Steelhead still bitting
There's still plenty of steelhead action on the Clearwater River, according to Jeff Smith with Fins and Feathers Tackle Shop and Guide Service.
"The biggest I heard was 17 pounds, and most are going at about 12 pounds," he estimated.
Some are fishing out of boats on the confluence area by Lewiston, he said, trolling plugs or drifting shrimp and eggs.
Further up the river toward Orofino, others are using slip bobbers and jigs.
Smith reminded fishermen that they can only keep hatchery fish, which are clipped on the adipose fin. Steelhead fishing also requires a punch card in addition to a fishing license.
"You kind of have to know what's going on," Smith said.
There have been more northern pike catches on Hayden Lake, Smith added. Many are using spinner baits and rapalas.
"The catch rates were pretty good," Smith said. "The water is right around 50 degrees, so the fish are still moving around pretty good."
Oddly, salmon fishing on Lake Coeur d'Alene has slowed down, he said.
"These fish must be scattering, because it was a lot tougher this week than a couple weeks ago," Smith said. "And usually November is one of our top months for catching 'em."
He suggested running extra lines at different depths, around 100, 50 and 75 feet. Deeper lines should use a flasher and mini squid, he said, while the shallower depths should run herring or Apexes.
"We count on those salmon in the end of November," he said. "But we're used to little challenges on Lake Coeur d'Alene."
Smith reminds fishermen to keep their calendars clear for upcoming derbies. A rainbow and mackinaw derby will run from Nov. 20-28 at Lake Pend Oreille. Tickets are $40 and available at Fins and Feathers.
The winter chinook derby on Lake Coeur d'Alene will be on Dec. 4 and 5. The $20 entry can also be paid at Fins and Feathers.
"Don't put your boat away yet," Smith said. "You've still got fishing to do."
Down south, steelhead fishing has dropped off, said Mike Beard of Orvis Northwest Outfitters.
"There's plenty of fish, but it's slowed down quite a bit," he said. "Guys that are really getting after it are still getting a fish a day."
Beard said anglers should "think outside the box," as it were. Head farther upriver, and try sink-tipping or nymphing, he said, in order to reach fish that are holding deeper in the water. He suggested dead-drifting nymphs, or fishing jigs with beads and egg patterns.
Winter spey flies might work, too, along with egg-sucking leeches or articulating leeches - mainly flies that are big and move temptingly.
"The best reports I have been getting have been on the Salmon, and on the Clearwater in Orofino," Beard added.
He said fishermen shouldn't be afraid to try new tactics - if you're not catching fish in one spot, move upstream and try another. Now is the time to learn new water, he said.
Spey rods are especially useful on steelhead rivers, Beard said. He fishes with one himself, and said the two-handed technique is much easier on the body.
"For big rivers like the Clearwater, it can sure be a benefit to have a spey rod," Beard said. "Your fly spends more time in the water, and since you're using two hands, you don't get as beat up. I wouldn't be as addicted to steelheading as I am without a two-hander."
Steelhead, he said, are just being themselves these days - i.e., very mysterious fish. Conditions are almost perfect in some places, particularly the Grande Ronde, and yet the fish aren't biting like they were last winter, which was a steelhead season to remember.
"As long as I'm casting and fishing the river well, I'm happy," Beard said. "It's still good steelheading, it's just not last year."
Closer to home, Beard said the Coeur d'Alene River should yield cutthroat trout throughout the winter, as long as anglers are willing to brave the snow and cold. Sub-surface is the ticket, he said, because fish won't be rising much, unless the weather really warms up.
Rubber leg nymphs, prince nymphs and Kaufmann stone flies are worth a cast, he said. So too are San Juan worms, copper johns and pheasant tails.
Beard said fishermen won't catch a ton of cutts during the winter, but any fish they hook will probably be a nice one.
St. Joe and Coeur d'Alene rivers
Fishing is beginning to slow down on the Coeur d'Alene River, said Mark Roush of ROW Adventures in Coeur d'Alene.
"This colder weather has really put the fish to sleep," Roush said. "Warmer afternoons can still help produce some good fishing."
There will still be some blue-winged olive hatches on warmer days, Roush said.
"Most fishermen will find that running nymphs and streamers deep will be the most lucrative choice," he said.
The St. Joe River will turn on at times and fishermen may get looks while using copper johns, princes and dark streamers, Roush said.
The steelhead action is still decent on the Clearwater, Roush said.
"Both fly and terminal fishermen have had success," he said.
Action has also begun to pick up on the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers.
"Head on down with your spey rod and have a great time," Roush said.