Checklist for Salmon River Steelhead Fishing

Steelhead Fishing Checklist

This steelhead fishing checklist will help you to ensure you have what you need on your guided fishing trip. It is the basic gear you should bring on your fishing day regardless of whether you have your own fishing gear or not.

  • Rain jacket
  • Good fleece jacket
  • Heavy coat
  • Stocking cap or hat
  • Fingerless gloves, avoid fleece. Neoprene, wool or synthetic works well
  • Waders, or at the very least waterproof above ankle boots – no tennies or loafers
  • Leader clipper (fly fishermen)
  • Pliers to remove barbs from hooks
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun lotion
  • SPF rated lip balm
  • Cash for guide gratuity


Miscellaneous – Steelhead Fishing Checklist

  • Hand and foot warmers
  • Camera with a waterproof bag or box
  • Small set of binoculars
  • Hook hone

Steelhead Fishing on the Salmon River

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Basic Gear and Advice for Steelhead Fly Fishermen

Steelhead Fly Fishing Advice

Read on to find steelhead fly fishing advice and suggestions on gear that every fisherman should have for a day of guided steelhead fishing regardless of whether you have your own equipment or not.

Fly Casting Clinics – Steelhead Fly Fishing Advice

Most guides I know hate to burn up good fishing time trying to teach someone the rudiments of fly casting – we can do it but would much rather see you doing battle with a big ol’ fish! Folks, if you’re not already comfortable with a fly rod, please take advantage of fly-casting clinics (many are free) offered by fishing clubs and/or fly shops. If that’s not an option where you live, pick up one of the many good fly-casting videos available and spend some time getting tuned up – it’ll be well worth it!

Waders – Steelhead Fly Fishing Advice

Few things take the enthusiasm out of a guide quicker than to have clients that have no clue how to use a fly rod and show up in tennis shoes or loafers – you know it’s going to be a long frustrating day! Man, at least wear some water proof pacs, knee-highs, or hip boots! Better still, bring waders.

Your choices are neoprene or breathable, boot foot (the boot is part of the wader) or separate boot, and either waist or chest high. I have no business wading in to my arm pits so wear waist highs. I also find them more comfortable – especially when nature calls! The water can be very cold during late fall and early spring fishing and most folks find neoprene boot-foot waders most comfortable.

Neoprene chest waders (especially, 5-mm) are awfully nice in cold water and weather but they can be almost unbearably warm for balmy days in the late spring and early fall. Breathable chest waders are light and comfortable, especially if you have room for additional insulation under them during cooler water and weather conditions.

Felt Soles – Steelhead Fly Fishing Advice

Some of the slickest rocks on the planet live in the Salmon River so whatever kind of chest waders you bring, they should have felt soles…at least for now! Rumor has it that many states – including Idaho – may outlaw felt soles to try and stem the spread of noxious weeds and critters. Cleats or studs work well but don’t use them if you plan on spending any time in a boat – they really chew up boat floors! Most of the wading boot companies are hyping their respective alternatives to felt. The ones I’ve tried are better than racing slicks but not by much! The most innovative boot I’ve seen is made by Korkers. In less than about 30 seconds you can switch soles from felt to studs or to their felt alternative sole.

Clothing – Steelhead Fly Fishing Advice

Salmon weather – especially in the spring – can change in an instant. You may have dead calm one moment and howling winds the next. You can be chilled to the bone and then have to start shedding clothes. It can be dry and sunny and change to pouring rain or wet snow. Much of the time, a raincoat and good fleece jacket (especially the new “wind block” types) will keep you comfortable. A heavy coat and stocking cap would also be good to have along in case the weather really turns brutal. Fingerless gloves can save the day if it turns cold, wet, and windy. Neoprene and either wool or synthetic gloves – especially if they have a Gortex liner – will work fine.

Handy Odds ‘n’ Ends – Steelhead Fly Fishing Advice

Hook hone – as they say, “don’t leave home without it!” Want to miss or lose fish? Use dull hooks!

Split shot – carry a small selection of removable shot from BB’s to around #5 to make sure you’re getting down to the fish. I think a lot of fly rodders “assume” they’re getting deep enough when they really aren’t.

Leader clipper – save your teeth, use a clipper!

Pliers of some sort – want to ruin a nice day of fishing? Get a ticket for using barbed hooks!

Hand and foot warmers – those small heat packets you tear open can save the day. Few things are worse than frozen hands or feet. I put a hand warmer in each pocket and toe warmer in each boot during cold weather.

Surgical gloves – great way to waterproof and windproof your hands. I wear them under fingerless wool or neoprene gloves.

Miscellaneous – Steelhead Fly Fishing Advice

Don’t forget sunglasses! A bright sunny day, snow background, and no sunglasses can give you a searing headache like no other! The Salmon has enough color that you can’t sight fish most of the season, so there’s not much advantage to polarized lenses. When fish are staging for, or exploring potential spawning grounds in early April, however, they can be very helpful.

If you are the least bit sun-sensitive, be sure to throw in some sun lotion and a SPF rated lip balm of some sort.

Bring a camera if you want to record your memories. A waterproof bag or box for the camera is a good idea, particularly one you can access fairly quickly.

A small set of binoculars are also nice to have to take a close look at the otters, deer, mink, bald eagles, etc. commonly seen along the river.

Steelhead Fishing on the Salmon River

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Steelhead: A-run or B-run?

Is This Idaho Steelhead A-Run or B-Run?

Steelhead A-run or B-run – can you tell? Idaho’s steelhead are classified into two groups, A-run and B-run, based on their size and ocean life history.

Steelhead are actually rainbow trout that are anadromous fish, meaning they migrate to the ocean and return to fresh water similar to a salmon. Idaho’s A-run steelhead are most commonly found in the Snake and Salmon rivers. Their return from the ocean usually starts between June and August and most often they return after spending one year in the ocean. Due to their early return and length of stay in the ocean, they weigh 4 to 9 pounds and are generally 23 to 28 inches long. Salmon River steelhead average 7 pounds and 27 inches.

The B-run steelhead are more commonly found in the Clearwater River, but some return to tributaries in the Salmon River. These fish usually spend two years in the ocean, and begin their migration to their spawning grounds later in the summer or fall of the year – usually late August or September. Due to the extra year and summer of growing in the ocean, they return as much bigger fish.

B-run steelhead average between 10 and 13 pounds and are 31 to 34 inches long. A steelhead can grow very large if it spends a third year in the ocean before it returns to Idaho to spawn. These steelhead are on average larger than 37 inches and can weigh more than 20 pounds. The Idaho state record steelhead weighed 30 pounds and was caught in 1973 in the Clearwater River.

Steelhead Fishing on the Salmon River
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