Monday, March 25, 2013

Photo Of The Week #2

Morgan Fife celebrates an awesome day 
on The Salmon River near Ellis.  
He hooked eight and landed three.  
Photo by James L.  Congratulations, Morgan!

Stanley Steelhead Report

We have various sources in the Stanley area.  Here's what we have been hearing from some of our sources recently.

The buzz we mostly hear from Stanley is "no buzz."  Nothing seems to be happening on the far upper reaches of The Salmon River.

However, there is a bright spot!  One insider we know reported The Sawtooth Hatchery's first steelhead sorting day yielded over 100  fish.  Although the longest was about 30 inches,  most were in the 18-22 inch range.  That's pretty impressive.

Fishing has been very slow in the Stanley vicinity.  In fact, one of our knowledgeable sources there said, " I haven't heard of any fishing done in the Stanley area so far."

Much speculation and gossip continues about how The Salmon River is going to respond when the snow starts to melt.  Savvy observers from the Stanley area are saying Basin Creek and The Yankee Fork are going to kick up some serious muddy conditions by about mid-April.

As everyone knows, the higher up the river you go, the colder the water gets.  Right now it's running about 35 degrees near Stanley, barely above freezing.

Based on the hundred fish that made it to the Hatchery, perhaps steelheaders are missing a bet by not fishing a little higher upriver from Sunbeam!

Thanks to all our sources for their keen insights into this report!  Many Cheers & Happy Fishing.

Salmon River Road delays begin Monday.

Narrows project traffic delays begin April 1
"The Challis Messenger"
March 21, 2013

People joke about Idaho having only two seasons: winter and road construction. With the coming of spring, Custer County residents should be prepared for the latter in the form of traffic delays scheduled to resume Monday, April 1, along on the Narrows Section of Highway 75.

Orofino-based Debco Construction restarts work that day on Phase 1 of the Narrows Project, which means motorists will see two-hour closures from 10 a.m. to noon and 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. each weekday. Also, traffic will be limited to one lane with flaggers or automated traffic signals in place; and motorists can expect delays of up to 15 minutes between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.

John Parsons photo.
The work area is on a 1.3-mile section of Highway 75 from milepost 205.4 to milepost 206.7 near Warm Springs Creek and Robinson Bar.

Phase 1 work consists of rock scaling and blasting, installation of concrete barriers and  traffic signals and is anticipated to last until mid-May, according to a public notice Debco is running in this week’s issue of The Challis Messenger.

Removing unstable rock from the steep hillside above Highway 75 will make the section safer for Phase 2 of the project, said Debco owner and project manager Lonnie Simpson. Bids go out for Phase 2 in April and the contract is expected to be awarded and work begun by the first of June, he said.

Phase 2 consists of building retaining walls and installing safety netting and mesh on the steep hillsides to protect the highway from rockfall. Debco is submitting a bid and hopes to continue the work throughout road construction season, 2013.

The company hopes to hire more rock scalers, but while there are rock climbers and others who could do the work, it’s difficult to find people who meet the strict qualifications demanded by the Federal Highway Administration, said Simpson.

Currently, FHA requires actual construction work experience as a rock scaler, but that’s a Catch-22 because there’s no apprenticeship program where people can be certified. Debco and other construction companies are working with FHA to get a training program approved, he said.

FHA has turned down military instructors who have taught troops technical rock climbing and served in Afghanistan, according to Simpson. Such veterans and some out-of-work miners with rock climbing experience are more than qualified to work on the steep rock faces above the highway, but Debco cannot currently hire them.

The above story appeared in the March 21 edition of "The Challis Messenger" and is Copyright 2013 by the Post Company.  All rights reserved.  The story is republished here with permission from Editor Anna Means.

Readers are encouraged to visit and subscribe to The Challis Messenger.

IDFG Steelhead Report #6

The Salmon River above The Eask Fork continues to be the hotspot for steelhead fishing.  According to Monday's IDFG Steelhead Report #6, 66 anglers were checked above The East Fork but those fisherman caught a total of 43 steelhead, more than the total of all fish caught (38) in Sections 16-17-18 between North Fork and the East Fork confluence.

