of 10 hours (which makes one wonder if it is even worth it.) I’m told that once in a great while the snow lets up, the ice thaws from the guides on your pole, the stars align, your line goes tight and this time it’s not a rock or the bottom of the river, it’s the biggest trout you’ve ever caught in your life.

It is important to note that steelhead fishers are often territorial, waking at 3 or 4 in the morning to claim their fishing holes. Of course, I can’t tell you the exact location of these holes, because they are “secret” and if I told you I would have to kill you, or my husband would kill me for telling you, but I will share some of their funny names: the mailbox, the bale, the park and the drunken squirrel holes. I can tell you this, however, there is at least one tiny town in nowhere Idaho where my husband has spent many cold days and nights.

Joy Larson is a mother of four, graduate of The University of Montana, animal lover and writer.

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