The Snake River - Washington/Idaho

Even though the Snake has been massacred by dams, it is still incredible. In many ways that makes it worse. The Snake was a national treasure, it carried steelhead and salmon so far inland that Nevada once had native fish populations. Those unique populations are now no more, but the Snake still exists and fishing her waters is humbling.

The Snake is a very big river. Only the experience it self can describe what it feels like to cast out from the rivers edge. Many anglers that have fished the Deschutes would agree that it is a big river, and yet the Dechutes is but a quarter of the size of the Snake.

I spent a week on the Snake recently and when I took an afternoon off and drove up to the Red Shed Fly shop on the Clearwater, the river looked absolutely small in comparison to the Snake.
From the town of Asotin up to Hellars Bar, Where the Grande Ronde dumps in, The Snake fishes well with a fly. All though the river will seem crowded, with all of the jet boats and roads anglers around, I have found that an angler looking for classic steelhead runs will often find this water open. Most of the anglers I have come across focus either on the slow, laminar runs of the lower snake or they are fishing Hellar's bar. The boats will mostly avoid the fly runs because of how shallow they are.

I like looking for shallow runs that have some chop on the rivers surface. This is not hard to find on the Snake. On my last trip my friend Rusty and I were able to find several spots that fit the bill perfectly. And once we found a few of these spots it was not long before we started finding Steelhead.As for flies on the Snake, I have caught fish on every thing from a 1/0 black Marabou to a #7 purple green-butt. My go to fly however, I guess, would be a #3 Yellow Jacket. This is a spey fly that uses a dyed yellow pheasant rump for hackle over a black body and uses a black wing, I think it is both buggy and pretty so I fish it, but I have also caught Snake steelhead on Akroyds, purple speys, black speys, Harry Lemire patterns, you name it. it seams like they like flies.There are classic runs and bars, and lots of spots that look like nothing from a distance, but are epic and fishy when you are on them. Alot of these hidden gems fish like classic water allowing for long casts and will often take an hour or more to fish through.
The big runs and relatively small fish that are common on the Snake, left me looking for just the right two handed rod. The river handles a floating line really well in late October. I ended up getting a Loomis 15' 7/8wt Grease Liner and have paired it up with a couple of long belly lines, so now I can launch a long line and enjoy a 5-6lb fish, which is great. On my latest trip I caught several steelhead on this 15' Loomis, they were great. I also fished a Thomas & Thomas DH1409/5 with the same Nextcast 95' 8/9 line and I found that it was even easier to cast and the little bit of extra power was great when it was time to land a fish, and I would say that no enjoyment was lost from the fight. Now, due to the success of the T&T DH1409/5, I have picked up a DH1509/3 for next years trip. (which subsequently sold and replaced with a Greaseline 16' 9/10)

2010: Tough but still got a few fish
In October 2010 Rusty and I headed back the Region of the Nez Perce. Travel was tough this year with cancelled flight and unplanned detours, but we made it to the Salmon only a half day later than expected.
Our first evening was great despite the water being a bit warmer than desirable. the weather was
mild and we got one of our favorite runs, a nice long easy wade with a rip that sits about 80' from knee deep the whole way. I wore a T-shirt since the weather so fine, feeling good to be done traveling and finally fishing. The run we were on produced Rusty's first fish last year... and mine this year.
I fished a Thompson River Caddis down the lower half of the run and, just as day tipped to twilight, the fish took. It was on the strip, but it still took.
I had gotten a 15' TnT from poppy the previous fall and this was my first fish with the rod. I was worried that a 9wt would be too much rod for smaller fish, but this fish I caught our first night was 5-6 lbs and it was a great fight and I, don't think a smaller rod would have made the experience any more fun.
We camped around a bunch of other fly fishers, but apparently what we fish and what they fish is different, as we almost never seemed to see these guys on the water we fished. Although there is more pressure this year than last. The guys at camp were having a tough time with the warm water. Over the next few days we fished some very good water and struggled to find fish. we ran up to the Clearwater a few times but it had alot of people on it.
We did connect with two more fish. Both under pretty bright conditions. Both also came off what was our most productive run last year. I caught a small fish under a bright/partly cloudy midday sky. It ate a yellow/Orange/ Natural Married wing spey, my first married wing fish, and some how that matters.
A day later on the same run, Rusty hooked our best fish of the trip. It was late morning. I am not sure what fly rusty was fishing but I would wager it was 3 or 5 Yellow Jacket (last years magic fly).
Though the conditions were not as perfect as the year before. we found fish when fishing was tough and the Snake continued her kind and generous tradition.
We fished our 2010 trip fishing the Salmon River in Idaho, which is a tributary of the Snake. We had a great time.