Brent Beller
According to IDFG Salmon Region Fisheries technician Brent Beller, "This weekend, the fishing on the upper Salmon River improved slightly compared to the previous one. Sections 14 and 15 had catch rates of 19 and 20 hours per steelhead, while section 16 was at 19 hours per steelhead. Sections 17 and 18 were at 25 and 22 hours per steelhead, which was a large improvement over the week before for both sections."

Beller commented, "The best catch rate of the weekend was again found in section 19 where anglers averaged 11 hours per steelhead caught."

IDFG's weekly spreadsheet is below.  You can click on it to see a larger, more readable version.
Another non-IDFG spreadsheet appears below with commentary.

Below is a spreadsheet we put together using data from the first six IDFG weekly reports.  It shows a possible peak in anglers checked and total fish caught in Section 15 for the weekend of March 9-10.  Meanwhile, total fish caught in Section 16 may have peaked so far this season on the weekend of February 23-24 while anglers checked may have peaked on the weekend of March 2-3.

Bent Rod Steelhead Report #2

Dustin Webster of The Bent Rod Outdoors in Challis reports,  "Fishing Locally has been spotty at best.  Our water temp is pretty cold at 35-37 degrees so the fish haven't been too active."

"That being said," Dustin continued, "We are supposed to see warmer weather by this weekend so the water should come around fairly quickly.  The folks that have been picking up fish are using beads, roe or dark colored jigs.  Hopefully well have better news next Monday."

The Bent Rod Outdoors is headquarters for the Challis Area Chamber of Commerce Steelhead Derby. Although the winners of the Big Fish Contest won't be known until the April 6th Steelhead Ball, the weekly Mystery Fish Contest continues to attract a steady stream of participants.  This week's winner is Walk Parker.  His fish measured 24.25 inches and he received a $50 gift certificate to The Bent Rod Outdoors.  Mike Rukavina won the Mystery Fish Contest the prior two weeks in a row.

Each week during Steelhead Derby a random measure is drawn and the fish closest to the measure wins.
There were 6 entries in last week’s Mystery Fish Contest. Derby cards & rules are available at the Bent Rod Outdoors on Hwy 93 in Challis. Derby cards must be purchased before fish are caught and measured.

For more information on Steelhead Events, call the Challis Area Chamber of Commerce 879-2771, or The Bent Rod Outdoors 879-2500.

Monday, March 18, 2013

IDFG Steelhead Report #5

Steelhead fishing has finally improved upriver from The East Fork. IDFG Creel Survey Staff checked 56 anglers above The East Fork who reported 34 fish caught in 281 "angling hours."

Over the past four IDFG reports, an average of only 8 steelhead fishermen were checked above The East Fork each week.  During the four prior weekly reporting periods, total fish caught averaged only 2.25 fish.

Last week, for example, only 11 anglers were checked above The East Fork and they reported a total of four fish caught.  As IDFG Salmon Region Fisheries Technician Brent Beller observed, "The best catch rate for the weekend was found further upstream in section 19. There, water visibility was better and anglers averaged 8 hours per steelhead caught."

The 34 fish caught in the area upriver from The East Fork topped the total of 30 fish caught in the popular Middle Fork to North Fork Section 15.  Stated another way, less than half as many steelheaders caught more fish above The East Fork in less than half the time fishermen spent on the popular Middle Fork to North Fork stretch.

Beller said, "Fishing this past weekend on the upper Salmon River was slow. Downstream of its confluence with the Lemhi River, the Salmon River was muddy which most likely caused the weekend catch rates to decline."

"The catch rates for sections 14 and 15 were 43 and 22 hours per steelhead, while in section 16, it was 21 hours per steelhead," Beller continued, adding,  "The catch rates for Sections 17 and 18 declined from the previous weekend and were  around 52 and 57 hours per steelhead."

