Friday, June 29, 2012

Salmon Fishing the North Fork Clearwater River

Above Dworshak Hatchery, the Dworshak Dam looms in the not so distant horizon.  Stretching 700 feet in the air, the Dam impounds the North Fork of the Clearwater River.  Chinook salmon returning to the Dworshak Hatchery swarm into the 1 mile of flowing river below the Dam in their bid to reach ancestral spawning grounds.  The Hatchery traps these returning adults for the next brood year of fish.  However, only about 1,000 fish are needed for the Hatchery broodstock.  The remaining salmon are available for sport and Tribal harvest.

A North Fork Spring Chinook Salmon caught below the Highway 7 Bridge
Salmon fishing in the North Fork generally picks up around the end of May and continues through June.  The North Fork River has many readily accessible fishing areas.  But, read the regulations carefully, because no sport fishing is allowed on the Dworshak Point or below the Railroad Bridge from the Highway 7 Bridge.  Anglers also flock below the Dworshak Dam where handicap accessible fishing is available.  The East side of the North Fork is owned by the Corps of Engineers and a walking path will take bank anglers to the base of the Dam.
Anglers Fishing the Highway 7 Bridge just above the Hatchery Intake

The North Fork receives a lot of fishing pressure and the best spots will have multiple anglers fishing.  Be respectful of other anglers.  For rookies, it is a good idea to watch for awhile before you barge in at areas like the Dworshak Dam or the Highway 7 Bridge.  After you have observed for awhile, politely ask someone where you could fit in.  Most anglers will point you in a good direction, because everyone catches fish when anglers are cooperating.  However, keep in mind that the best spots are secured several hours before legal fishing hours, so elbowing into the middle of the hole may not win you friends.
A common bobber and jig set-up for the North Fork

When you are ready to fish, observe what other anglers are using.  If they are fishing bobbers, then use a bobber.  If they are “plunking” with lead and spin and glows, then ask how much weight they are using.  Matching the fishing style reduces ensnaring your gear with another angler and will be appreciated.  If someone hooks a fish, you are expected to reel in your gear so they can pass behind you to the netting areas.  Do not leave your gear out.  If the fish is lost, you are likely to be recruited to retrieve it – head first!  Everyone will reel up for you if you hook a fish too, so don’t worry, your kindness will be repaid.
A angler finds a hole to himself on the east side of the North Fork

If fishing next to other anglers isn’t your thing, try the trail along the east side of the river.  There, you can fish many holes by yourself with a short walk.  Keep in mind, fishing in the North Fork is best immediately in the morning and just before dark.  There is no sport fishing allowed at night, so check the regulations for fishing times.  Salmon generally hold in water greater than 10 feet deep, but will travel through shallower areas in the mornings and evenings.

Most bank anglers use bobbers and jigs to fish for salmon.  The local tackle shops stock plenty of equipment.  
Boat anglers can also access the North Fork-and find some success at times!

Good luck and Tight lines!

by Nate Wiese

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