Winter Steelheading Helpful HintsBy Dennis Dickson
Fly Fishing Steelhead Guide
Being successful with winter steelhead is NOT dressing like you just stepped out of an Orvis flyshop; it is NOT wading to the tops of your waders and casting 100 feet; it is NOT having a magic fly; and it is NOT an overdose of Irish luck.
When does the bus come into Town?
These sea going rainbow trout are migrating upstream to spawn. Your goal is to intercept them. This "run timing" can vary from year to year. My fishing calendar is based on these yearly trends. The first high water in March will bring significant numbers of steelhead in the Skykomish. Another rule of thumb is two weeks after the "Catch and Release". April finds me on the Sauk and Skagit, and Stilly fish show in later April through May.
On any given water level, temperature, fishing pressure, and lighting conditions, steelhead will adjust to the water they will prefer to hold. Generalizations: Lazy but secure. Steelhead will take the path of least resistance as long as they do not feel exposed, as they migrate upstream. Big rivers, muddy waters, low light periods, will find steelhead in soft water (little current close to shore) Do not make the mistake I see so often of an angler wading into a pool at first light and wading out past the fish! Bright days, clear water, and fishing pressure, spook fish into deeper faster water. I use my lightest sinktip lines when the river is high and dirty, my heaviest lines and farthest cast on low clear waters at mid day. Other considerations on choosing your fly water are; look for a cobbly to rocky river bottom and depth, the access for steelhead to lie next to deeper water. I want a current speed that is soft where I am standing and it increases as it extends to the far bank.
Presenting the fly
Steelhead are interested in taking the fly in two zones. on the surface or on the bottom. Mid water fishing is generally a waste of time FLYLINES NOT FLIES CATCH FISH. I want to be standing in the softest water I think steelhead will lay for that water condition, and cast into the deepest heaviest currents I think the steelhead will comfortably hold. For example, at low lighting and dirty water conditions, I will concentrate on fishing the soft waters in close to shore. For bright water and heavier fishing pressure, I will fish out in the deeper currents. For flys, I prefer stiff patterns such as Skunks and General Practitioners in streamy flows and marabou speys in soft water conditions.
Bright fly bright day, dark fly dark day works. The best tie in the world will not out fish a piece of yarn if the presentation is not right. I do not have the time or space to tell you how I teach presentation but suffice it to say I want a fly close to the river bottom ( for winter fish) and moving slowly across. I can generally get an angler up and fishing effectively in a days fishing. (For those water conditions).
OTHER HELPFUL HINTS
Hook files are not optional, Keep your hooks sharp. Most winter steelhead are hooked when they are unable to spit out the hook.
Use good abrasive resistant leader material. The Duncan loop knot is far superior to any of the clinch knots.
You will feel a lot more bites with your rod tip pointing down your flyline. Set your disc drag stiff and don't fish with the flyline between your finger(s) and the cork handle. Let the fish pull the line directly from the reel. Anglers fail me, good reels do not. Leave your non disc drag reels at home.
Here is a note; when you are fishing a pool on a low or moderate height, imagine the water level up a couple feet and see if prominent rocks are found up the bank. If this shoreline maintains a moderate cobbly slope, you have a high water lie. Trust me on this one, I make a living catching fish when the shops are telling everyone the river is "out".