2011: When Things get rough, We head for the Snake
In 2011 Rusty and I both drove out and met on the Salmon River in Idaho. We had done well there in 2010 and the condition on the river seemed great. there was a little rain but the river looked and fished great. The wildlife was superb, lots of deer came down to the river to drink while we fished runs. I saw a breeding pair of Golden Eagles, but we caught nothing in two-and-a-half days of fishing.
We did not have as much time to fish as we have the last two years, so we decided to go see what the Snake looked like. I was worried because when I drove over the Snake near Boise, Idaho, it look big and dirty, but when we arrived to Asotin, Washington and the stretch of river upstream of there, I learned that you can't judge the Snake by what you see in Boise. It looked great and the water was cool.
It was 2pm when we arrived. Cloudy with a light to medium rain. We drove up-river to our favorite run. It didn't take long for things to start. On this run, we know the fish usually grab right at the end, just as the body dumps into the tail; and we were suprised by fish sitting up at the top of the run.
I fished through first, the water felt good and cool, a little on the high side of perfect but close. I could see a seem that was out a ways, though I thought I could reach it if I pushed. I was fishing a 13'3" 7wt and a Scandi head, so casting big distances took alot more work than when I was using a 15' and long belly on the same run the year before. I was able to reach-out and fish the seem though, and within 20' of the top of the run I hooked a fish on a #3 Yellow Jacket.
It was a hard fighting fish and a wild one to boot. You can't beat that. I got out of the run and Rusty
fished through. When he was about half way down, I jumped in at the head of the run again to follow him down. I hooked another fish in the same spot. It was another hard fight and I got the leader into the guides, but the fished threw the hook mid-river after a final run, and an epic jump (that I swear was 5'-6' out of the water vertically). It ate a size 6-8 Purple Green-Butt Skunk
That evening Rusty and I fished another of our favorite runs on the Snake. Rusty landed his first Snake river fish on this run and I had gotten our first fish there last year. I followed Rusty down the run. I started at the top of the run. There is an eddy up at the top but the water just out-side of it looks good. So even though we had never even had a grab at the head, I fished it. you never know. And guess what... I got a grab. It came just as my line could swing below the current of the back eddy.
This was another hard fighting fish. Just take a look at it, a good sized fish. I think this is the biggest Steelhead that I have caught on the Snake. It went for the same little Skunk.
We fished the run until dark. Shortly after landing my fish, a family of otters came floating down river and the male chased me out of the river after I teased him by returning his hisses with my own hiss like sound.

Before the day was over, However, Rusty hooked into a good sized fish at the lower end of the run. It was dark and try as we might we could not see the fish even when it was right in front of us. It stayed down as deep as it could.
Finally, we got the fish landed. It was a nice sized wild King Salmon, mean and healthy, and along ways from the ocean.
The next morning was bright and sunny and windy. We didn't touch a fish on our first two runs, so we decided to try a run that had been in the running for being the best two years earlier, but had produced nothing in several try's last year. Its fast waters flow across a wide rocky flat and the heaviest currents in a narrow channel on the far side of the river, this brought fish into a small, bouldery area on the rock bar where the current is bearable to rest in and close enough to cast too. Though depending on the rivers flow rate this spot can be too far out to reach. And I suspect that the fish only sit in this area at certain water levels.
It was bright and sunny. with the sun at my back, and to me that means in the fishes eyes. I was not thinking there was much of a shot. and I wasn't even sure if the run was even fishing that well. Then my line came tight and my tiny little size 8 skunk was sucked up by a ripping fast hatchery hen. Fish can really burn you up on some of the Snakes faster runs and this run is a fast one.

2012: On My Own
My trip to the Snake in 2012 was a solo one and after a couple days I was convinced that the fishing was not what I had been hoping for. I headed for Western Washington and ended up having some fun days on the Cowlitz.

2014: Rusty and I get blanked by the Snake
Rusty and I headed back to the Snake for a few days in 2014. We came up empty, picking one fish up on the Grande Ronde.

2015: Dropping water and a new face
This last season I had my c
ousin James join me to fish the Snake. this was he first introduction to steelhead and spey. I was hoping to show him the magic, but came up short. He did however show a high degree of fortitude, fishing day-in and day-out, never wavering and accepting the beat down.

The river was slowly dropping the whole time we fished. I was able to pick-up a fish, right off the bat on the first run. this fish ate a #5 Yellow Jacket (that old reliable pattern). From that point on, however, fishing got tough. Soon the fish would except nothing over a size 8, I had two #8 Purple green-butts stolen off the line in spectacular fashion on a single run. I rolled soul to see if I could improve fishing mojo, and while I got grabbed on the below married wing, fishing remained tough.


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