You may click the graphic to see a larger, more readable version.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

North Fork Steelhead Report

(Update @ 4 PM 3/16/13) "Just received word that the river isn't as muddy below Deadwater. Fishermen are headed that direction."

Saturday afternoon, Tam Ambrose of The Village at North Fork reported "The river from North Fork to Salmon is pretty muddy. Consequently, we've seen a big reduction in the number of fishermen and those that are fishing aren't reporting a lot of success."

"Between North Fork and town, I only saw two boats on the water earlier and the number of vehicles parked at the river access points was less than half of last weekend's numbers. I did see several arriving "Killer B's" (8B, 4B, 1B, etc. plates) and am hoping the river clears up soon so I have more to report," Tam concluded.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bent Rod Steelhead Report

Gretchen Roman on Loon Creek.
The Bent Rod Outdoors store in Challis is the steelheader's "home away from home." The Bent Rod partners with the Challis Area Chamber of Commerce to help run the annual Steelhead Derby, selling entry tickets and measuring each participant's fish.

Now that the 2013 Spring Steelhead Season is moving into high gear The Bent Rod's Gretchen Roman reported, "It sure is getting busy here!"

Gretchen and Greg and Dusty Webster graciously agreed today to begin providing periodic Steelhead Reports covering the area served by their fine outdoor store.

"Steelhead fishing in the Challis area has been good for the last couple of weeks, although we are hearing reports of slower fishing the last two days as we wait for the next surge of fish to show up, Gretchen said, adding,  "We have had reports of fish being caught all the way up to Sunbeam."

"The river is in good shape as of now," Gretchen said,  "and hopefully it will stay that way through this warmer weather we are getting."

According to Gretchen, "Nighttime temperatures are in the mid 20’s, which is helping the water to clear up over night.  There are still some big ice banks in sections, but boaters can float from the BLM launch at the bridge above town to the Challis Hot Springs, or float all the way to Watts bridge to take out.  Access below Watts is good."

"We are selling lots of beads and egg patterns already, and one certain Bent Rod employee has been catching his steelhead on night crawlers," Gretchen noted, adding,  "The diehard hardware fishermen have been doing well also."

Access Update

Most Access Area boat ramps are open now.  Cottonwood was cleared earlier this month and Challis Bridge was plowed out earlier this week.  Above is a March 13 photo of Pennal Gulch.  According to Salmon Region IDFG Wildlife Technician Caryll McConnell, "There's 2-3 feet of ice on the boat ramp at Pennal Gulch. No one can put a boat in off the far rocky beach since it still has ice. IDFG doesn't usually clear this ramp. A portable toilet will be placed at Pennal by April 1, as the ice is normally gone by then."

Below is a photo of the Challis Bridge boat ramp taken last week during a snow squall.  Acces area conditions change quickly this time of year.

We appreciate Caryll McConnell's great photos.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

North Fork Steelhead Report

Staff of The Village at North Fork plan to provide a periodic steelhead fishing report for the remainder of this Spring Season.

"Steelhead fishing was slow to average Monday. Wind drove fishermen off the river early yesterday so fish counts were down" according to Tam Ambrose.  She added, "One of our guests whose been coming here for years said he was surprised by the lack of fishermen downriver. We expect this weekend will be much busier if the weather cooperates."

The boat ramps from Indianola upriver are open. Deadwater hasn’t been plowed out but people are reportedly able to get a boat out there. The river from North Fork to Salmon is mostly clear with a nice green color. The river below North Fork/Canyon is mostly clear with some color.

US Hwy. 93 from Salmon to Lost Trail is open and clear.  Drivers on the River Road should be alert for a lot of rocks in the road.

Today's forecast is calling for highs near 50 and a chance of rain. "Rain could muddy things up so that's always a concern. A lot of people hold off coming for a week after Deadwater goes out because they expect the river to be muddy.  This year, the river didn’t muddy up and we're assuming that is because Deadwater broke up so slowly," Ambrose said.

