Fresh Water, Salt Water
The kokanee is the landlocked version of the sockeye salmon. Kokanee were first introduced into Montana in Flathead Lake in 1914 and are currently fairly widespread in the western half of the state on both sides of the Divide. Kokanee can achieve sizes of 3 to 5 pounds but 1-pounders are most common. The size of kokanee in Montana waters is a function of two factors, their own population density and the abundance of their available food supply. Kokanee are strictly plankton feeders and they can rapidly overpopulate, resulting in large numbers of stunted fish. Kokanee spawn naturally in many Montana waters. They either run upstream from their lake habitat or spawn along the lake shorelines in the fall. Most kokanee reach sexual maturity in their fourth year of life and they then undergo a dramatic transformation prior to spawning. The silvery specimen seen here becomes a smooth-skinned, red-colored spawning fish with large hooked jaws and teeth on the males. All the adults die after spawning, making for a tremendous food source for bald eagles, grizzly bears, and other animals. Kokanee are very sensitive to water temperature and school in lakes at a certain depth. Once located, they are readily caught and provide excellent sport as well as table fare.
Starting in the Tenmile Range near Quandry Peak, not far from Breckenridge, the Blue River can be thought of as a tale of two tailwaters. All 65 miles of the Blue have been classified ... moreby the state as a Blue Ribbon trout fishery. It follows the same basic route as the Williams Fork River; both run basically parallel to Route 9, which provides ample access to fishing in these waters.
Starting at an altitude well over 8,000 feet, the river courses north through the scenic, mountainous, Breckenridge area before it is impounded by the Dillon Dam, just shy of Silverthorne. The tailwater below the Dillon is flush with well fed, super-sized trout that obtain their girth from the consistent, ample supply of Mysis shrimp released from the dam. From here the river passes through town where access points are numerous, easy to find and easy to fish.
North of Silverthorne the river is impounded once again at the Green Mountain Reservoir; the water below this reservoir receives another distinction from the state, that of Wild Trout fishery. While the trout in this tailwater tend to be smaller than those pulled from the upper tailwater, they are still ample and sizeable. Below Dillon Dam, the river is managed as a year-round, catch and release fishery. Rainbows and browns dominate although cutthroat and brooks are also present. Kokanee salmon can be found during fall spawning season.
In addition to abundant trout, the river also flows through a variety of different terrain, providing a continuing feast for the eyes. Passing through the Blue River Valley, the Gore Wilderness Area and it’s looming peaks paint the horizon. There are other sections where the river runs through old cattle ranches, some dating back to the mid 1800’s. Wherever you are on this river, nothing disappoints.
Southwest of Denver, the South Platte River is formed by the convergence of the South Fork and Middle Fork rivers. Its drainage basin, on the eastern side of the Front Range Rocky ... moreMountains, is quite substantial covering large parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. Together with the North Platte, they form the Platte River that winds through Nebraska and eventually joins the Missouri River. There are three main areas along the South Platte that are known for great trout fishing, each a unique and worthwhile adventure: Cheesman Canyon, Dream Stream and Eleven Mile Canyon.
Cheesman Canyon has the rarified distinction of being ranked as both a Wild trout and a Gold Medal stretch of water. Known for its huge boulders, arid clime and towering Ponderosas, the river is also considered to be one of the most technically difficult tailwater fisheries in the state. It is also known for rewarding anglers with large rainbows (average 14-16 inches and many over 20) and sizeable browns. Throughout the canyon you can expect to find deep pocket water, rifles and small pools. Fishing is possible year round although it is catch and release only.
Open to the public, the Gold Medal Dream Stream runs from the Spinney Mountain Reservoir to Elevenmile Canyon. Famous for it trophy rainbows, cutthroats and browns, the Dream Stream is also known for its Kokanee salmon that arrive during their fall spawning season. Trout weighing 2-3 pounds are commonplace, while larger fish, including monster 20+ inchers, are also possible. Fish here tend to be skilled at avoiding detection and prepared to put up a good fight, humbling even the most experienced anglers. This 3-mile section is strictly catch and release, artificial lures only.
Between the Elevenmile Reservoir and Lake George, the South Platte flows through a gorgeous canyon with riffles, runs and pocket water. Steep canyon walls protect from wind and offer shade during summer months. Largely a rainbow fishery, browns and cutthroats are also here. Most fish measure over a foot long but much bigger fish can be found. The top two, Gold Medal miles of the canyon have the highest concentration of trout; catch and release only here. Public access to the canyon is excellent, and this year-round fishery can be crowded. Miraculously, the fish seem oblivious, easier to catch here than on other parts of the river.
