Stanley, Idaho is world-renowned for its incredible fishing and springtime brings some of the most exciting fishing of the entire year. Huge Steelhead return to Stanley from the Pacific Ocean and draw adventurous anglers along with them. We’ve got everything you need to know to prepare for an epic Steelhead Season in the Sawtooths!

What You Need To Know

A Steelhead is considered to be an river-going rainbow trout that is longer than 20 inches.

Every April, millions of steelhead smolts that have been produced by the Sawtooth Hachery – and Pahsimeroi Hatchery to east of Stanley – are released into the upper Salmon River to begin their long journey to the Pacific Ocean. Along their way, they’ll travel over 900 miles and cross over 8 hydroelectric dams. It’s truly an incredible feat! Once they arrive at the Pacific, they’ll spend 1 to 3 years maturing before beginning the long journey back across 8 dams and into Idaho. (An even more incredible feat!)

Steelhead typically begin to return to their hatchery of birth by about March or April, which makes for excellent fishing in the regions near the hatcheries.  


Where & When Can I Fish?
East Fork to Sawtooth Fish Hatchery (Upstream) is Location Code: LC19

This area runs from the East Fork Salmon River to a posted boundary about 100 yards downstream of the Sawtooth Hatchery.

Spring Season Dates run from January 1 – April 30

Typically, fishing is best – and anglers are most highly concentrated – along the Yankee Fork region and near the Sunbeam Dam in March. The concentration of fish (and anglers) shifts upstream toward Lower Stanley, Sunny Gulch, and the Sawtooth Hatchery in April. We suggest trying a variety of spots according to your comfort level, skill set, and fishing type.

Keep in mind that the water is higher this year and the extremely high snowpack has made accessing some favorite areas much more treacherous than usual. Please be wise in your decision-making.

Learn More About Regions, Rules, and Regulations from Idaho Fish & Game

Rules You Need To Know

  • You can only keep steelhead with a clipped adipose fin. You’ll know the difference if there is a healed scar where it has been clipped.
  • All steelhead without a clipped adipose fin (considered intact) must be released if caught.
  • Anyone fishing for steelhead – even catch-and-release fishing – must have a valid fishing license AND a valid steelhead permit.
  • Kids under 14 years old are NOT required to purchase a steelhead permit, but they must be accompanied by a valid and licensed permit holder. Any fish caught by the child must be recorded on the permit holder’s card and counted against their limit. To avoid this, children may purchase an individual steelhead permit which will tally their fish and limits independently.
  • Along the Salmon River, only BARBLESS HOOKS with a maximum of a 5/8 inch gap between the hook shank and its point may be used to catch steelhead. Hooks may be single, double, or treble and, if barbed, they may have their barbs bent flat to the hook shank to meet the requirement.
  • The catch limit is 3 fish per day and 9 fish in possession at any time. The season harvest limit is 20 fish total. Any angler who has achieved the daily, possession, or season limit is required to stop fishing for steelhead – including catch-and-release.


A-Run vs B-Run: What’s The Difference?


These make up a large portion of the fish caught near Stanley each year. The majority of A-Run Steelhead remain in the Pacific for about one year before returning to the Columbia River for the journey back inland. In most years, a large number of these fish reach Idaho by fall to make their way back to spawning grounds. These fish tend to reach 23 to 26 inches in length and weigh between 4 and 6 pounds each.


These steelhead stay in the ocean for closer to two years. After growing for longer and reaching much larger sizes, they return to the Columbia to begin the upstream trek by late August or September. An average B-Run Steelhead will reach 31 to 34 inches in length and weigh between 10 and 13 pounds! While most of them reach Idaho by fall, they tend to arrive after their A-Run counterparts, so be patient. If you’re lucky enough to snag one of these big fellas, you’ll know it!


Tips For Successful Catch & Release

  • You are required to catch and release any caught steelhead with an unclipped (intact) adipose fin – or any steelhead that you catch and choose not to retain.
  • Always aim to minimize handling to limit stress on each fish you catch and release. This will help their chance of survival.
  • Remember that you are required by law to use BARBLESS HOOKS. There’s a reason for this. It helps fish survive.
  • Never touch a fish by the gills. This can damage their ability to “breathe.”
  • Try to avoid battling a fish on the line to the point of exhaustion. This exertion will decrease the chances for the fish’s survival. If a fish is exhausted, gently support its underside in the water with its head facing upstream until it can swim away under its own power.
  • Use a net when possible to avoid pulling a caught fish onto the rocks, sand, and plants along the shoreline.
  • Never simply toss or throw a fish back into the water. Return it gently.
  • Handle all fish as little as possible. The best method for avoiding unnecessary handling is to release fish by simply grasping the hook alone.
  • If a hook becomes stuck, we recommend simply cutting the line to avoid unnecessary handling and time out of the water. Typical hooks will dislodge or dissolve after a short time.
  • If you must handle a fish, be sure that your hands are wet before touching it. Avoid squeezing it and hold it in the water until it is absolutely necessary to remove it for your purposes.
  • If you’re planning to take a photo, be sure your camera is ready in order to snap the picture quickly and return it to the water.  


Now that you’re an expert, head on up to Stanley for some Steelhead thrills on the Salmon River. You can’t beat the scenery or the crowds, and the fishing is as good as you’ll find anywhere – and there’s nothing like ending a long day of fishing with a RELAXING SOAK IN OUR PRIVATE HOT SPRING.

If you need a place to stay, we’ve got you covered. Check out our availability or make a reservation today! We’ll see you soon.