Monday, March 11, 2013

IDFG Steelhead Report #4

Brent Beller
"This weekend on the Upper Salmon River, steelhead fishing picked up downriver of North Fork but remained slow upriver," according to IDFG Salmon Region Fisheries Technician Brent Beller.

Beller said creel survey staff found the best catch rates in sections 14 and 15, with 3 and 9 hours per steelhead caught, respectfully.

"Section 16 did not receive as much angler pressure as the weekend before and was around 20 hours per steelhead caught," Beller said.

Section 17 showed an increase in angler effort, but the catch rate declined from the week before to 42 hours per steelhead. A total of 105 steelheaders where checked between the Lemhi and Pahsimeroi Rivers.

"Areas farther upriver in Sections 18 and 19 received the least amount of effort from anglers, and the catch rates of 11 and 14 hours per steelhead caught were similar to those from the previous weekend," Beller noted.  Only eleven anglers were checked from the East Fork upriver.
Click on the graphic for a larger version.

Photo of The Week

Roger Brown of Billings, Montana, caught a beautiful 42-inch steelhead this weekend somewhere downriver from North Fork.  Brown's grandson looks on.  Photo courtesy of Tam Ambrose via North Fork Fly Company and The Village At North Fork.  Congratulations, Roger, and Thanks, Tam!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Challis Chamber Steelhead Derby Underway

Sarah Baker is an avid Steelheader and won the Women's Divison in 2011.
The 13th Annual Challis Area Chamber of Commerce Steelhead Derby began March 1.  Now that the Deadwater Ice Jam is gone, the popular Steelhead Derby will really gain momentum.  The Steelhead Derby features two chances to win.  One is a straight out "Big Fish Contest" and the other is the "Mystery Fish Contest."

Derby participants buy an Entry Ticket for $20.  Derby cards must be purchased at The Bent Rod Outdoors on Hwy 93 in Challis before fish are caught and measured. Up to six steelhead may be entered in either the Big Fish or the Mystery Fish Contests.  The top three longest fish entered in Men's, Women's and the Youth categories will be announced at the April 6th Steelhead Ball.  First place wins $100; 2nd place $75 and third place $50.  Each week during the Steelhead Derby a random measure is drawn and the fish closest to that measure wins. In the first week there were six entries and Mike Rukavina's 22.75 inch steelhead won.  Rukavina and each upcoming weekly winner receives a $50 gift certificate from The Bent Rod Outdoors.

Rules for the Steelhead Derby are detailed on the poster below.  Steelhead Derby winners and the length of their fish  for the past 4 years are listed in a table below the poster. The Steelhead Derby ends at 5 pm April 6th an hour before the Steelhead Ball begins.
Throughout the duration of the Steelhead Derby, the Challis Chamber of Commerce sells 250 raffle tickets for $50 each for a chance to win  brand new 2013 Hyde Contender Series Drift Boat (Dark Blue) and trailer. It's a raffle with very good odds for participants. Buddy Wilton won the boat in 2012; Rick Forestier in 2011 and Dani Harvie in 2010.  There are many other great raffle prizes besides the boat.
Corey Rice displays a steelhead caught last weekend.

The Steelhead Ball begins at 6 pm and features an evening of dinner, dancing, raffles, auction and more.  The Steelhead Ball will be staged in the new Challis Community Events Center located on Clinic Road.  A major highlight of the Steelhead Ball is announcement of winners of The Big Fish Contest winners and the boat raffle.  Entertainment for the Steelhead Ball will be provided by "Horsin’ Around."  Musicians Travis Hardy, Wanda Swiggert, Chris MacDonald and Scott Lee are known for their wide range of music including: Oldies, Rock, Country, Classics and Contemporary.  Dinner is provided by The Village Inn and will be served from 6-8 pm.  Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for chilren 13 and under.

Steelhead Derby and Ball sponsors include The Bent Rod Outdoors; Watkins Distributing (Budweiser); Linger Distributing (Pepsi); Lambs Market; Challis Village in Motel & Restaurant; Thomsen Stephens Law Office and many others.