Less than an hour northwest of Bend, Oregon, the Metolius River, secreted away in the Deschutes National Forest, is little known since professional guides are not permitted and the ... moreriver is not advertised. The river begins at Metolius Springs, near the base of Black Butte, and is fed from cold spring water that keeps the river at an even flow and a near constant 48 degrees – ideal trout habitat. The river ends at Lake Billy Chinook.
While only 29 miles long, the Metolius is large in what it has to offer. Nearly half of the river is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River while another 12 mile run is a National Recreational River. In the estimation of many naturalists and conservationists, the lower 17 miles of river that run along the warm Springs Indian Reservation, are among the most gorgeous to be found in the lower 48. To maintain the pristine quality of the river, legislation was passed in 1990 and again in 2009 to limit development within 86,000 acres of the Metolius water basin.
Not just beautiful, this river is full of rainbow, bull and brown trout. Rainbow and brown can easily measure up to 24 inches, while bulls 15 pounds and over have been pulled from these waters. In the fall Kokanee can be seen in the river, ready to spawn. The upper Metolius is limited to fly fishing, catch and release and barbless hooks. This is a great choice for anglers seeking an authentic fishing experience, but be sure to pack your waders - fishing from boats is prohibited.
If you’re traveling with people interested in other activities, camping, rafting, skiing and horseback riding are widely available.
As the only official “Blue Ribbon” river in the State of Washington, the Yakima is in a class of it’s own. Being close to the quaint town of Ellensburg adds to its allure. Originating ... morehigh in the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountain’s Snoqualmie Wilderness and ending at Richland, this 214-mile long Columbia River tributary is a managed flow tailriver, controlled by the US Bureau of Reclamation and fed by three main reservoirs – the Kachess, Keechelus and Cle Elum.
Despite the controls, a mix of both bottom fed and top water releases create water conditions more like a freestone river than one encumbered by dams. Unlike most western waterways, its waters are low during the spring/fall months and high during summer when demand for irrigation is greatest.
The Yakima’s official 75-mile Blue Ribbon stretch starts where the three tailwaters merge near the town of Cle Elum, and continues on until reaching Roza Dam. The upper river down to the confluence of reservoirs tends to be braided and difficult to float. A flat section follows, known for wading and long rifles. At East Cle Elum the river runs 14 miles through its “upper canyon” section, populated with large boulders and an abundance of cutthroats.
From Diversion Dam to Wilson Creek is the farmland section. Known for apple orchards, Cottonwoods and Timothy Hay, the fishing is good but access difficult due to private landholdings. Arid Yakima Canyon that runs from Wilson Creek to Roza Dam is the most fished part of the river, typically by drift boat.
The river is open year round with runoff in May. While anglers come from afar to fish Yakima’s waters, it’s rarely over crowded. There’s a wide variety of fish, including rainbow, cutthroat, browns, brook, kokanee, burbot and smallmouth bass. Fish range in size from 12-14 inches.
Before booking a trip, be sure to check anticipated water levels and remember that this is a catch and release river.
Dworshak Reservoir, found in central Idaho along the North Fork of the Clearwater River, is located in scenic forested and mountainous country. Popular activities include swimming, ... moreboating, fishing, hunting, water-skiing, camping, hiking and lots more. At a height of 717 feet, the dam is the highest straight-axis gravity dam in North America, as well as one of the most dramatic in appearance. The Dworshak National Fish Hatchery is the largest steelhead trout hatchery in the world. Lewis and Clark camped in the area, where they rested from their trip over the Bitterroot Range and built canoes for their trip on to the Pacific Ocean. The reservoir is over 600 feet at its deepest point.
Averill Harriman, then Chairman of the Union Pacific (UP) Railroad, returned from Europe in 1935 impressed by the spread of luxurious ski resorts throughout the Austrian, Swiss and ... moreFrench Alps. Anxious to expand markets for his own trains, he set out to build American’s first high-end ski area near an existing UP railhead and hired Count Schaffgotsch, a famed Austrian skier, to scout the ideal location. The Count recommended Sun Valley as the perfect site, but there was a problem – the season was short, running only from December through April. In an effort to create an all year playground, Harriman invited Ernest Hemingway to hunt and fish from his lodge. Hemmingway loved it, wrote about it and encouraged his friends to join him and his son Jack as they hunted and fished along Silver Creek. Harriman’s Introduction of Hemingway to the environs succeeded, firmly establishing the valley’s reputation as a sportsman’s paradise.
