Steelhead Highways
Image: Tim Scott
  1. Hwy 101, from Northern California to Port Angeles, Washington. No stretch of highway in the country crosses more prime steelhead water than this one. Start on California’s Klamath or Smith, then head up to Oregon’s Rogue or the great Tillamook Bay rivers like the Trask and Wilson, and then finish up on the drippy Washington classics of Olympic National Park, like the Hoh or Sol Duc.
  2. Interstate 90, from Buffalo, New York, to Chicago. If you must take a freeway to fish, make it this one. Criticize Eastern steelheading if you want, but catch rates on New York’s Lake Erie tribs like Chautauqa Creek or Cattaraugus Creek blow doors off most of those out West. In the words of Rick Kustich, “If you steelhead in New York, you’ve spent hours looking out the windshield at the long, straight, boring thoroughfare that is the New York State Thruway.” And Ohio? Easily America’s most underrated steelhead state.
  3. Hwy 12, from Missoula, Montana to Lewiston, Idaho. Not only is the drive over Lolo Pass one of the most beautiful roads in the West, but it follows the route of Lewis and Clark, which is cool. And if you’ve always dreamed of catching a monster Clearwater River B-run, this road will take you there. Winter driving here can be sketchy, but the crab-stuffed prawns at The Edge in Orofino make it worth the effort.
  4. Michigan Hwy 31, from St. Joseph to Mackinaw City. Three hundred and fifty miles of steelhead access. From the somewhat urban steelheading scene in the southern part of the state, head north to the Muskegon. After a quick hit on the Pentwater, peel off of 31 near Scottville and fish the flyfishing-only stretch of the Pere Marquette, near Baldwin. Then back on 31 for a trip to the Manistee Three. And so on.
  5. Oregon Hwy 138, east of Roseburg. This road follows the North Umpqua. And that’s all I have to say about that.
  6. British Columbia Hwy 16, from Prince George to Prince Rupert. This isn’t really a steelhead highway until you’re a couple hundred miles west of Prince George, as you begin following the Bulkley between Topley and Houston. But the entire Yellowhead Highway is so gorgeous all the way west from Edmonton, Alberta, that you shouldn’t miss any of it—particularly around Jasper and the Icefields Parkway near Lake Louise. But once the sightseeing is over with, the stretch from Smithers to Terrace carries you past the finest steelhead water on earth.
  7. Idaho Hwy 95, from Lapwai to Riggins. This 100-mile stretch of the Salmon should be on every steelheaders hit list any year. But this year? With the number of fish coming over Bonneville? The Salmon here is not exactly a wilderness on-water experience, what with the jet boats and baitchuckers and Kenny Chesney fans. Nevertheless, access from the highway is good most of the way, and if you’re looking for a place to learn how to throw a two-hander, this is a much more friendly environment than an Oregon or Washington coastal stream.