Winter Steelhead – Got What It Takes?
By Toby Trigger

Posted: January 10, 2016

Mid winter is usually a good time for things like wood working in your shop, short days ice fishing or watching football.  But what about standing in a river dodging ice chunks and casting for the worlds largest Rainbow Trout?  Winter steelheaders are typically steelhead junkies but I tried it once and,… well I can’t wait to do it again!

Winter steelhead aren’t easy to catch, not that they are all that easy anyway but in the cold waters of winter rivers it can often be a challenge to find fishable water and even then the fish often won’t cooperate.

So what’s the advantage?  The advantage for me is that I’m usually the only guy on the river – which is in stark contrast to later in the winter season when I need to employ a strategy just to get a place on the river bank that’s suitable for fishing.  And fewer anglers means less pressure on the fish which means the fish are more likely to bite whatever you present.

The satisfaction of hooking a 6 – 18 pound steelhead and landing it on a snowbank is reward enough for me and there’s something about breathing in cold air and dipping my wool glove into the water to tail a huge trout that gets my blood pumping and makes me forget all about the bitter cold temperatures.

Here are a few tips to help make your days spent winter steel heading comfortable and successful –

  1. Dress Warm – If this sounds like common sense well it is BUT it takes a bit of pre- planning to stay warm while standing in water that’s 31.9 degrees all day. I wear the usual stuff like wool socks, farmer johns long underwear and wool shirts but I also put a fur hat on my head and wear Aquaz boot-foot  waders.  Your summer footwear is NOT going to cut it for more than an hour if your really tough.  Wear a boot foot wader – period.
  2. Fish the waters just below or on the side of riffles- Mid winter fish aren’t going to be travelling like they do when the water is warmer in the spring.  They’ll hold up where the oxygen is most abundant – and moving water is usually open water.
  3. Bring Patience-    No one wants to stand in a river all day and not catch fish.  But this is going to be tough.  Be persistent and keep your fly, lure, bait in the water for the maximum amount of time that you can.  It’s going to happen, be ready.
  4. Keep your bait in the water- If you aren’t fishing you’re wasting time.  Be organized and ready when you hit the water so that you maximize the time your fly, lure or bait is in front of fish.
  5. Keep it deep – This doesn’t mean that you should find deep water – but whatever water you find open and fishable should find your lure close to the bottom.  Weighted flies, sink tip line like Jim Teeny’s T-series sinking fly lines  or small split shots should be used to get that fly right near the bottom.

Winter is a great time to fish for big winter steelhead and it can be done comfortably.  So if you get sick of watching re-runs on TV and sitting on a bucket jigging for perch – take a drive to Idaho, Washington or  Oregon to test your mettle against big fish and the harsh winter weather.