The Steelhead Derby and Ball are the Challis Area Chamber of Commerce’s primary fundraising event of the year. While membership dues pays for the chamber office and overhead, it is fundraising income that allows the chamber to have a part-time employee, participate in community projects and promote the Challis

The Challis Area Chamber of Commerce is located in the MadDog Gallery on Main Street in Challis. Melissa Perkins Fitzgerald is Executive Director.  For more information call 208-879-2771 or email:

Here is the Chamber website:

Last Deadwater Photos

Salmon, Idaho, NOAA Weather and River Spotter Dale Ford sent along these photos taken March 8th, the day Deadwater died.  Dale has a great eye for ice photos and we really appreciate receiving them.  They need no captions.  Bye, bye, Deadwater and THANK YOU, Dale, for all your awesome ice reports this season!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Deadwater's Last Day

Editor's Note:  We received word from Tam Ambrose of The Village At North Fork Friday morning that the Deadwater Ice Jam is "officially out today."  

Later Friday, we received this note from a close observer of steelhead fishing conditions: "There are people fishing the tail out of Deadwater already, and while there are still some large ice blocks floating through, there is a open channel through its entire length and it should not impede fish passage upstream any longer."

The narrative below the dashed line was posted Thursday when the last small ice bridge still existed.  

Let the Spring Steelhead Season begin its full swing!  


The Deadwater Ice Jam is skating on thin ice.  As of late Wednesday, observers noted a small ice bridge remaining at Deadwater.  IDFG Staff will be checking the area again Thursday.  Below are the latest photos we received as of Tuesday, March 5th.  Even though the weather turned a wee bit cooler on Wednesday, there has been enough thermal gain in both the water and ice mass over the past few days to portend the final break up of the Deadwater Jam, possibly today.

Due to the manner in which the Deadwater Ice Jam has evolved this year, the river's water quality might not be as muddy for as long as normal. The typical turbidity encountered during and following the Deadwater break up is often caused by large ice chunks hitting the bottom of the river.  It may be this year that the bulk of the ice chunks and slabs have already passed downstream.  One observer noted that the river yesterday appeared surprisingly clear already.

The break-up of the Deadwater Ice Jam is notable because it generally marks the beginning of the maximum spring steelhead season fishing pressure each year.  Observers expect the most fishing pressure in the North Fork region to occur between March 8 and 23rd.  Fishing pressure in the Ellis area normally peaks in late March to early April.

We are Thankful to IDFG's Salmon Region Wildlife Technician Caryll McConnell for these photos taken March 5.  Labels are below each photo.

A view of the general vicinity of Dump Creek.
Looking upriver from the USFS Deadwater area March 5.
The Deadwater boat ramp March 5.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

US NRCS March "Basin Outlook Report"

The Idaho Office of the US NRCS yesterday released their monthly "Basin Outlooks Report."  Here is the relevant narrative for The Salmon River:

"For a whole, the Salmon basin snowpack decreased from 101% of median a month ago to 91% on March 1. Snowpacks in the Salmon River tributaries range from a low of 77% of median in the low elevation Little Salmon to normal conditions in the Lemhi basin. The MF Salmon River and most other tributaries are in the 90-95% of normal range. 

With the lack of precipitation the past two months, streamflow forecasts continued the downward slide throughout February, down another 10-20 percentage points from last month. The Salmon River near White Bird is forecast at 5,150,000 acre-feet, 87% of average. This would equate to 79% of the 1971-2010 average value. River runners and water users need to get used to the new normals. 

The higher percentages are a lot like river runner stories; you need to decipher the facts from the inflated percentages or numbers. Overall, this year’s runoff will still be promising; the volumes will not be as high last year. There are still six to eight weeks left in the snowpack accumulation season in these central mountains, so let’s hope this roller coaster precipitation pattern bottoms out and starts climbing again. Peak flows and timing of runoff are spring weather dependent."

You can read the full statewide document below or click here to obtain the file from the US NRCS FTP Server:

Monday, March 4, 2013

IDFG Steelhead Report #3

IDFG's Brent Beller

IDFG's Salmon Region Fisheries Technician Brent Beller released the third report of the 2013 Steelhead season.

