Frequently Asked Questions

We get a lot of questions. We post here answers to questions we're being asked frequently. If you have a question not answered here, please contact us. Urgent questions should be directed to your nearest office. Some answers change over time; please take note of the "answered" date.

Displaying 1 - 25 of 199 questions


Adult steelhead start swimming into Idaho waters each July. Beginning in July and for the next 10 months anglers pursue steelhead as they migrate up the Snake, Clearwater and Salmon rivers. Steelhead fishing winds down in May as the fish reach their spawning grounds in Idaho’s mountain streams and hatcheries.

answered 6/1/2016


Because steelhead are in so many places in the state over such a long period of time, it’s hard to say there is a best time and place to go steelhead fishing. However, their upstream migration provides a general timeline for when they will likely arrive in different waters.

July through September: As steelhead start arriving into Idaho they tend to move into the Clearwater River using it as a thermal refuge. These early arriving fish tend to remain in the Clearwater until the Snake River cools toward the end of September or beginning of October.

October through December: October is an exciting time for steelhead anglers as two things tend to happen. Fish start spreading upstream into the Snake and Salmon rivers and by the time you reach November steelhead can be caught about everywhere. Another exciting thing that starts to happen in October is the larger B-run steelhead start entering the Clearwater River.

January and February: January and February can be times to fish with a little more solitude on the Clearwater, Little Salmon and Salmon rivers. Cold water reduces fish activity and catch rates decline, but fishing can still be productive when conditions are good.

March through May: The Salmon River upstream of Salmon, the Little Salmon River, the North Fork Clearwater and the South Fork Clearwater all provide the best fishing in the spring. Catch rates can be really good then as the fish are moving into the smaller rivers at the end of their migration.

Each month of the year and each location provide a completely different experience – the long days of September on the lower Clearwater, a warm October day in the Salmon River canyon, a cold January day in a drift boat near Riggins or Orofino, or the spring thaw in the Stanley Basin in April. The best time to fish for steelhead is a personal choice.

answered 6/1/2016


Steelhead spawn in streams from mid-April to late June. They use areas of gravel or small cobble depending on the size of the fish. Often the best spawning areas are in pool tail-outs. When a female finds a suitable place to spawn, she displaces the gravel with her body and tail, and the male fertilizes the eggs as they are deposited.

The eggs hatch in early to midsummer. The young fish live in the stream and then migrate to the ocean, usually after two years of rearing in the stream. The juvenile fish will grow rapidly after they reach the ocean. When they mature and are ready to spawn, steelhead migrate back to the place they were born. They enter the lower river drainages in the fall and winter-over to spawn the following spring, which allows a fall and spring fishing season to occur. Most wild steelhead take 4 to 6 years to mature.

answered 5/3/2016


Steelhead anglers fish use a variety of techniques such as plunking, bobber and jig, fly fishing, side planer, back trolling, and side drifting. Since steelhead typically are not feeding as they wait to spawn, anglers like to use a variety lures, beads, yarn and/or flies that stimulate the steelhead to bite. Sometimes steelhead are aggressive and will take about anything put in front of them, and other times it requires more finesse. Many anglers believe that using bait or scent will increase the likelihood that a steelhead will bite. Popular baits include shrimp, sand shrimp, and cured eggs, and there are about as many different types of scents that anglers use as you can imagine.

answered 5/3/2016


In banner years for returning steelhead, Fish and Game often bring adult hatchery steelhead to the Boise River to create an additional fishing opportunity. This generally happens in mid-November, depending on the counts and timing of steelhead returning to the trap at Hells Canyon Dam.

answered 5/3/2016


Steelhead are native rainbow trout which migrate to the ocean as juvenile fish and return to fresh water as adults to spawn. In Idaho these ocean-going trout are often classified into two groups, A-run and B-run based on their size and ocean life history.

Idaho’s A-run are usually found in the Snake and Salmon rivers. They return from the ocean earlier in the year (usually June through August) and they most often return after spending one year in the ocean. Because of their early return and short stay in the ocean they usually weigh 4 to 6 pounds and are generally 23 to 26 inches in length.

