For anglers brave enough to get out and fight through the elements of winter, steelhead fishing can be some of the most memorable and rewarding trips of your life. Cold hands, wet clothes and big Steelhead! That is what gets anglers across the Northwest out of bed in the winter months. Over the years, like many fisheries across the nation, techniques advance, and traditional techniques tend to fall to the wayside. Still, with that said don’t forget to add them to your arsenal. Many of the “traditional” techniques seem to fare better under certain water conditions. Especially with the ever-changing water levels in the winter months. Proper presentation is in most cases the single most important piece of the puzzle. (Once you have chosen your favorite piece of water). My personal favorite being walking speed current without a tremendous amount of chop on the surface and an occasional boulder seated on a rocky bottom. Preferably below or above a major rapid.
There are two ways to break down the run; First, start at the top of the run and cover it from top to bottom with multiple different presentations. Secondly, especially if you are familiar with the stretch of water you’re fishing, is to cover as many river miles as possible and just hit key holding spots. This has proven to be the most productive approach. Especially as the rivers begin to drop and clear up. When it comes to covering a piece of water, be thorough. You will want to start with the most subtle presentation you have to offer, such as a soft bead or a Jig.
Then go back through with a larger profile rig such as a pink worm under a bobber or a double rig setup such as a yarnie with eggs cured in Fuze Steelhead Blend and Bead dropper on a bobber doggin rig. You can look at a more traditional approach such as drift fishing, as another option.
With drift fishing, be ready to burn through some gear though. Drift fishing is a great way to slow down your presentation. If you know fish are present in the run, but can’t get them to bite, go through with a spinner or spoon. Go for the reaction bite.
With every pass through the run or change of offering, change up your scents. With Winter Steelhead there are 5 key scents I do not leave home without:
Water soluble is a great option for feather jigs or bait. Your Super Gels are fantastic for beads, lures or anything artificial. Finally, your oils and bait sauces, they are a fantastic option for running bait. Steelhead have proven time and time again to react better to certain colors. This of course, can vary by who you talk to and what an angler has confidence in. Key lure colors that seem to produce are:
- Cherise (Hot Pink)
- Rocket Red
One of the most important factors in successful fishing, is time on the water. There is no substitution for experience. Watch what is going on around you. If there is another angler that is doing far better, copy what he is doing or ask questions. If you would like to cut the learning curve even more, hire a guide and pay close attention to what he is doing. One of many great winter steelhead guides we recommend is Steve Leonard of Steve’s Guided Fishing Adventures. If you book with him pay close attention. He will get you dialed in.