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Now’s the time to catch a big steelhead in Idaho!

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Salmon River steelhead courtesy Mountain River Outfitters

By Steve Stuebner

It’s late fall, and steelhead season is kicking into high gear in Idaho! The fish are moving upstream into the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers as we speak. Now is the time to book a steelhead trip with an fishing outfitter to catch a big one with your friends and family.

Late fall also means the IOGA annual meeting is coming up! It’s scheduled for Dec. 13-15 at the Riverside Hotel in Boise, including the super-fun fund-raiser, silent/live auction, raffles and live music on Thursday night, Dec. 15. Save the date! More about that in a moment …

The big highlight with this year’s steelhead season, according to experts, is an abundance of B-run steelhead (i.e. big fish) to catch, but not as many A-run fish (smaller fish that only went to the ocean for one year) in the river.

“The good news is that we’ve got a great run of B-run steelhead this year,” says Jess Baugh of Mountain River Outfitters in Riggins. “These are some of the best-lookin’ fish we’ve seen in years. There won’t be as many fish in the river this year, but the quality of the fish is so high they’ll be wall-mounters.”

idaho-steelhead-jetboat1-mroIndeed, the fish counts, according to Idaho Department of Fish and Game, are down, compared to the five-year, average. But so far, more than 89,440 steelhead have passed Lower Granite Dam, and they’re heading to the Snake, Clearwater and Salmon rivers for anglers to catch. The catch-and-keep season on the Clearwater started on Oct. 15 and runs through the spring.

People are catching fish in Riggins and in Central Idaho on the Salmon River as well right now. “The whole river system is full of fish now,” Baugh says.

Anglers can choose from booking day trips with guides on float boats or jet boats, or they can choose a more deluxe option and book a multiday trip and stay in river-side lodging accommodations. That’s what we did with Idaho Adventures on the Salmon River, staying in a different lodge every night, where you can look forward to a hearty hot meal and a warm place to sleep. That’s a welcome treat after a full day of fishing on the river in cold-weather conditions.

Mountain River Outfitters has a fishing lodge at China Bar on the Salmon River and at Mackay Bar. At the  Flying B Ranch near Kamiah, take the top-shelf experience and drift-fish for steelhead, and then go bird-hunting or deer hunting on their vast private hunting preserve. That’s quite a full-meal deal for the fishing and hunting enthusiast!

For the most fun, gather up some friends or family members for a memorable steelhead fishing adventure. Day trips typically range from $195 to $250 per person (minimum two people) for drift boats or jet boats, and trips with overnight lodging (including meals) range from $450/night to $1,800 to $2,500 for a 5-day trip with lodging.

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The IOGA fund-raiser is always a great time. The event is open to the public.

Now, back to the IOGA meeting. The public is invited and encouraged to attend the fund-raiser, silent/live auction, raffles and live music on Thursday night, Dec. 15, at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City. The fun kicks off at 5:30 p.m. and runs through 10 p.m.

The IOGA annual meeting is well attended by Idaho outfitters, guides and agency personnel including the Forest Service, BLM, Idaho Fish & Game and the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Licensing Board. On Wednesday, Dec. 14, about 28 outdoor equipment manufacturers will be displaying their goods from 2-5 p.m. that afternoon at the Riverside.

Highlights from meeting presentations include the opening general session with comments about the state of the Idaho outfitting and guiding industry from Steve Burson, IOGA president, Grant Simonds, IOGA Government Affairs Liaison, and Janey Bruesch, IOGA office manager.

David Brown, executive director of the America Outdoors Association, will give an update on the state of the national outfitting and guiding industry, overall recreation trends and regulatory issues that may affect outfitting businesses across America. This presentation is scheduled for Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.

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The live auction always has some excellent values for sale including firearms, outdoor gear and outfitted trips!

On Wednesday, Dec. 14 at lunchtime, Bruce Reichert, executive producer of the award-winning program, “Outdoor Idaho,” will present “The Outfitters,” which prominently features long-time IOGA member and Salmon-based outfitter Bill Bernt, owner of Aggipah River Trips, among outfitters profiled.

On Thursday morning, Dec. 15, experts will talk about key topics of interest for the operations side of running an outfitting business – technology, what the meaning of “may” mean in the Wilderness Act relative to wilderness outfitter operations, guiding philosophies, relationships between guides and outfitters, and wilderness regulations.

Following that presentation, outfitting experts will present “Guide Tracks” — educational discussions on a new state law that allows outfitters and guides to administer epinephrine to guests in the field (training required), how to handle tips, and minimum wage and overtime law.

For more information about the IOGA meeting, go to http://ioga.org/meetings-events.

Outdoor writer and author Steve Stuebner is a regular contributor to the IOGA blog.