30 Great Places: Clearwater

Region: Northern Rockies
Activity: Fishing
Species: Cutthroat trout

Where: The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests encompass more than four million acres in north central Idaho. Three renowned white water rivers – the Selway, Lochsa and Salmon – course through the mountainous terrain. Many of the region’s streams hold healthy populations of westslope cutthroat.

Why: Excellent top-water angling for native cutts in a secluded setting.

“The North Fork of the Clearwater is a long river (over 190 miles), and it’s followed by a road for much of its distance,” said Steve Bush, a member of the Clearwater-Snake River Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “Anglers fish the entire river, which is easily wadeable; in most places, you can cast across. All the tribs have trout, but the fish are bigger in the North Fork, and they tend to be bigger the further downriver you go.”

Fall is perhaps the best time to fish the North Fork.

“There’s a brief window in the late spring when the road is clear and the river is still cold, but anglers tend to leave it alone in the summer (when water temps hit 60 degrees) and wait until it cools down,” Bush continued. “A number of dry flies will work—most mayfly patterns, Elk Hair Caddis. I do well with an Irresistible. In the fall, kokanee from Dworshak Reservoir come up the North Fork to spawn. Some will use egg patterns or streamers behind the kokanee.”

Anglers will consistently encounter cutties in the 12 inch to 16 inch range, with occasional fish up to 19 inches.

Local Knowledge: Be prepared for rough roads.

“You’ll want to be aware that the roads are closed until late in the spring, and that when they do open, they’re unpaved most of the way,” Bates added. “It’s a little harder to get to the North Fork compared to the Lochsa and St. Joe, which have more improved roads. But that can mean less pressure.”

TU Initiatives: Maintaining roadless lands in national forests and other undeveloped lands is essential for preserving water quality and providing habitat for wide-ranging animals like grizzly bears. Trout Unlimited helped bring together a variety of stakeholders – sportspeople, ranchers and conservationists – to craft the Idaho Roadless Rule, which took effect in 2008. The rule preserves nearly 1.5 million acres of roadless lands in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests alone. To further foster an atmosphere of cooperation, TU has engaged with the Clearwater Basin Collaborative, a broad-based group that endeavors to take a balanced approach to managing the basin’s public lands.

Make a Difference: Recent years have seen a renewed interest to divest public lands like the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. These efforts have come in many forms, be they hostile takeovers or attempts to quietly pass legislation that would hand over your lands over to individual states to own or manage. Take action today to tell Congress you want to keep public lands in public hands and to work toward real solution that solve land management challenges.

By Shauna Stephenson. Shauna Stephenson has been a writer, photographer, communicator and conservationist for nearly two decades, the past decade being spent at Trout Unlimited, working on projects…