The Clearwater River & its Steelhead


The Clearwater River is a river in north central Idaho,which flows westward from the Bitterroot Mountains along the Idaho-Montana border, and joins the Snake River at Lewiston. In October 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition descended the Clearwater River in dugout canoes, putting in at ”Canoe Camp,” five miles (8 km) downstream from Orofino. By average discharge, the Clearwater River is the largest tributary of the Snake River, although the Salmon River is longer and drains a greater area.


The river runs north through a canyon to the confluence with Lolo Creek. It soon passes the town of Greer and receives Big Creek from the right. At Orofino the river swings northwest and runs in anearly straight line for about 3 miles (4.8 km), then receives the North Fork Clearwater River from the right at Ahsahka close to Dworshak Reservoir. After the North Fork contributes its flow, the Clearwater trends west.As the river canyon cuts deeper into the Columbia Plateau, the Clearwater passes the unincorporated communities of Myrtle and Arrow, where it receives the Potlatch River from the right.Lapwai Creek joins from the left where the river passes close to Spalding. Here, U.S. Highway 95 crosses the Clearwater while Highway 12 continues running along the north shore. The river soon widens and slows into the slack water of Lower Granite Lake as it approaches Lewiston. Just as it crosses the Idaho-Washington state line, it joins its waters with the Snake River.



Idaho’s steelhead are classified into two groups, A-run and B-run, based on their size and ocean lifehistory. Steelhead are actually rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean and return to fresh water (anadromous fish).Idaho’s A-run steelhead are usually found in the Snake and Salmon rivers. They returnfrom the ocean earlier in the year (usually June through August) and they most often return afterspending one year in the ocean. Because they return early in the year and because they usually comeback after only one year in the ocean, they weigh 4 to 6 pounds and are generally 23 to 26 inches inlength.


The B-run steelhead most often return to the Clearwater River, but some returnto 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 and 13 pounds and are 31 to 34 inches long. Steelhead grow very large 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 often weigh more than 20 pounds. The Idaho state record steelhead was 30 pounds and was caught in the Clearwater River in 1973.

© 2016 Clearwater Steelhead Syndicate. All Rights Reserved.

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