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Premier steelhead fishing, Idaho style

Jeff Goodwin author photo, myoutdoorbuddy.com

By Jeff Goodwin
01/17/16 -- With winter time in Shasta County being the slowest time of the year for fishing local waters, I have found myself looking for fishing opportunities in other states that experience some of their best fishing of the year during this time, especially for steelhead. We do have some great fishing in California during the winter, but drought and El Nino can make scheduling a trip a big gamble. I still love California steelhead, but for the past two years, I have been traveling north for a 2 day steelhead fishing trip up in Orofino, Idaho. Each of the last two years, I have booked two days of fishing on the Clearwater River with Toby Wyatt of Reel Time Fishing. He is a premier guide in the region and is a great guy to spend a day in the boat with. He has been guiding the Clearwater for 25 years and he makes a great shore lunch for his clients which is something you won't find very often when booking guided fishing trips. He also fishes his clients a full day, which means you will fish from dusk to dawn. When traveling long distances for a fishing trip, you want to get the most out of your time once you get there and Toby definitely delivers.

Jeff Goodwin with great Clearwater steelhead, photo courtesy of Jeff Goodwin
The author with a great Clearwater steelhead caught with Reel Time Fishing guide, Toby Wyatt. Photos submitted by the author.

The Clearwater River is a tributary to the Snake River and has the largest steelhead hatchery in the world located upstream along its banks in Orofino. Dworshak is a National fish hatchery and produces around 2 million steelhead smolt for release annually. There is also a Nez Perz tribal fish hatchery and an Idaho state fish hatchery which contribute steelhead to the system as well. This year, there were over 130,000 steelhead that passed through the Lower Granite Dam which is located on the Snake River. A lot of these steelhead are headed for the Clearwater. I have always enjoyed fishing for steelhead, and have made it a priority of mine to find new places to enjoy some of the finest fishing available in the United States. For any of you readers out there who like to fish for steelhead, the Clearwater River is definitely a top destination in my opinion. With return numbers like these, you can certainly see why.

Clearwater Steelhead in the net prior to release, photo courtesy of Jeff Goodwin
Picture of a wild Clearwater steelhead in the net prior to release.

My trips start with a 12 1/2 hour drive north to Idaho, but taking highway 97 up through Bend Oregon is a beautiful drive. Its certainly a long drive, but taking up a car load of good friends or family usually makes the trip much better. Upon arriving in Idaho, I have found the accommodations at the Rivers Edge Best Western in Orofino to be nothing short of stellar, but Toby owns a Lodge in nearby Lenore (lenorelodge.com) that is definitely worth checking out as well. Both destinations are located close to the boat launches you will meet your guide at on the mornings you fish.

Many techniques are used on the Clearwater to catch steelhead, but side drifting baits seems to be the most popular technique for the guides that fish the river. Toby would run us up to the top of a drift in his custom built jet boat and he would tell us which side of the boat to cast into holding water. He knows where the steelhead are located after many years of catching fish and gives great direction, which helped us catch a lot of fish. With the bow of the boat facing upstream, he would back the boat down with the current keeping our lines off the side of the boat and just upstream.

Chuck Steen holding a steelhead, photo courtesy of Jeff Goodwin
Chuck Steen of Palo Cedro, Ca. holding a wild 18 lb. Clearwater steelhead he caught while side drifting a yarn ball with Reel Time Fishing.

We primarily cast cured eggs with yarnies, or a #10 pegged corky rig using a 9' North Fork Composite spin rod. Colors including pink, white, orange, and red seemed to do the trick in the low, clear water conditions. We had a group of six guys on this trip, which kept Toby on his toes for sure. He has a very watchful eye, and more times than not, Toby was yelling, "fish! fish!" before the guys even knew they were getting bit. This year presented some tough conditions on the river due to the low, clear water, but with Toby's knowledge of the river, we were still able to hook 23 steelhead in two days, making for another memorable steelhead fishing experience. For many of the guys in the group, this was their first real steelhead fishing experience, so I'm sure we missed many more bites which would have boosted our numbers for sure. It was another great trip and a lot of fun was had by all!

Like I mentioned earlier, I would consider this to be one of the best choices for a great steelhead fishing trip, especially for larger groups of anglers, anywhere in the west. I have fished for steelhead in Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho and consider the Clearwater a top steelhead fishing destination. The steelhead season runs from October through March, and this year has a three hatchery steelhead per day angler retention limit. I'm already looking forward to the 3rd annual Clearwater trip next year! If you are interested in fishing the Clearwater River for steelhead, I would recommend booking your trip with Toby Wyatt at reeltimefishing.com, or he can be reached at (208) 790-2128.

Jeff Goodwin is a full time Northern California fishing guide. He guides year round for salmon, trout, steelhead, Kokanee, and bass on Northern California rivers and lakes. He fishes primarily on the Sacramento River, but also spends many days of the year fishing on The Klamath/Trinity River systems. Jeff also guides on local lakes during certain periods of the year. To learn more about the fishing trips Jeff offers, please visit Facebook, Instagram, jeffgoodwinfishing.com, or feel free to call him at (707) 616-1905.


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