It's nearing the end of fall here in the Pacific Northwest. Few leaves remain on the trees and the impending cold of winter is showing its first signs. With it come the first few winter steelhead. Bright aggressive fish that are often very willing biters of swung flies. They are few and far between but for the persistent angler they are there. Here are 5 tips to better your odds of meeting one of these special fish.
1. Go fishing.
It may seem like an obvious statement but it is the guts of the issue plain and simple. I'm often asked “How’s the river?”” Is she in shape?" etc. “Better for winter steelhead fishing than your living room.” is often my response. Don't wait for a report of fish being caught, perfect river conditions, or whatever you need to have the confidence to go fish. Be that guy making the report of the first fish caught and how great the river was today. You simply can't catch a fish if you don't go. It can't just be a thought it requires action.
2. Have confidence.
It's early. There are a few fish around, but not many. Have faith that they are there and believe it. You could go 3 weeks without a pull in January or February and continue persevering without questioning it. Many anglers spend a single fruitless day in early December and don't pick up their rod again for several weeks. Believe in your swing and presentation.
3. Fish thoroughly.
Often times early in the year the mentality is that because there are few fish around it's best to specifically fish "the bucket" in all available runs and leave. Although this isn't a bad plan it's not the most thorough approach. Often times early season before the river has risen to its usual winter height "the bucket" may be in an entirely different place than you are accustomed to. Because of this it still pays to cover all your water thoroughly. It always hurts to only fish down so far and row out over a fish that was laying 50' below where you jumped out.
4. Check your tackle
At the beginning of every winter steelhead season I like to check all of my tackle. I reorganize my heads, sink tips, flies and inspect my gear for wear and tear while doing so. Check your sink tips to make sure the core isn't exposed in any spots. Go through your fly boxes to make sure you have a good variety of flies you have confidence in. Replace and restock any missing. Whether this means paying a visit to your favorite fly shop or sitting down at your tying bench you can never have enough flies. Organizing your dedicated winter steelhead gear in some sort of a pack or gear bag is a great way to condense everything so you can grab a single bag and your rod and head out. Less time spent looking for a piece of tackle is more time spent with a fly where a steelhead can eat it.
5. Fish everywhere.
Become re accustomed to all of your favorite pieces of water. Don't just fish the same run. Fish all of them. See if the lay of the land has changed. On high gradient rivers this is especially important as bed load shift is constantly changing the bottom and therefore the currents as well.Things fill in and scour out and logs and root wads move. It's never enjoyable to have your whole day planned around arriving at a certain run first light only to have the rising sun reveal a current that's shifted from the far side to the inside.
Hopefully these 5 tips will help you find an early returning chromer. We hope to see you out there!