Clearwater River
Steelhead Tackle
Spey Clave 2003

Clearwater River between Lewiston and Orofino.

Clearwater River, Idaho
Captain William Clark wrote in his expedition journal on October 10, 1805, "the South Fork (Snake River) is greenish blue, the north (Clearwater River) as clear as cristial...".  No doubt about it, the autumn flows in this river can be clear as gin.  Although steelhead start to arrive in August, the first two weeks in October is the prime time to fly fish for steelhead in Idaho's Clearwater River.  This is the peak of the catch and release season which runs from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31.  Spey rod fishing in a very large river for very large "B" strain steelhead are the attractions.  Even when water flows are the lowest in the fall, the  Clearwater is a very large river for fly fishing.   Because of the low gradient and 
wide canyon floor,  some runs are 3-4 times larger than anything on the lower Deschutes.  Long range casters will have and advantage here.  The bottom structure is a mixture of cobble and ledge rock.  As in most rivers, the steelhead tend to gravitate to the ledges and avoid places 

where the wading is easy.  "B" Strain steelhead are some of the largest in the world.  Specimens of over 30 pounds have been landed.  Average fish are 10-15 pounds.  Wild runs are depressed, but stable.  Dworshak National Fish Hatchery at Orofino pumps about a 2.15 million smolts into the system every year for a return of about 20,000 adult steelhead.  It is the largest steelhead hatchery in the world.  When the adult steelhead return to the Clearwater at Lewiston, Idaho they are 460 miles from the Pacific Ocean and 725 feet above sea level.  Most will remain in the river 

...typical hatchery "B" run steelhead...

The Clearwater is a big river with numerous fly fishing riffles.

through the  winter until they spawn in the late spring.  During their 8 month stay in fresh water, they will live off the fat reserves that were acquired while growing up at sea.  During the fall they are still very strong fish.  All manner of accepted steelhead fly fishing methods will take these fish.  This race of steelhead will rise to wet and waking flies.  Deep sunk flies are also very productive.  Only barbless hooks are allowed from September 1 - April 30.  My feeling is that a 
15' #9 would be the most practical size rod to cover this large river.  Wish I would have had one with me.  My 14' #9 was a better tool than my 14' #7.  There are some places that would fish best from an anchored boat with single handed rods and Teeny lines.

Hwy 12 gives easy access from Lewiston to Kooskia.  There are 17 boat launches in this 70 mile long section.  We found our drift boat to be handy, but non essential for covering the water since there is so much road access.  Lewiston has a good selection of motels and restaurants.  The Traditional Sportsman Shop (208) 746-6688, offers a shuttle service for drift boaters and proprietor Mark Lamb provides friendly information about current river conditions. 

Access to good water is easy.

Clearwater boat launch map.
Printable Clearwater River Boat Launch Map 42K

How to select Steelhead Fly Fishing Tackle
It's true that tackle doesn't make the angler, but it can sure effect your performance & attitude.


Deschutes steelhead 09/25/02.

Fly Lines



The techniques employed for steelhead can be varied. The way to ensure success with steelhead is to be able to cover a lot of water in a day's fishing. Being able to minimize casting fatigue can be a real factor. The anglers who have the most endurance have an advantage. Good casting skills burn less energy than poor casting skills. A light weight powerful rod that casts smoothly at all ranges is essential.

Single-Hand Rods
Nine and one half and ten foot lengths are most popular. Your rod should balanced with the average sizes and weights of flies you are throwing.  We have found that eight weight rods are most practical for the widest range of conditions.  Seven weight rods are nice for small streams or even larger rivers on calm summer days. A long, light rods is nice for fishing floating lines and small wets or waking flies. Nine weight rods are an advantage on large windy rivers or when runs of larger than average fish are expected. Larger flies are more comfortable to cast with larger equipment.  A nine weight might be a better choice when fishing British Columbia rivers.  On the average multi-piece travel rods cast as well as their two piece counterparts and are easier to transport.