B-run steelhead most often return to the Clearwater River, but some return to tributaries in the Salmon River. These fish usually spend two years in the ocean and start their migration to Idaho later in the summer or fall of the year (usually late August or September.) Because of the extra year and the extra summer of growing in the ocean, they return as much bigger fish. Average B-run steelhead weigh between 10 to 13 pounds and are 31 to 34 inches long.

Steelhead grow even larger when they spend a third year in the ocean before they return to Idaho to spawn. These steelhead are usually larger than 37 inches and can weigh more than 20 pounds.

The Idaho state record steelhead was 30 pounds and 2 ounces and was caught in the Clearwater River in 1973.

answered 5/3/2016




On an average year, 2000-3000 steelhead return to Sawtooth Fish Hatchery. We typically see fewer than 100 natural steelhead at the Sawtooth weir.

answered 3/24/2016

Q: Permit question

What is the difference between three day License and permit for $37.50 opposed to the steelhead permit for $25.75? If they both have a three day license then what is the benefit for the more expensive permit?


There is a difference between the Steelhead Permit and the 3-day Salmon/Steelhead.   The 3-day Salmon/Steelhead is a 3-day Fishing License with a Salmon Permit and a Steelhead Permit.   The Steelhead Permit cannot be purchased unless you have a Nonresident Fishing LIcense.  As of the date this question is being answered (3/16/16) the total cost for a Nonresident Fishing License and the Steelhead Permit would be $124.00.  These items would be good for the calendar year instead of just 3 days.

answered 3/15/2016

Q: What is a safe float for a beginner drift boater? I'm looking for steelhead.

I've done a lot of drift fishing on Washington rivers, but never gone steelhead or salmon fishing in idaho. I've rowed my new drift boat only a handful of times now so I'm looking for a beginner float that is fishy. Please help I'm dying to get one


Hi there, thanks for your question. Its great to hear that you are excited about steelhead fishing. Drift boats are a great way to chase these fantastic fish. Your options will be limited to your skills on the oars and where steelhead can currently be found. At this time of year (late winter), you best bet will be the Clearwater River near Kooskia near the confluence of the South Fork Clearwater. There are several easy floats from Kooskia down to Orofino. I suggest starting at Kooskia and floating down the Button Beach, or Kamiah. You could also float Kamiah to Long Camp. During the fall season (September - November) you should float the lower sections of the Clearwater from Cherry Lane to Lewiston. 
For more access and boat ramp information for the Clearwater River, take a look at this very helpful guidebook pamphlet:
You could also try some sections of the main Salmon near Riggins. There is an easy float upstream of Riggins from Shorts Bar to Long Bar, and several downstream of Riggins as well. You may want to talk to a local tackle shop before heading out to get some better sense of the rapids in this area. There are some challenging spots that you don't want row a drift boat without being experienced. 
Once you gain some more experience, check out the main Salmon around Challis and Salmon. These can be great spots and take just a little more skill, but are otherwise very drift boat friendly. 
Good luck, and be sure to bring an extra oar, life jackets and typical safety gear. 
Martin Koenig
Sportfishing Program Coordinator

answered 2/15/2016

Q: Are kids allowed their own limit of fish?

Are kids allowed to catch their own limit of fish or do the fish count towards the licenced adults limit ?


It depends on if the children (under 14 years of age) are residents of the State of Idaho or nonresidents.
Resident children (primary domicile/home) who have lived in Idaho for at least the past 6 months are considered residents and can possess their own daily bag limit of fish.  They can even purchase a salmon or steelhead permit (without having a license) and have their own bag limit of these fish.  If they don't purchase a salmon or steelhead permit, then fish they catch and keep need to be recorded on their parents permit and count against their parent's daily bag limit.
Nonresident children (under the age of 14) can fish without a license, but they must be accompanied by a licensed individual (resident or nonresident).  Any fish the youth catches count on the licensed person's daily bag limit.  Nonresident youth can purchase their own 3-day Salmon and Steelhead permit and have their own limit of salmon or steelhead caught within the 3-day period covered by the license.

answered 2/11/2016

Q: What type of fishing license should I get?

