Fall is for Swinging for Steelhead


It was always supposed to be the height of fishing. An experience measured in classic terms of things learned, the quality of the memory bestowed by a fertile and new fall morning that gives up a fertile and new trophy. Fresh from the sea, heeding the call of a biological clock roughly as old as the last ice-age.

Fly-fishing for steelhead trout in the high-desert hills of eastern Idaho is all one could ever ask it to be. You don’t drive over there expecting to catch them. Hopefulness is certainly permitted, but swinging traditional wet flies on a floating fly line with a two-handed rod is about much much more than hammerin em’.

I do not want to cross whatever line there is in the sand between “purists” and those who choose to pursue these creatures by other methods. How you get your kicks is your business.

I must say, once you decide to settle into the rhythm – strip strip strip strip strip – lay the line in front of you, go through the motions of casting out line into a run of the river that most likely has its own name. A name which it most likely deserves. A name that was most likely given by a group of fishermen intimate with the habits of the river, her years of feast and famine. Once you decide that this is the course for you, well, dreams of a mighty tug right in the middle of a perfect swing are sure to permeate your thoughts day and night.

I caught my first Pacific-run steelhead in mid-October after sacrificing a brand new 13-foot rod, reel, and line to the river, or, more accurately, to the street via the bed of my truck. Either way, the fish gods were pleased and allowed me two beautiful fish over three days of fishing.

“Poppy,” the undoubted dean of the Clearwater proclaimed to me from behind his fine white beard (equal parts Hell’s Angels and Santa Claus) with wise finality, “Young man, you are now fucked for life.”


Need more tales from the river? Check out Matt and Bryce’s other blogs: Fall Fly Fishing in Western Montana, Ode to Brown Trout, and The Four Stages of Fly Fishing, or visit the Fish It archive.

Be sure to visit our Make it Missoula fishing page.


Photos of Missoula Fly Fishing Experts Matt Devlin and Bryce McLean

Matt Devlin (left) is originally from Annapolis, Maryland and learned to fool trout on the technical waters of the Gunpowder River. He has fished in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Maine, Michigan, Indiana, North and South Carolina, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. He thinks about flies and fishing a whole lot.

Bryce McLean (right) was born and raised in Montana, and has been fly fishing here for almost 20 years. He first learned to fish on the Missouri River, but when he was 10 my family moved to the Bitterroot Valley. He’s been fishing the Bitterroot River ever since. This has been his second season guiding the Missoula area rivers, which he consider to be some of the best trout fisheries on planet Earth.