Winter steelhead fishing an overlooked opportunity
Maybe they don’t know what they’re missing when it comes to winter steelhead fishing. Maybe they’re too afraid of the cold to care.
Fishermen who pack away their rods and stop fishing for steelhead once the leaves are off the trees and fall turns to winter are cheating themselves out of some of the best fishing of the year.
Consider the statistics.
Angler numbers peak in October. That’s when fish first start coming into the streams, too.
But the reality, according to Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission statistics, is that steelhead catch rates can actually be higher from December through February than any other time.
Catching fish then requires special techniques, though.
For one thing, be willing to move.
Following fish throughout the season is another good strategy.
Early in the fall, fish and anglers are often congregated at the creek mouths and even just off the lake shore, said steelhead guide John Stanton. But as the season progresses, he suggested moving upstream with the fish.
That often brings with it the benefit of leaving some of the crowd behind, he added.
A second thing to remember is to fish deep.
As winter progresses and the water gets colder, steelhead are increasingly less likely to chase baits, said guide Mark DeCarlo. The key to getting action is to make striking as easy for the fish as possible.
“You have to have good drifts. You have to have a good presentation that puts it in front of their nose,” DeCarlo said. “You have to put it in their face.”
Streamers can work, but nymphs and egg patterns and live baits like shiners can be especially productive. Egg sacs and skein, or imitations tied to look like them, are likewise good.
Fish the ends
A third suggestion is, focus more now than ever on the tail ends of pools. They’re often more productive now than the riffles and heads of pools that produced early in fall.
It may not be possible to see fish in such places. But know that they’re there, DeCarlo said.
“One of the biggest things I've seen over and over every year, the Pennsylvania crowd of anglers, they tend to think that if you can't see the fish, there aren't any in the stream. They walk up and down the bank looking for fish rather than reading the water,” DeCarlo said.
He encourages clients to focus on relatively deep water with structure like rocks and trees that provide cover and current breaks.
Finally, we’re talking about being around the water in winter, right? So dress for the conditions.
You can’t catch fish sitting in the vehicle trying to stay warm.
Dress in layers, avoiding cotton, as it loses its ability to insulate once it gets wet.
When it comes to waders, if possible, put cleats on your feet. Ice and slick banks can make footing tricky. A wading staff – which provides an extra point of contact when you’;re moving your feet – is huge, as well.
Pack hand warmers and gloves, too. A towel’s not a bad thing to have either.