Water temperature and fish responsiveness [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Water temperature and fish responsiveness

11-01-2003, 10:29 AM
WIth the recent cold snap, I've wondered if that impacts the likelihood that a steelhead will take anything presented to them. My experience with trout is that below a certain water temperature, the fish are very unresponsive. I think that also applies to steelhead but wanted to know from the board's experience if that is also the case based on their experience.

11-01-2003, 10:38 AM
Fish, being cold blooded, have a temperature range in which they best opperate. Above/below this figure (especially below) they tend to go 'dour.'

Loose memory here only, but the best water temp. range for steelhead is the mid 40's to about the mid 50 degrees.


11-01-2003, 11:27 AM
if they're there,especially if they are stacked,i know that bait will outfish flys for winter fish because of the cent,water clarity,plus the metabolism of the fish narrows the amount they are willing to move,i love pulling plugs this time of year ;at least down the straight aways,then fish the riffles with the fly,something about the cold;they want something big i guess,like a hotshot,wiggle wart,well,you asked,i've caught steel on the fly all year round,use winter tactics;when it's the warmest time of day,opposite of summer,pay attention to the angle of the sun,metabolism,where are the fish going to be holding versus the depth,current speed ,cover,heck ,let's go:hehe:

11-01-2003, 10:59 PM
I guess we have more experience on this, due o the colder temps.
At water temps of 33 degrees and slightly under, you've got to fish the gut of the pool and frog water slowly and patiently. Barometer seems to be equally important; 30.1 inches Hg seems to be best. Don't expect many hits. Fishing will be best at the END of the day, near sunset when water gets the "warmest".

When there is a slight rise, to 34 or 35 degrees, fish MAY (and usually do) turn on. That's a good time to fish.

36 to 40, they will really stir and awaken. A good time to be on the river, especially following a very cold snap.

40+ = very good fishing. They are now geting into their optimum range.



11-02-2003, 07:40 AM
I can add to Bob's statement.

Being an old spinner fishermen has shed a different light on these fish in cold H2O.

When our temps are in the 30's I have found a #5 or 6 silver spinner to be the ticket. They really wake these babies up. Have seen them chase the spiiner 15'.

You would think that big flashy flies would do the same thing... its just the opposite, small and muted is the ticket.

Seems like the more you discover the less you know.

11-02-2003, 07:40 AM
Up here at four to five thousand feet elevation we get some really cold temps. The recent cold snap has been setting new record lows the last few days. We have a general theory that the fishing turns on when the air temperature exceeds the water temperature. Link

11-02-2003, 08:40 AM
Another midwest view, this from Michigan. Barometer above 30 and steady seems best. Once water temps get below about 42-43, the best fishing is whenever the water temp goes up, even a little. As mentioned above, in hard winter that's usually at the end of the day. But if yesterday the water was 39, the bottom drops out of air temp and the next day the highest water temp is 38, don't look for fish to play. Flipside is a thaw, which can fire fish up for a good part of the day.

11-02-2003, 12:38 PM
I think the actual temp is less important than the trend. A sudden drop in water temp is bad, stable conditions are OK, any increase is good in fall/winter/spring. I've caught BC steelhead on dries as late as Dec 27 with an air temp around freezing, and on dry line wets with air temp -7 C, small ice bergs floating downstream. Don't take water temps anymore because I don't really want to know anything that might reduce my confidence in a floating line presentation...


Rick J
11-03-2003, 02:37 PM
I agree with Poul - if the temp is stable or rising I think you have a good chance at fish. The idea mentioned above by Link of the air temp higher than water temp would support this as this could cause the water temp to go up. We just got back from a week on the Grand Ronde and the temps dropped from 47 to 37 in 5 days with slow fishing. Though there were still fish to be had - mostly in the slow water (winter like stuff)

11-05-2003, 02:05 AM
I just (a couple days ago) witnesed Doublespey bring 40"+ buck to hand in water that my thermometer read to be 40 degrees.

Fish took a fly fished not too far below the surface on a dry line...

btw-Juro, I think you may have some serious big fish pictures headed your way pretty soon. :devil:

11-13-2003, 11:14 PM
For years I heard that the air temperature being higher than the water temperature was good for salmon and steelhead fishing, but I didn't really believe it. Now I do.

Except for tailwater fisheries and during periods of snowmelt, the temperature of many smaller rivers is governed by the local air temperature.

I recently checked my records for one river, and found that of 6 out 7 times when I was skunked, the average air temperature (at the nearest weather station) had dropped by 6 to 18 degrees during the previous two days.

I was only skunked once out of 17 trips when the temperature had dropped 4 degrees or less, or had increased by up to 18 degrees.

These trips were all in the fall or winter, when the water temperature being too high was not a problem.

For example, if I were going to fish the Grande Ronde on Saturday, I'd check the weather for Lewiston (the nearest weather station) for today (average 36 degrees): http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KLWS/2003/11/13/DailyHistory.html?FULLALMANAC=KLWS

and Saturday (forecasted average 41 degrees):

Since the air is going to warm up about 5 degrees, the water is going to warm up too, and I'd expect fishing to be good.

On the other hand, the actual water temperture, which I recorded, had virtually no effect on success, and I had good days with the water down to 34 degrees, and one day when it was 32.5 degrees.

If anyone wants to share some of their own fishing results with me (name of river, date fished, fish caught), I'd be really interested in trying out this idea further.


11-14-2003, 09:28 PM
The air temp warmer than water temp is an old Atlantic salmon theory. I won't comment to it's validity because I am not a fish:)

However somehting to remember about fish responsivness is that it's a matter of remembering it's not about a particular method, fly or line type!! it's a matter of how far a fish will move for a fly. An aggressive steelhead could very easily come to a surface pattern in very cold water, this could happen anytime but becomes more and more likely as you find fish holding in shallower water. A fish holding in 3 feet of water is as likely to take a surface fly as the same fish is in 6 feet of water when the fly is presented 3 feet deep.

The problem with cold water is that often that fish holding in 3 feet of water wants the fly a foot off the bottom.

here is a general rule very general because every steelhead is an individual and you NEVER!!! know how they will respond.

60 degrees and up it's too warm and any fish you catch is likely to die

50-60 Optimal conditions for floating line and or surface presentations anywhere in the world

45-50 good conditions for a floating line and wet flies in the US and good for all presentations in northrn BC

45 on 40 good for floating line given proper presentation with proper fly and good for sink tips wigh good likelyhood of action

40 and below dead drifting wetflies or fishing the swing with tips very slowly grabs might be scarce

again just a general rule