Beller said, "This weekend on the upper Salmon River, the number of anglers increased, but compared to the week before, the fishing was not as good. The best catch rate was found in section 18 where anglers averaged 11 hours per steelhead."

" Section 19, with a catch rate of 12 hours per steelhead was the second best, while sections 15 and 16 were at 15 and 16 hours per steelhead caught, respectively," Beller continued.  Fishing within sections 14 and 15 was hindered by muddy water conditions due to the Deadwater ice jam breaking apart.

Beller offered some insights into both the Deadwater Ice Jam and ice conditions in general. "As of yesterday (3rd) the ice jam had receded nearly to Deadwater and most likely, it will break up entirely sometime within the next few days," Beller observed.

"Anglers should use caution when fishing on, or next to, the bank ice left behind by the ice jam. This weekend, an angler fishing off of a large piece of bank ice ended up in the river when the ice collapsed and catapulted him into water 8-10 feet deep. During the next couple of weeks many more of these large blocks of bank ice will collapse into the river as they melt, and anglers should keep that in the back of their minds when choosing a safe spot to fish from," Beller advised.
You can click on the graphic above to see a larger, much more readable version.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Latest North Fork ice photos

Tam Ambrose of The Village At North Fork just sent two photos taken less than an hour ago from the North Fork boat ramp.

Tam reports, "There is a floatable channel to the North Fork boat ramp and, in fact, there's a boat trailer parked there as I write this."

What an amazing difference 5 days can make from Monday to Friday! The boat ramp was cleared yesterday.  Thanks, Tam!
 Above is today's view upriver from the North Fork boat ramp.  Below is Monday's view of the same area.

Above is today's view looking downriver from the North Fork boat ramp.  Below is Monday's view.

IDFG Salmon River Access Area Report

The IDFG Salmon Region's Caryll McConnell sent along this morning a great summary of Upper Salmon River Access Area conditions.  Her report appears in italics below this classic photo of Deadwater.
Downriver below North Fork, the Deadwater Ice Jam is living up to its name.
The ice is starting to break up and form channels although  the river is far from free flowing.
Above is the view looking upriver from the USFS Deadwater Campground ice bridge bottleneck on 2-26-2013.
This week most accesses and boat ramps are open from Deer Gulch near Ellis, downriver through North Fork on Hwy 93. 

The exceptions are the BLM Morgan Bar campground and boat ramp, both of which are under ice and closed. Tower Rock Boat ramp was cleared earlier this week. For updates on these sites contact the Salmon BLM office. 

Salmon City’s Island Park and IDFG access sites Carmen Bridge, Red Rock, 4th of July, Bobcat Gulch and North Fork boat ramps have all been cleared with camping available at the IDFG sites. 

The small gravel bar take-out adjacent to 4th of July Creek is open but there is no turn-around space here other than on highway 93, use caution. 

The river has very little shore ice from Ellis to BLM Shoup Bridge making this approximately 40 miles of river bank enjoyable fishing. The IDFG Watts Bridge boat ramp is clear though connecting river passages are subject to ice dams so not advisable boating. 

BLM Cottonwood Recreation Site boat ramp is blocked with ice in addition to ice dams both above and below it as of Tuesday, 2/26.

IDFG/BLM Pennal Gulch gravel boat ramp is frozen with ice as is the Challis Bridge boat ramp. There is shore ice from Challis Bridge through Cottonwood as well, boating is inadvisable. The river is changing very quickly with warmer temperatures now.
 Above and below are two more river views between North Fork and the 
USFS Deadwater Campground showing open river channels, ice dams, and settling ice.
Below is one last classic view of the open river channel and
substantial shore ice between North Fork and Salmon.
And, finally, below is a view of IDFG's Bobcat Gulch boat ramp after it was cleared 02.28.13.
The snowbanks are 3-4 feet high on either side of the ramp.  IDFG courtesy photo.

Thank You, Caryll, for creating and providing this great report.