|Summer/Fall Fishing on the Clearwater, According to Poppy
First let me say that I'm just a guy that has a passion for a chrome bright fish called a steelhead and using spey rods to catch them. I
certainly don't consider myself to be any kind of authority on fly fishing for steelhead but in the course of our summer/fall steelhead
season I am asked over and over what tackle to use, what is the "Hot" fly, and where should one fish. Maybe I can offer some
answers, at least the way I see it. What you will read below may seem over simplified, but I like the "KISS" principle.
This piece concerns fishing the Clearwater between July 1 and Thanksgiving weekend. In that time frame I consider the Clearwater
river in Idaho to be a premier floating line river. I didn't always use floating lines here myself but the more I talked with and studied
the Clearwater regulars and their methods the more I came to believe that the Clearwater was a great river for floating line fishing in
pursuit of steelhead. For me, being successful with the floating line is the ultimate in steelhead fly fishing. Your mileage may vary.
So a floating line is what I recommend for fishing here. It can be a scandi, floating skagit, long belly, short belly, mid-belly, whatever. I
don't care what head length it has as long as it FLOATS and you can cast it 60' to the fly. For the record I mostly use short head
spey lines, but I've also enjoyed fishing other head lengths as well.
The Clearwater is a fairly big river and a longer rod can be of some advantage. Having said that I think it is more important to fish
with a rod you are comfortable with. I have customers using 12'6" rods and others using 16'+ rods. They all catch some fish. I like a
rod with a traditional bend 14' to 15' in length.
A reel big enough to balance whatever length rod you're using and big enough to hold your line of choice and 100yds to 150yds 30lb.
backing. 20lb. backing is generally strong enough and will always be stronger than your tippet but I think 30lb. lays on the reel nicer.
While I like click drags, "any" reel meeting the above requirements will do the job.
The leader should be as long as the rod and 10lb. tippet is a good choice. If you like tying your own, Maxima is the best selling
steelhead leader material I know of. Maxima Ultragreen makes great tippets. If you want store bought, Rio, Airflo, Frog Hair, and Jim
Teeny all have knotless steelhead leaders from 13' to 15' that work very well.
What is the hot fly? My thinking is this, while the fisherman cares a great deal about pattern, under good fishing conditions (normal
flows, clear visibility) the fish don't care. I believe all things being equal if you find a player it will hit whatever fly you're using.
Most any of the standard hairwings, wakers, small marabous, and spey flies will work here. PICK A PATTERN "YOU" LIKE AND
GET FISHING! Some of my favorites are Street Walker, Nite Dancer, Green Butt Skunk and Purple Green Butt. For wakers I like
Steelhead Muddlers and small Rust Bombers. Sizes 4 through 8 seem to be the most popular.
Where should you fish? The Clearwater has over 75 miles of primo water between Potlatch mill and Clear Creek above Kooskia, ID.
There is good access from highway 12. Whichever direction you come from, if you visit me you will have passed around 35 miles of
river with a lot of good spots to fish. As you travel along the river you will see some spots that will just look fishy. Those are the
places I would try first. If that doesn't work for you just note some spots where others are fishing and be there first tomorrow.
During July and August I would concentrate between Potlatch mill and the highway 95 split east of Lewiston. By the end of August
there will be fish in the Peck hole near the shop and by the end of September there will be fish all the way to Clear Creek.
There are not any good maps of the Clearwater with the runs marked and most of the people I know hope there never will be.
I get a lot of calls about the level of the river. Yes the graph shows it running higher then many people want to see it. As I understand
it for the last few years the dam has been dumping water during the summer to help push the smolts downstream. This has a side
benefit of keeping the Clearwater below Dworshak nice and cool when the surrounding rivers are running pretty warm. While the
river level may drop a little, it is usually mid-September before they lower it to it's lowest point. I understand that the traditional
spots are under water early on. I just pretend I'm on new water and deal with it. The fish are still in the river, they are just in different
The most used methods here are the greased line and the wet fly swing. The riffle hitch is pretty popular. The Clearwater is not a
"generous mistress". If you come here expecting high numbers of fish you will most likely leave disappointed. The more time you
spend casting and stepping down the better your chances will be.
I don't think it is necessary to have a guide on the Clearwater to have a successful trip. Should you want a guide there are several
listed on my "Guides I Know and Like" page. If you are a spey rodder make sure you tell them you want to wade fish, otherwise
you may find yourself trying to spey cast from a boat, which while it can be done I don't believe to be the best method. If they won't
agree to your wade fishing I would definitely look elsewhere.
Many people ask me about bringing a boat to the Clearwater. I don't believe a boat is necessary here from a fishing standpoint but it
will get you to the other side where you may find less accessible shoreline.
If you aren't into spey rods your 7wt or 8wt single hander will work just fine.
A wading staff, studded boots, and a decent rain jacket are items you may find useful here.
When covering a run step down a couple steps after fishing out each cast. That way others can fish the run behind you.
Also, PLEASE don't be a "low holer."
There may be those that think the above is a bunch of "BS". To each his own.
Have fun and catch a BIG one!