I will be visiting from out of state for 7 days to fish for steelhead. What is the best license for me to get?


Let's look at the economics of the various license options. 
You could buy a Nonresident Fishing license ($98.25) and a Nonresident Steelhead permit ($25.75) and fish all year for steelhead in Idaho.  It would also give you the latitude to return in the fall and fish for steelhead at no additional cost.  You could also fish for salmon in the spring or fall with an additional nonresident Salmon permit for $25.75.
If you want to buy 3-Day Salmon/Steelhead permits (includes a 3-day nonresident fishing license) they cost $25.75.  You would need to purchase 3 individual permits for a total of $77.25 to fish for 7 days.  If you go this "route," you might as well plan on a 9 day vacation rather than 7 days.

answered 2/10/2016

Q: Steelhead

What month do they run in 2016?


In the late winter and spring, steelhead can be found in the upper sections of most rivers open to steelhead fishing. This is usually February - April, but check the closure dates. In February-April, steelhead will be found in the Clearwater, South Fork Clearwater, Salmon River near Riggins, and the upper Salmon River from Salmon to Stanley. The Snake River bellow Hells Canyon dam is also popular at this time of year.
In the fall, steelhead begin to appear in Idaho in September. Lower sections of the Clearwater, and Snake rivers are best. Fishing picks up in October and November and steelhead can be found in the Salmon River near the towns of Riggins and as high as North Fork and Salmon. 

answered 2/2/2016


Yes, page 14 in the fishing regulations only restricts fishing to single point barbless hooks while fishing for salmon and steelhead.  Barbed hooks are allowed while fishing for trout, although cutthroat are catch and release only; and if you caught a salmon or steelhead while using a barbed hook they could not be reduced to possession.  Good Luck fishing

answered 1/31/2016

Q: Does Fish and Game consider trapping Steelhead for Boise River from Riggins instead of Hells Canyon?

I have fished Hells Canyon for years, it is remote, quiet and a beautiful place to fish for this prized fish, every year extra steel head are trapped in addition to the hatchery needs to plant the Boise River as well as other locations. I know this is to sell tags but the fish put in these systems are at best caught for only a couple days, myself and many of my friends see a huge decrease in fishing as hundreds of these fish are removed from Hells Canyon, has fish and game ever considered sharing the pain and trapping a portion of these fish from the Salmon river?


Yes, we have considered many options for how we operate the steelhead trapping and translocation program as it seems to receive an inordinate amount of scrutiny. For Idaho's share, we try to find a balance between meeting broodstock needs, and providing harvest opportunity downstream of Hells Canyon and in other locations. Currently, we purposefully delay the opening date of the Hells Canyon trap to meet the needs of fishermen downstream of Hells Canyon. After November 1, we usually begin trapping efforts to capture fish for the Boise River. As for the notion that we are doing this simply to sell tags and that translocated fish only last a couple of days, I don't agree. We operate the translocation program to provide a unique fishery to a large number of people that might not find the time to travel to do so. Plus, this program reminds people of what was once in the Boise River and other systems that no longer provide anadromous fishing opportunity. Sure, the fact that these anglers buy tags is a bonus, but it certainly is not the reason why we choose to provide this fishery. As for residence time, it is true that a lot of the harvest and effort occur within the first few days. However, we see steelhead-related fishing effort for several weeks after the last stocking event and stocked steelhead live for several months after being translocated. Last weekend, we received a report of one angler catching 2 steelhead in the Boise River in one day, around three months post translocation. These reports are not uncommon. As for utilizing Salmon River fish, I don't see that this option is feasible.  As you probably know, almost Salmon River trapping locations are located much farther upstream and steelhead do not begin to show up at the facilities until the spring at which time they are in much worse condition to the point that translocating wouldn't provide decent fisheries.     

answered 1/22/2016

Q: Are the dates on a 3 day steelhead permit flexible?

