Late Winter Steelhead Fishing

January 31, 2017

Late Winter Steelhead FIshing

Winter steelhead fishing is upon us. With some of the best fishing of the season, dedicated anglers can take advantage of catching feisty chromers in these not-so-ideal conditions. I want to talk about some important tips for being successful at this time of year.

First and foremost, stay warm. Let’s face it, you can’t enjoy fishing if you are numb from head to toe. Here are a couple tips that will make your winter experience more enjoyable and, hopefully, more successful.

Layer your clothes. Spend a little extra cash on good base layers. I’ve found it can make all the difference in the world. I’ve tried it all and polypropylene garments are my top choice. This material may not be for you, but I encourage you to research whatever undergarment you’re going to purchase. Keep in mind that a cheaper cost can mean a sacrifice in quality. The outer shell, or wading jacket, works hand-in-hand with the layering process. So, cover yourself in a quality windproof and waterproof jacket. This will optimize the layer’s effectiveness.

So now, what waders are the best for cold weather?

Everyone has their own opinion on this topic and most have solid arguments on why breathable is better compared to neoprene or visa versa. In my experience, neoprene waders with good boot thinsulate are better for the guy who is stationary for hours or may not “run and gun” while locating fish. If you’re an angler who is mobile and constantly working up and down the stream, breathable is the way to go. Coupled with good socks and fleece wading pants, both materials are very suitable for cold weather. In my experience, don’t cram your feet with too much sock. This creates bad circulation, making your feet colder faster than they normally would. Give your toes some wiggle room to keep them happy.

If your hands are numb, you can’t fish. Plain and simple. For me, carrying two pairs of gloves is essential. I carry a pair of fingerless gloves for fishing and a heavy fleece pair for walking or for a quick warm up to keep me in the game. Adding some hand warmers to the heavy fleece gloves assures your hands will stay functional and warm.

Last, but not least, the head and neck. Remember most heat loss is through your head. It’s not a fashion show, so wear a heavy knit hat with insulation and a neck gaiter. With some tips for clothing and waders out of the way, let’s talk fishing!

Winter steelhead is my favorite time of year to fish for a couple reasons. One, crowds are gone which means fishing pressure is minimal. Two, targeting fish becomes easier. This second point brings up a good topic of discussion.

As the water temperature dips below 38 degrees, most fish start to avoid faster runs and riffles, and start to slip back into deeper, slower pools and tail outs. Target these areas with patience and persistence. Working every section of the pool is the key to maximizing bites. Just because your first ten drifts in the middle of the pool didn’t produce a fish, or you don’t see fish right away, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. So many anglers I see or talk to give up on a spot too easily or say, “I walked up and down and only saw two fish.” Maybe it’s true in some instances, but most of the time, these anglers walk right past fish or don’t work the water properly because they didn’t catch a fish instantly. With that said, work every inch of the area and when you feel you’ve completely covered it, move on to the next area and follow the same principle.

Let’s talk about presentations. Every angler has their go-to pattern and confidence that it always catches fish. Typically, they always go back to it without giving other patterns a solid chance. I can assure you, if you aren’t going to be versatile with your tactics, there is a huge chance your success rate is being drastically reduced. Size and color patterns that work today may not work tomorrow, especially with winter fish. Egg sacs, single eggs, jigs, bead and shiner patterns are popular baits for spin fishing and centerpinning. Blood dots, sucker spawn, nymphs and streamers are the popular fly fishing patterns. Adding scent and gel attractants are effective and make the difference on some days. All these patterns should be in your arsenal of tactics, in different sizes, colors and weights.

Another very critical component is fluorocarbon. It helps present these patterns in the most natural way and with almost complete invisibility. Whether it’s three feet or six feet of leader tied into the mainline for spin fishing or centerpinning, or a nine- to twelve-foot tapered leader for fly fishing, using fluorocarbon can only improve your bite rates. Steelhead have tremendous vision, so every advantage helps.

So what can you take away from this basic knowledge?

Forget riffles and fast current. The fish are heavily concentrated in deep, slow-moving pools. With that tip, we’ve eliminated half of the water you should target and increased your chances of finding and catching fish quicker. Also, be versatile in the way you are approaching the fish. Step out of your comfort zone and try something other than your go-to pattern. You’ll be amazed at what can catch fish.

If the body is cold because of insufficient clothing, you're now concentrating on how cold you are and not fishing effectively. When this is the issue, patience and persistence goes out the window and your time fishing will come to an abrupt end. If you are dressed to endure any of the elements that Mother Nature dishes out, you can expect to have more successful days than many anglers do in the jam packed spring and fall seasons.

Please be safe, and good luck. Fish on.

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