Clearwater River

The Clearwater River has its head waters in the Bitterroot and Clearwater mountain ranges. The river produces a run of summer steelhead that are the largest in the United States. Unfortunately these large steelhead that were once wild and prolific, now struggle as primarily hatchery reared fish. In addition to the loss of the wild giants, there is a popular catch and kill fishery on the river for the giant hatchery fish. Though despite these issues, the Clearwater is one of my favorite rivers ( my most favorite is only an hour from it) and for good reason.

I have fished the Clearwater several times. I first fished the Clearwater in 2001 in mid-September. I travelled out there with three friends from Milwaukee and we met another friend out there. On that trip we fished a few runs between Lewiston and Cherry lane. Over the following years I have been able to expand the range of water that I fish on the river. In fact on my last trip My friend BR and I fished nearly 30 different runs.

A great thing about the Clearwater is that it has both obvious runs, and runs that are hidden and must be discovered. There is currently no book or map of the river that gives a fly angler a yellow brick road to the steelhead, nor could there be. Experience is the key to success and difference between success (catching fish) and failure (not) is razor thin. Clearwater steelhead are hard to come by even for the true experts of the river system, but it is the difficulty of catching a fish that makes it so valuable. A fish in a week is all right.

Of course any trip to the Clearwater must include several stops at The Red Shed fly shop in Peck, ID less than a mile off the river between Lenore and Orofino. Poppy owns and runs the shop, which is a shop uniquely dedicated to Two handed/Spey fishing. Poppy not only carries the standards such as Sage, GLoomis, Rio, Airflo, etc., but also alot of the less common equipment such as Guideline, Hardy, Molin, Sarcione, and many, many more.

Flies for the Clearwater are often considered small. I have spoken to several river experts and I have heard the same thing over and over again "This is a small fly river". Now I remember that used to be what everyone said about the Deschutes, and everyone was wrong. Well, I have hooked and landed fish on the Clearwater on flies as small a #7 but I also landed my last Clearwater steelhead on a #1/0 General Practitioner tied in black. With this said It is probably best to focus your fishing on smaller flies and use big flies as something different.

Clearwater steelhead can grow very large, as big as 20-30lbs, these big fish are known as "B" run, there is also a smaller group of fish known as "A" run steelhead these fish run 4-10lbs. this mix of fish makes tackle an interesting choice. The river is large and there are many runs that will fish with a 100' plus of line out of the guides, and you can hook fish out that far, you can also get them in closer as well, but a big cast is fun to make so why not.

I like to fish with either my 13'3" rod with a Scandinavian shooting head, or I like to fish a longer rod with a 65' - 95' head line such as the Nextcast 75' or the Scientic Anglers XLT, as for rod size I have fished up to a 9wt but I think the new 7wt rods can make the A runs fun and the B runs manageable. So the three rods I will call out as awesome: the first is a Burkheimer 7133-3 (my favorite rod, for all steelhead angling), Next is the Thomas & Thomas DH1409-5 (easy for travel and very versatile), and last is the G Loomis 15' 7/8wt Greaseline (this rod is awesome, it fits the bill)

The Cleawater river is big and the scenery changes as the it descends toward it's meeting with the Snake, 463 miles from the ocean. The river goes from a high gradient mountain forest to an arid expanse of rolling hills.

1 comment:

Lee Coman said...

We had a very successful time on the Clearwater River last winter. We don't have our own boat so chose to use a driftboat guide. Swiftwater Outfitters ( came highly recommended by a friend and we were extremely happy with the results. Bryan Miller seems to be able to read where the fish are and we limited out. We'll be booking our trip for the upcoming season soon.