I am taking a guided steelhead fishing trip in March and will purchase a 3 day permit and license. If for some reason the trip is postponed, and I do no fishing at all on the original dates, would the license still be good for the revised dates?


We would need to change the dates before the dates on the current license expire.  A new license would need to be issued with the new dates.  This can be done at no cost.

answered 1/11/2016

Q: Best month for fishing steelhead?

What month of the year is best for fishing steelhead? And what river is recommended for fishing steelhead?


Steelhead fishing is probably best in October-November and again in March-April. While steelhead can be caught in the winter between December and February, catch rates are usually much lower until water temperatures come back up. 
In the fall, steelhead fishing usually first picks up in the lower Clearwater River and the Snake River near Lewiston. The lower Salmon River between Riggins and Hammer Creek (Whitebird grade) and the Little Salmon River (Riggins) also can fish well in October-November. In spring, steelhead move higher upstream as spawning season approaches. Steelhead fishing in March/April is best higher upstream in the Clearwater (Kooskia) and SF Clearwaters (Stites). The upper Salmon River between Challis and Stanley is best in March and April. 
You can find more information about seasons and rules on our steelhead webpages here:
Martin Koenig
Sportfishing Program Coordinator

answered 12/23/2015

Q: Trout limit and possesion limits

Many fisherman in our region have tried to get the trout limit in our region reduced because of poor numbers of fish being caught. this has fallen on deaf ears (yours!) Then we are told that you can"t plant the #'s of fish as in the past (understandable!) . Now I hear the possession limit is being raised to 3 times the dailley limit!! That is 18 fish legally in possesion!! Ask fishermen about their sucess @ Blackfoot Resevoir! Was there any public input requested? If so I missed it. Why


Thanks for your question about the upcoming changes to the trout possession limit. When the new fishing rules take effect in 2016, anglers will be able to have 3 daily bag limits in possession, whereas before it was just one. This usually meant fisherman traveling for the weekend or on vacation were only able to bring home one limit of trout (usually 6). IDFG received lots of public comment from anglers that were unhappy with the one-day possession limit rule, since they could only bring back 6 trout, despite being away fishing for several days. This does not change the daily bag limit, which is still 6. So anglers are still limited to harvesting only one limit per day. There was also interest to make trout possession limits consistent with the salmon/steelhead fishing rules to reduce confusion.
During June - August 2015, IDFG asked for public input on this change with several options. Several statewide and local press releases were issued announcing the online fishing rule survey at the IDFG website. Public open house meetings were held at the Pocatello Southeast Region office (and all other offices). Also, since this change required amending the IDAPA code, proposed changes were also published in the administrative bulletin. I understand that you must feel frustrated that you didn't get a chance to comment. Despite advertising the open houses and the online survey that was available for several weeks, we don't always reach everyone.
We recognize that reduced stocking at Blackfoot Reservoir has resulted in a decreases in catch rates. Restoring stocking numbers at Blackfoot Reservoir is a high priority. However, if we are unable to get back to stocking 80,000 catchable-sized rainbow trout in Blackfoot Reservoir, a reduction in the daily bag will be considered.
We would be happy to talk to you more about this change or Blackfoot Reservoir specifically, so please feel free to contact us. Here's our information:
Dave Teuscher - Southeast Regional Fish Manager
Martin Koenig - Sportfishing Program Coordinator

answered 12/10/2015

Q: Transplanted Steelhead Homing Instinct

I was wondering what the typical behavior is of salmon and steelhead that are transplanted into other rivers, like the Boise River? What happens to their homing instinct, and do they typically continue to move upstream or do they go downstream or stay in the same location confused?