In the early 1960’s the property was sold to a developer, and fortunately for fishing enthusiasts, the surrounding area including Silver Creek, was part of the transaction. When the property was again for sale in the mid 1970’s, Jack Hemingway stepped in and helped facilitate the purchase of the land by the Nature Conservancy, permanently insuring its preservation. Silver Creek is an ecological anomaly as it is part of a high-desert, cold spring system formed from underground aquifers and unlike typical freestone rivers, tends to maintain consistent temperature and water levels. These consistent conditions yield rich nutrients and provide model waters for trout to live in and thrive. Browns typically range from 14-16 inches although 17-20 inchers are not uncommon. Rainbows found in backwater sloughs can range from 22-24 inches. The creek is approximately 70% rainbow, 30% brown.
Several smaller feeder creeks with clean, gravel stream bottoms provide the breeding grounds for Silver Creek. Despite the fact that the browns and rainbows found today in Silver Creek are not indigenous, they have flourished and the Creek has not been re-stocked since the 1975. Ironically, native cutthroat trout are no longer present in the Creek, although the river continues to support a variety of other wildlife including songbirds, shorebirds, cranes, bald and golden eagles, mule deer, elk, coyotes and a rare mountain lion.
Melting snowpack from the Wind River Mountains give rise to the Green River, Wyoming’s second longest. After flowing south over 700 miles, the Green enters into the Colorado River ... moreand is considered by many to be this river’s headwater. Supposedly named by 16th century Spanish explorers for its clear color, a mystery since most people say it looks quite the same as the murky Colorado, the river ran basically unimpeded until the early 1960’s when the Fontenelle Dam was completed. One year later another dam was built in Dutch John, Utah, which flooded the scenic, red-rock Flaming Gorge for nearly 90 miles, creating a deep-water fishery famous for its monster lake trout and trophy browns.
Despite man’s effort to tame the Green, over 150 miles of the river still run free. Set between the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Bridger Wilderness area, the remote river basin has retained its rugged, pristine, scenic beauty. Locals joke that there are more elk, bear and deer in residence than people, a fact attractive for those seeking an authentic, fly fishing experience. Fishing is thought to be best during the late summer and fall seasons when there are prolific mayfly and caddis hatches and trout is plentiful, including the native Colorado River cutthroat.
Pinedale, a small resort town on US 191, is the primary hub for the upper Green River, attracting anglers from as far as Jackson. Another small town, Green River located on I-80, services sportsmen along the lower portion of the river. Fly shops are in abundance and guides are widely available at both locations.
If you like to fish for steelhead, and the Clearwater is best known for them, then you already know your ABC’s. Steelheads are classified as A-run or B-run fish depending on their ... moresize, spawning habits and time spent in the ocean. More precisely, they are rainbow trout that venture to the Pacific and back to fresh water. A-runs typically appear in Idaho early in the season, from June through August, most often spend only one year in salt water, and return to the Snake and Salmon Rivers. B-runs usually return to the Clearwater River although some do migrate to the Salmon. Because B-runs spend at least 2 years in the ocean they tend to be much larger, weighing in at 10-13 pounds and 31-34 inches long, compared with the A-runs that register around 4-6 pounds and are generally only 23-26 inches long.
Not surprisingly, the fly fishing seasons on the River are divided according to the A and B runs, and while the A’s tend to be smaller they are reputed to be aggressive and capable of putting up a hard, long fight. For those in pursuit of larger quarry, you’ll have to move upstream along with the fish throughout their season. Because Clearwater B-Run steelhead are the largest in the lower 48, anglers are happy to make this trek, coming from around the globe to try their luck and test their fly fishing acumen. As the river winds its way from coniferous forests to scrappy desert, the water mysteriously manages to remain clear, rarely affected by erosion or runoff, making it stable and highly predictable and thus easier to master after repeated visits.
The town of Orofino is a great base for fishing the Clearwater with a nice selection of hotels, motels, ranches, lodges and neighboring campgrounds for anyone who desires a genuine, outdoor experience. Just across the river is the Dworskak Reservoir where there’s great fishing for kokanee, bass and other trout. Water sports are welcome within the Reservoir where you can jet ski, rent a power-boat or take out a quiet floater, canoe or kayak. Winter sports include skiing, hunting and snowmobiling, all within a short distance of downtown.
Things to Know
The Clearwater River in north-central Idaho is renowned for outstanding fishing for B-run steelhead and chinook salmon, and to a lesser extent, native cutthroat trout in the summer. In the fall, the steelhead season kicks in with catch-and-release fishing in September, and then catch-and-keep from October to the end of April. B-run steelhead in the Clearwater average 12-14 pounds, but many of them go higher, in the 20-pound range.
During May and September, when the weather is cooler, dress warmly or in layers. It is always cooler in the morning.
During the warmer months, June through mid-September, the typical attire is shorts, t-shirts and sports sandals.
Bring along water, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Be prepared to get wet and dress according to your comfort level.
Wear clothes that dry quickly and perhaps steer away from denim pants or shorts and leather footwear.
Life jackets are provided on outfitted trips.