Gifts for the Steelheader

With Christmas around the corner every steelheader is hoping that Santa brings them something useful such as a new rod, reel, clothing or in my case some eggs. But with my taste for high end stuff, I'll be lucky to get a pair of socks. 

Waterproof Electronics - We've done it, cameras and phones dropped in the water. So far to date I've destroyed 2 cameras and 2 phones and I lost a waterproof camera on a flight to Vegas. Cameras come in handy because of Murphy's law #6 - you land the fish of a lifetime and the camera is at home. Also make sure to carry extra batteries because of Murphy's law #7 - you have a 20lbs steelhead ready for the money shot and the batteries are dead. A great camera is the Olympus Stylus 770.

Cooler - Nothing better ends a hot day in October or April then reaching in for a ice cold beer or two or three.

Jerky - The breakfast of champions. I can't get enough of jerky in the morning with a scolding cup of coffee.

Grey Goose Vodka - I give the French credit, they make a kick ass vodka. A favorite Christmas drink - Hot Russian

1 oz Grey Goose
1 oz Kahlua
1 oz eggnog
2/3 cup of hot chocolate

Take 2 packets of hot chocolate mix and put them into the coffee mug. Add the shots of eggnog, vodka, and Kahlua. Fill the rest of the coffee mug with hot water. Stir. You may need to heat the drink up in the microwave for 30 seconds before serving. When nice and hot, serve.

Thermal Clothing - The majority of steelheading is done during the winter months and nothing ruins a day freezing your ass off after a couple of hours in the water. Under Armour is probably the most popular active wear used by steelheaders. They make undershirts, leggings and socks. It's not cheap, but it's well worth it.

To butter up the old lady for another season of steelheading, jewelry or a trip to Vegas will score big points. I did both and I got a divorce - maybe I should of taken her to Celine's show instead of Louie Anderson. Merry Christmas.

Gnarly Steelhead

Once in while we catch a fish that is really fucked up looking. Something that looks like it came from Chernobyl. They defy the notion survival of the fittest. Whatever the case, there were times I was debating whether to put them out of their misery. Here's the motley collection

This fish above looked like it swallowed a softball. I was tempted to club it over the head, but instead I released it. I watched it float off downstream and eventually sink into the abyss.

This fish was actually fat and healthy looking despite the fact it's bottom jaw was deformed. I remember my younger brother having his jaw reconstructed and being on a liquid diet for six weeks. Remarkable that fish could eat.

Every year I catch a few fish sporting some gnarly lamprey wounds or scars.

Caught this fish after ice out. Steelhead can be vulnerable to getting injured or even killed by chunks of ice because most of streams along Steelhead Alley are very shallow. The wound pattern shows a narrow long cut the length of the back and it was caused by a sharp piece of ice. Released it and it took off like a champ.

This little brown trout had what looks like a recent lamprey wound.

It just shows you how tough these fish really are. 

Weather Man Sucks

I want to kick Dick Godard in the balls. Dick is Fox channel 8 weather dinosaur and basically made my weekend miserable in regards to the weather. With the crappy conditions I had to contend with last weekend, I was looking forward to making up for that debacle. Fortunately, the fishing gods took pity on me and blessed me with some fish. Earlier in the week the weather outlook for the upcoming weekend was calling for a chilly Saturday morning followed by temps in the upper 30s with bright skies. For Sunday, there was a 30% chance of rain. But, but and that's a big but, because every angler knows how accurate the weather reporting can be.

 Saturday morning, I drove east only to see the river clogged with slush. It wasn't those small annoying blobs, it was more like those blobs that could devour a steelheader. I rolled the dice as I knew the night time temps were to be in the 20s, but I figured the river would be slush free due to the blowout and warmer temps earlier in the week. With the sun, I thought the slush would burn off by noon, wrong. I made the best of a bad situation and tried fish through it. I re-rigged with my slush buster set-up. I stacked all of my shots low and I had to drop shot it between chunks. The shots would enable me to get everything down quick before a blob devoured my float. I managed to catch some nice size fish including one large male that ripped through several slush chunks with relative ease. The temperature barely made it out of the 20s and the wind made it felt even colder. I looked at the time and it was almost 12:00P.M. It was time for plan B and headed to another river even though I knew it was higher and off color. I arrived to see there was no slush, but the water was dirty. By now it was almost 1:00P.M and it still felt cold. I figured there was no way the slush would burn off. The fishing sucked and I decided to give it a try again tomorrow. On the way home, I listened to radio and the temperature was 29F and this was 2:00P.M. Later I found out the slush in fact did burn off around 2:00P.M and the fish turned on.........d'oh.