Great question! 
We don't have great information on this, but we do have some idea about how these fish typically move. IDFG has tagged some of the steelhead and salmon that have been released into the Boise River. By keeping track of where tagged fish are released, and where they were caught by anglers, we can get some idea of the movement patterns. Most of the salmon and steelhead released tend to move upstream after a day or two of being stocked, so they tend to spread out if they were caught immediately. Some anglers claim to have found Boise River steelhead in odd places like irrigation return drains that connect to the Boise River, and even as far downstream as Star or Middleton. This suggests there are some steelhead turn around and try to "leave" the river, but most seem to stay and move upstream. In some years, anglers have reported catching steelhead as late as March, showing that some spend the entire winter before being caught. However, this is not typical and most steelhead are caught within a month of being transferred to the Boise River. 
Best of luck if you head out on the river! 

answered 11/19/2015


Another 150 steelhead will be stocked in the Boise River on Thursday, November 19, 2015, the last of two planned stocking efforts prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.  In years past, as many as 900 steelhead made the road trip from Hells Canyon Dam to the Boise River, but this year's below-average steelhead return means only about 300 fish will be coming to the Boise River this fall. The fish will be stocked at four locations along the Boise River, including Glenwood Bridge, just below the Broadway Avenue Bridge behind Boise State University, at Parkcenter Bridge and at Barber Park. Anglers should note that no stocking will take place at Americana Bridge due to construction at that location. Besides a fishing license, anglers hoping to tangle with one of the hatchery steelhead need a $12.75 steelhead permit, good for 20 fish. Though required in other steelhead waters, barbless hooks are not required for Boise River steelhead angling. All steelhead stocked in the Boise River will lack an adipose fin (the small fin normally found immediately behind the dorsal fin). Boise River anglers catching a rainbow trout longer than 20 inches that lacks an adipose fin should consider the fish a steelhead. Any steelhead caught by an angler not holding a steelhead permit must immediately be returned to the water. Steelhead limits on the Boise River are three fish per day, nine in possession, and 20 for the fall season. The fish are A-run hatchery steelhead, returning to the Idaho Power Company-owned and funded Oxbow Hatchery fish trap below Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River. For more information regarding the Boise River steelhead release, contact the Fish and Game Nampa office at 465-8465 or check the department's web site at:  

answered 11/18/2015

Q: when in november willthe steel heads be released in the boise river

I heard that it would be this thursday is that true


Yes. More than 150 steelhead will be stocked in the Boise River on Thursday, November 12 the first of two planned stocking efforts prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. Here is the full news release about the Boise River steelhead stocking.

answered 11/11/2015

Q: Salmon/steelhead license

Can I fish for either salmon or steelhead with one permit or do I need to buy a permit for each species?


In Idaho we require seperate permits to fish for steelhead and salmon.  So, the Steelhead permit is good for fishing in the spring and fall steelhead seasons.  You need to record all steelhead caught and kept over 20" in length on your permit. 
The Salmon permit is good for fishing in the spring and summer (spring Chinook salmon) and fall (fall Chinook and coho salmon). Salmon over 24" that are kept must be recorded on your permit by removing a date notch and recording the river section where the fish is caught.

answered 11/9/2015

Q: steelhead fishing rigging shrimp

How do you rig shrimp for steelhead fishing?


Thread the hook through the main body of the shrimp.  If the shrimp has been frozen or is soft, some people will put a couple of half-hitches of thread around around the shrimp on the hook to hold it in-place.
Most people will use shrimp below a "Sammy" when the river temperatures are cooler in the winter.

answered 11/6/2015


When are Steelhead going to be released in the Boise River????? November 2015 WHEN??


A load of steelhead will be delivered to the Boise River this week (week of November 9th) and another load is scheduled to be delivered next week (November 16th) pending the weather.

answered 11/3/2015

Q: What is the Cutthroat trout limit on the main Salmon River below the Middle Fork?

We fish for steelhead below the Middle Fork of the Salmon River on the main part of the River. We catch a lot of cutthroat trout and we have released them. Is there a possibility we could keep one to have for dinner?


In the Salmon River below the Middle Fork, you can only keep trout with a clipped adipose fin.  The cutthroat you are catching are wild and will have all their fins.  Therefore, it would be illegal to keep wild cutthroat caught in that reach of the Salmon River.

answered 11/3/2015


Yes, a resident may purchase a fishing license and steelhead permit for a nonresident.

answered 10/27/2015