Some of you may be asking yourself this as you journey to the river in search of chrome scaled powerhouses, which we also like to call steelhead.
For many of you, you know where they are, but getting them to bite is a whole different story. I will try to help out some of you in your quest for catching, or at least hooking a winter steelhead. Some of this may be new to you, but for most of the seasoned anglers this will be old news.
Lets set the scene a little….
It’s winter steelhead time. How do you know? Because it’s colder than a witches titty out, your guides freeze every time you retrieve the line, you can’t feel your feet anymore, and it hurts to breathe.
Don’t worry, the fish are feeling it too, they are just a little more adapt to dealing with the colder temperatures. When the river gets down in the low 30’s the fishing can be tough if you don’t know where to look. I’ve seen many people fishing fast riffles like they would during the fall. Yes, you might be able to hit one or two fish that are moving through, but the majority of your fish are sitting in wintering holes or pre spawn staging areas. The fish that are holding over during the winter are mostly Fall run fish. Unless there is a significant thaw during the winter to push in a new run of fish, most of these winter fish ran in during the fall.
If you got a chance to fish late fall and early winter you may or may not have picked up on a certain area where you were always hitting fish. More than likely (if there hasn’t been flooding or significantly lower flows) fish are still sitting in many of these areas. Fish are like you and I, they like to keep warm in the winter, they don’t want to sit in the shade.
Many steelhead look for slower water to sit in, faster water not only makes them work harder, but will have a lower temperature. Look to fish the middle of a run down towards the tailout of the pool. If you can find a soft seam coming off faster water, this is also a good spot to fish during winter months. Wintering steelhead like to sit in water that may not seem that deep to you or I, but it suits them well. If you find an area that is around 3′-5′ deep that is moving at a slow speed, then this is a good area to fish, since wintering fish will often sit in this slow moving relatively deep pools.
Slow runs are a classic wintering steelhead area that they like to sit in. If you notice what seems to be different current patterns on the top of the water in a run that is relatively flat and slow moving, this more than likely means there is a large object in the water creating a current break. This is also a good spot to fish, as steelhead like to sit behind large objects that create current breaks.
Steelhead move in pods, with the exception of a few stragglers in front of or behind the pod. If you hit a couple fish in an area, more than likely they are in a small (hopefully large) pod. Next time you’re out on the water take notice of the water that seems to be flat and not too choppy, this is a good area to try and catch a winter steelhead. Also, if you can’t read water it’s going to be difficult for you to be succesful in any type of stream fishing. Learn where the fish move through and where they sit in the winter before they transition to spawning gravel.
Hopefully this little bit of information will help you be succesful on your next outing.