Thursday, December 4, 2014

Steelhead on the Boise

It had been several years since I had fished for steelhead on the Boise River. It was a tradition for my good buddy Camron and I to target them Thanksgiving morning. However, Camron now lives in Rexburg and doesn't make it to Boise very often anymore. When I found out he was coming to town for Thanksgiving, I knew we would have to keep the tradition going. Only this year, we would fish for them the day before, and, Thanksgiving day.

I had to work at the fly shop on Wednesday, so I only had a few hours in the morning. We pulled into the empty parking lot and began to rig our fly rods. Only a faint glow from the rising sun could be seen. We were especially lucky this year with the weather; 45 degrees and sunny. One year, it snowed the entire morning.
With headlamps, we made our way down to the river and began to fish. I was using an olive bead-head leech trailed with a large prince nymph. Camron was using an egg sucking leech trailed by an egg. Both of these setups have been Boise River producers. 

I crossed the river and began swinging my flies through an underwater trench that might hold a steelhead. I heard that they planted the last batch of steelhead the day before. There just had to be some underneath this bubble line, I thought, as I swung my flies through with intense focus.

Movement caught my eye and I looked up to see a beaver swimming towards me. He swam within 10 yards of me before slapping his tail and disappearing into the murky water. The beaver was clearly telling us to leave his home.

The morning progressed like any other steelhead trip and I started to wonder if there were any fish in here. There were now about 10 people fishing and nobody had even hooked a fish. I continued to fish with blind faith that the elusive steelhead was indeed in there.

A few gear guys packed up and left for another spot, giving us the entire gravel bar. I crossed back over to the side Camron was fishing. I began to visit with Camron as he fished. It was nearing my time to leave for work so I considered just clipping my flies off and packing it up. That's when I saw it; in the bubble line where I had just been fishing all morning, a steelhead porpoised. 
"Cam, did you see that? Right where I was fishing. Stupid thing."
"Let's go get him! Put on one of those crystal meth flies you like so much." He replied.
"Oh, I suppose I have time." I said as I tied on an orange crystal meth egg pattern.

We waded back into position as another steelhead porpoised. We both looked at each other with big smiles. I could probably only squeeze another 10 minutes in. Could we make it happen? We both began casting to the opposite shore with intense focus. I could feel every sunken decomposing leaf that brushed my line. My line went tight and I set the hook. The rod bent back and I could feel the heavy weight of a steelhead. 
"Yes! I've got one." I said in excitement to Cam as he reeled in his line. 
The fish pulled hard and made a big run downstream. 

The fish thrashed about near the surface and took off for another run. Most of the steelhead I've caught on the Boise river haven't put up much of a fight. This one was impressing me! I didn't think she was very large until I brought her head near the surface. I realized our trout nets were a tad small for a fish this large. Camron waded out with his "dinky" net and scooped up the pig. 
"Dang dude! She's a beast!" Camron said, laughing, as half the fish hung over the edge of the net.
Sure enough, the fish took the crystal meth. I've probably caught 90% of my steelhead on that fly. Whether the fish really love it, or I just fish it more than any other pattern, I catch a lot of steelhead on the crystal meth.

I set the hen back into the river and she gave a powerful kick. The 29 inch fish disappeared into the stained water.
It was time for me to get to work, so I reeled up and left Camron to catch some more fish. I arrived at work a few minutes late. But when I showed them the photo, all was forgiven.
A couple hours later I received a photo from Camron...

He told me the fish measured 32 inches! His fish may not be the prettiest, but it was a beast! He also told me he hooked another but needed his buddy to net it; Trust me, I would have been there if I could!
Thanksgiving morning we found ourselves in the same place. This time I invited my good buddy, Pat Kilroy to join Camron and I. Pat pulled up, jumped out of his truck already wadered up and rod rigged. Within one minute we were walking down to the river. Now that's a serious steelhead angler!
We began to pound the water with optimism. Quite a few others must have had the same idea as us because there were probably 15 people fishing the spot this morning.
The morning progressed like the one before with not so much as a sign of a steelhead. I switched out a few flies thinking they might want something different than yesterday. We fished into the morning, and before we knew it, it was nearly 10 AM. I put a crystal meth back on and moved into the exact place where I caught the one the day before. A steelhead porpoised in front of me, then another downstream, and another upstream! Are they communicating? I chuckled in my head. It's amazing what seeing a steelhead can do to your focus. My optimism sky rocketed and I readied myself for a steelhead. I placed my cast and it landed a foot from the opposite bank directly across from me. I pointed my rod tip at the fly and waited for the soft strike of a large steelhead. Like magic, my line went tight and I set the hook. I felt the weight and pull of a very lost, sea run rainbow trout. The 9 and a half foot rod flexed deep into the cork. 
"YEP, there's one." I said quietly.
I'm not usually one to make a big scene out of hooking a fish. Partly because by doing so, I will surely jinx myself and the fish will shake free. Then I just look like an idiot who had snagged the bottom and confused it with a fish.
The steelhead made several attempts at long runs but failed to win against the 6 weight Helios 2. It pulled with all it's tired might and in a few minutes we had another steelhead crammed into a tiny trout net. I had considered bringing an actual steelhead net but once again superstition got the best of me and for fear of jinxing ourselves, we stuck with the trout nets.
This fish decided to eat the bead-head leech. We taped the fish out at 27 inches. I decided to take this one home and smoke it.   

Both Camron and Pat had family obligations to get to, and I didn't want to fish alone, so the 3 of us packed up and left. We may have gotten a few strange looks being the only ones to catch a fish and then just leave. We didn't care. The weather had been great the last couple of mornings and we connected with a few fish. Besides, how do you beat fly fishing for steelhead right here in town with such a beautiful setting; trees dressed in orange and yellow, ducks in full winter plumage, and the sound of geese echoing through the trees. What a wonderful place we live in!


  1. I'd never been to the fly shop though I want to go there.

  2. Here's a Fly fishing blog with similar articles about fly fishing for brown trout, carp, and other species.