We all know that the weather man can screw up the forecast. It's pretty a given nearly every week during the season when he's calls for rain only to find out that nothing happens. Or there's the case of calling no rain, only to get soaked because I left my jacket at home. After a while I've come to the conclusion, that most of the time even he doesn't have a clue what's going to happen with the weather. 

While it's a minor inconvenience for me, imagine the guys having to make a two or three hour drive. They have no idea what's going to happen and I've run into guys on the river that showed only to see it clogged with slush or blow out before noon. I often hear the

"But, but, but the weatherman said it wasn't suppose to rain?"

Now they're looking at a stream that's turning to shit and to make things worse, they'll drive back with a skunk around their necks. 

Winter Steelhead Tactics

winter steelhead on the rocky river

Fishing for steelhead in the winter separates the boys from the men. Frigid temperatures can test even the hardiest of steelheaders. We have to deal with side ice, slush, and riving through lake effect snows. We can wear the warmest of clothing, only to succumb to the elements. Working the pools and holes can be a long drawn out process that can test the patience of most anglers. But you can be rewarded if you know what your doing and willing to put the work in.

Location, location, location

When water temperatures get into the low 30s, a steelhead's metabolism is almost catatonic. They'll seek places in the river where they'll get relief from the current. That's where reading water is invaluable. When I fish during cold periods, I look for the slowest flowing parts of a river. Places I'll fish will be the lower sections close to the lake if ice isn't an issue. Here the rivers tend to be wider, more flat, and a little deeper. Any structure at the bottom such as rocks and lumber will be utilized by fish to conserve energy. Other places will be the wide bends and the tail end of pools. On bends, fish will hang off the main current, so watch the speed of the bubble line. At the tail end of pools, fish prefer to be there as the current is deflected up and away. Other areas to target include along shale ledges and drop off in pools that are not deep. If side ice is present, drift a float as close as possible as fish often use the ice as cover. 

winter centerpinning for steelhead

Time of Day

When night time temperatures get into the low 20s or teens, I'll sleep in. The reason why is slush. Fishing in slush is pointless and quite honestly a waste of time. At times it can be so thick that it's impossible to fish. The best thing to do is go later in the day, especially on days when the sun is out. As the day progresses, the sun's rays warm the water. Gradually the chunks of slush get smaller and smaller. By mid to late afternoon, it's usually all gone. The other advantage of going later is the water temperature might go up a couple degrees. That little bump could the difference whether a fish is willing to move to take your bait or fly. The added bonus is a lot of the best spots will be vacant as the majority of anglers that tried to fish in the morning are gone. 

Cut Back on Bright Colors

I've heard some people say that bright colors are effective on steelhead in cold water because  "bright" colors get their attention. There's been plenty scientific studies that show fish will react in certain light and background conditions. While it's true that bright colors are more effective in stained conditions and natural colors in clear water. It depends what river I'm fishing on. The Grand is a river that runs off color the majority of the time. But in the winter when the clay and mud bank freeze up, the water will turn to a tea color. In water like that I'll use a chartruese or pink colored sac. The other rivers run much clearer and in the deeper sections the water takes on a greenish hue. In conditions like that I'll use white, blue, peach, or red as they're more subtle. The same can be said about jigs as my favorite color is simple 1/32 oz white one.

Getting Jiggy With It

The majority of steelheaders will use sacs exclusively. During cold weather a jig can be deadly. I carry a wide variety of jigs of different colors. The best color for me are white with a red or pink head. Another favorite pattern is a white zonker. The marabou breathes enough life that a lethargic steelhead might be tempt to take it.

Bundle Up

Winter along the Steelhead Alley isn't as severe as the Northern Great Lakes states, but it still can get cold. Wearing the right type of clothing is essential. When I fish during the winter, I layer my clothing. All of my clothing consists of fleece and polyester. Your clothing should also have the ability to wick away any moisture. For a shirt I wear a compression long sleeved shirt. For my legs I wear a compression long johns and over that I are fleece pants. For my feet I wear a pair of polypropylene socks and over that wool socks. Make sure that you have enough room in your boots. Because if your boots are too small, your feet won't be able to move blood and that's when your feet start to get cold. That's why I buy boots a couple sizes bigger to accommodate socks. For a jacket I wear a fleece one and over that I wear another jacket made of goretex. Head gear is always a toque or balaclava. I'll also bring along a pair of gloves. Even though I never wear them while I'm fishing, I'll put them on when I walk from spot to spot. Another important item that anglers forget is bringing a small towel. Towels come in handy to wipe your hands when releasing a fish. Nothing is worse than cold fingers, because you need them to tie knots. In my jacket is where I carry a couple heat packs. They give off plenty heat to get those fingers functioning again. 

Have Patience 

You'll need a lot of it when it because these fish won't budge as you'll need to practically put it on their nose. That means working the section and having to try different colors or presentations. You might have also move around to find where fish are holding.