Two-Hand Rods
On our local rivers, which have un-manicured banks, being able to roll cast long distances is a huge advantage.  Two handed fly rods of up to fifteen feet long are the most efficient on rivers where the average cast is over fifty feet. Many local anglers have adopted change of direction roll casting called spey casting.  The two-handed concept of fly casting is very old.  It is recorded in writings from early bronze-age China and figures prominently in English fly fishing literature from 500 years ago.  It only gained wide spread favor on American Salmon & Steelhead streams beginning about ten-twenty years ago.  Since then it has revolutionized the way large rivers in North America are fished.   Now fly fishing for steelhead is truly practical year round on larger rivers.  Two handed fly rods work well with a wide variety of fly lines.  As a matter of fact, changeable tip fly lines for two-hand rods have changed the sport of fly fishing for steelhead as much as the adoption of the two-hand rods themselves.  "Two-handers" take the labor out of fishing with sinking tip lines.  Sinking tip lines are usually more productive than floating lines in fishing periods with cold water or bright sunlight.
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When encountering steelhead, the reel becomes much more than a place to store the line. The reel may have to feed and retrieve long yardage's of backing. Precise, smooth, low-inertia drag-systems really pay for themselves. You will probably never use over 5 pounds of drag pressure when playing steelhead.  Three to four pounds of drag pressure is most common.  Smooth operation and being totally reliable are the two most important factors when choosing a reel.  The reel as a component is the greatest factor which determines the difference between victory and defeat when encountering really large fish. 

Steelhead reels should hold a fly line and 150 yd. of 20 lb. Micron backing. Sealed ball bearings take less maintenance than bronze bushings. Disk drags are proven. Anodizing outlasts any kind of coating. Machined frames are stronger and more durable than castings. The less moving parts the better. The fewest total parts the better. Drags have to work smoothly when wet. Don't hesitate to call for advice: 1 (800) 266-3971
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Fly Lines

Because of the variety of river conditions one may encounter, each angler using a single handed rod should be equipped with a double taper or steelhead taper floating fly line, a ten foot sinking tip fly line, and a T-200 Jim Teeny fly line (or equivalent). Highly visible colors are best for floating fly lines on big water. Neutral color lines are essential for low, clear water. Anglers using two-handed fly rods should carry a full floating line and a changeable-tip line type system.
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Warning: Many of the new small diameter monofilament tippet materials have not passed the steelhead test   Maxima Chameleon and Maxima Clear are the only tippet materials sold on small spools which are100% reliable in the ten pound test rating. For steelhead fly fishing you need tippet material of at least .011 to turn over steelhead size flies at long range. The material should be hard and abrasion resistant. Most serious steelhead fly anglers tie their own leaders from Maxima. If you don't wish to tie your own, Climax and Rio knotless tapered "Steelhead Leaders" have passed all tests with us on the stream.

Leaders for your floating line should be 9' long and have a tippet diameter of .011. A dropper may be included of 12 lb. or 15 lb. test. Leaders for your sinking tip line or Teeny line should be 4'-6' long. Fresh steelhead are rarely leader shy, but steelhead that have been fished over can become wary.

You should carry a complete kit of leader making material as well as tippet material.
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May 17-18.  Put these dates on your 2003 calendar, right now!
Sandy River Spey Clave 2003

Sandy River Spey Clave 2003.

May 17 - 18, 2003     At: Oxbow Park      On: The Sandy River   How to get there.

What is the Sandy River Spey Clave?
  It's a gathering of anglers interested in two-hand fly rod fishing.
 It is a place to exchange information and fish together.
Check out what happened at the 2002 Clave.

  A selection of the Pacific Northwest's Best fly tackle rep groups 
to put on a show specifically for the spey casting fraternity.

You will be able to try the best and the newest 
spey casting tackle the world has to offer!

Don't Miss The On-the-water Demonstrations:
Each day there will be (6) 1-hour casting/fishing programs each day 9am-4pm.
by (6) very experienced spey fishermen
If you want to learn the latest techniques, this is a good place to start.
In addition there will be fly tying and line splicing demonstrations.

The plan is to provide a week-end that will entertain and inform you.
This event is hosted by The International Spey Page and Discussion Group.
If you are interested in spey rod casting and fishing, we would strongly recommend that you join this warm friendly group.   
  Spey Discussion Group

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HOME.  The Fly Fishing Shop, Welches, OR

1(800) 266-3971

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Fish long & prosper,
Mark & Patty

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