Steelhead anglers usually are on the Snake River well before sunrise as they pursue the large fish returning up the Columbia River system from the ocean in record numbers this fall. The fish will winter in the Columbia, Snake and other tributaries before spawning in spring.
Snake River fishing guide Pete Paolino orients his five anglers for the day as they head settle in on his jet boat at their first steelhead fishing spot near the mouth of the Grande Ronde River.
The first catch of the day was a colorful 10-pound steelhead displayed by Aaron Donnelly, of Moscow.
On this day of fishing, Pete Paolino's anglers fished exclusively with various Hot Lips plugs in various colors. The guide used his 8-horsepower outboard to slowly "back troll" the lures downstream and into the faces of steelhead holding in runs and holes.
Ben Shors, of Pullman, lets out his line, counting the number of revolutions on his reel in order to put the plug behind the boat a certain distance prescribed by the fishing guide. The anglers let the current take their plugs downstream behind the boat at different distances to prevent tangling with one another's lines.
Mule deer keep an eye on the many anglers moving up and down the Snake River as the sun rises. Bighorn sheep also are common sights along the Snake and Grande Ronde rivers.
The second steelhead of the morning is brought aboard the boat after the group of five anglers had fished for about 90 minutes.
Neither the fishing rods nor the fish "dispatcher" have been getting much down time on Paolino's boat during this fishing season with a record run of steelhead moving up the Snake River.
A fly fisher using a two-handed Spey rod works down the Grande Ronde River to fish a current line at the confluence with the Snake River. The fly fishers were not catching fish as frequently as anglers in nearby boats.
By lunch time, Al Donnelly, of Pullman, still had not caught a steelhead while fishing among numerous other boats in the stark beauty of the Snake River canyon upstream from the confluence with the Grande Ronde River.
Jim Kershner, of Spokane, could not hide the thrill of catching his first steelhead.
Anglers tell stories at the back of Pete Paolino's jet boat during a mid-day lull in the steelhead fishing action on the Snake River.
Ben Shors, of Pullman, catches his first steelhead. It's a beauty, but the intact adipose fin on the fish's back – between the dorsal fin and the tail – indicates that it's a wild fish that must immediately be released back into the Snake River. Only hatchery-raised steelhead with clipped adipose fins can be kept by fishermen. The fins are clipped by workers before juvenile steelhead are released from the hatcheries for their downstream migration to the ocean.
Fishing guide Pete Paolino negotiates his jet boat through a rough rapid on the Snake River near the Washington-Oregon border as he shuttles his anglers to another steelhead fishing hole.
Catching a smallmouth bass nets Al Donnelly a rash of ribbing from his steelhead fishing buddies aboard Pete Paolino's jet boat. Donnelly takes the verbal beating and continues trying to catch his first steelhead.
At last, well into the afternoon, Al Donnelly connects with a steelhead.
Catching his first steelhead was clearly a thrill for Al Donnelly, of Pullman.
Deck hand John Partridge of Asotin carefully removes a lure's sharp treble hooks from a steelhead's mouth before pulling the fish out of the net and putting it into the cooler.
Fishing guide Pete Paolino nets the last fish of the day for Ben Shors, of Pullman.
All of the five anglers on Pete Paolino's jet boat caught keeper steelhead during a November day of fishing on the Snake River, including Spokesman-Review Outdoors editor Rich Landers, shown here with his 10-pounder.
Snake River fishing guide Pete Paolino quickly cleans the steelhead caught by his clients before sending the five satisfied anglers home eager to cook or smoke their fresh fish for sharing at the dinner table with their friends and family.