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Winter Steelhead Tactics

3011 Views 7 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  juro
In thinking about the difficult conditions we encounter this time of year, I remembered one of the best tips I ever got for cold weather steelhead. It started with an article by Dec Hogan in the first issue of the now defunct Steelhead Journal from Amato Publications.

He talked about needing to deliver the fly really low and slow in the soft water that these Dec/Jan/Feb steelhead hang in. Fishing a spey rod is essential for this technique. You cast out diagonal to the current, then pull the line tight by lifting the rod vertically (pointing it straight up). A belly of like forms and you try to keep the fly swinging Very Slowly (and broadside to the fish) by gradually lowering the rod to point at, then lead the fly thru the swing. The ideal is to keep only the slightest tension on the fly to monitor it for subtle takes and keep it swinging.

Use a lighter tip than normal, as this presentation will allow the fly to get deeper than the normal wetfly swing. For those who like to use the greaseline techniques in summer -this is essentially the same.

Later that year I ran into Dec on the Sauk and he helped me a bit with my technique. And it helped me the next year, aiding me in hooking a large native buck in the Snoqualmie on Feb 4 with snow on the banks and the water at 36 degrees.

If you have that issue, it's worth a look back before you venture out this year. If not, I hope my brief discription of the technique gives you some ideas!

See you on the water,

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Brian -

I remember seeing that buck in a photo. That was a living example of the thick shouldered wild fish that go up the Snoqualmie. If I recall you took it on a wild looking multi-layered rabbit fly with that creative hackle segmentation. I copied it with good results thru the seasons to come... although that's about when I was yanked from steelhead nirvana by family priorities.

Reading your post brings to mind a number of spots where I would love to be doin' that all weekend!

Another Snoqualmie story: One morning in midwinter I ventured out to the point straight out from Tokul. There was a guy plunking plugs there who was leaving just as I hiked thru the alders on the 'falls' side of Tokul Crk. I put on a black bunny rat and in three casts WHAM! chromer hatchery hen with sea lice. Fought like the dickens! I kept the hatchery fish for the grill. After a conversation with some guys short-lining the mouth of the crk, I went back for a few more casts... bang! Hooked up again, but this time the fish cam unbuttoned. It was a freezing winter day with the crowd in full swing at the eddy, felt great to be able to stand up for the long rodders despite the odds. It's not a spot I went to often when the season was in full tilt but it was a day I remember in the middle of winter.

Steve mentioned the Elwha... Mike and Brian will attest I've had quite an affair with that river over the years. I've had four fish days in mid-winter and fall there. It's not a huge run but what's there fishes well with a fly.

I can't wait until the dam is out.
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I wonder if the removal of the Elwha dams will not affect the fishing negatively at first. Not that I am against their removal. It is that I have heard the large amount of sediment built up behind the dams could have a negative affect on the river below the dams when removed. I have not been able to get much information on this. If anyone one knows more I would certainly like to hear.

Let the wild ones go……….

Kerry, I've heard the same thing. Tribal representatives and State reps agree that the lower miles will be over-run with sediment when the dams come out until several season's floods wash it away - - - BUT - - - there will be miles and miles of virgin river with ideal spawning gravel that will then be available to the steelhead and salmon.

One small step back, one giant leap forward!

tight lines,

Kerry - I agree with your concern about the 4.5 miles from the dam to the straits of Juan De Fuca shore, but if I am not mistaken there are something in the order of 100 (linear) miles of habitat above the manmade lakes. This habitat is the same gravel that produced 100 pound native chinook before the dam was built, made extinct by the dam. It would be naive for one to deny that some damage will occur in the lower 4.5 miles... but I look to the Toutle as an example of what our wise steelies can do to deal with the hand they are dealt; and the Elwha steelhead have a wild card in their short run to get above the affected area.

The eruption of St.Helens produced more silt than anything imaginable above Aldwell and affected the whole Toutle river as opposed to the last section. Still, the steelhead knew to turn to the Toutle trib that came from a different mountain (Rainier's other Green River) to sustain their race. I believe they also adopted suitable habitat on the Cowlitz and it's tribs for reproduction because of the appearance of some of the fish we were catching around the mouth of the Toutle and other tribs between I-5 and the hatchery. The Toutle and Green supports a strong population today. In the case of the Elwha, it's only 4.5 miles from salt to the silt-free Elwha Valley. I can't see this little sprint stopping the iron-willed peninsula steelhead from finding prime spawning habitat above the soon-to-be former site of the illegally built dam. I certainly hope so anyway.

On a related note, evidence of steelhead bound for a particular waterway entering other waterways dozens, even hundreds of miles from their actual homewater until favorable conditions appear is common on the Columbia system. This might mean that some of the existing remnant population of Elwha steelhead along with the hatchery plants may go to the Pyscht, Hoko, Sekiu, or other rivers in the area - but it is far more likely that they will make an easy 5 mile swim past the old dam site.

It's an exciting time for the Elwha. Given a few generations to settle into the crisp glacier-fed, oxygenated and expansive new "digs" above the old dam site, I think not just the steelhead but all the species in the Elwha could be thriving in our lifetime.

God I hope so.

<font color="ff0000">Very best holiday wishes to all!</font><!--color-->
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Thanks for your insights about the Elwa dam situation. I must admit I would not have thought of comparing the Elwa to the Toutle. You make an excellent point about the adaptability and just plain survivability of our steelhead and salmon. There are still a few native Elwa Chinook left. I would hope they would migrate up stream when the dams are removed also. Can you imagine a 90 or 100 pound Chinook on a fly rod? I shattered an eight wt. rod on a 40 pounder. Inexperience will do that.


According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement full restoration of the Chinook run to numbers aproximating historical abundance (31,000 chinook) should occur in 21 to 25 years. It's interesting to note that these projections are without hatchery augmentation or out planting. The draft further states that outplanting may reduce the recovery time by as much as half.

The expectations of steelhead restoration is a healthy run of 10,000 fish in 15 to 18 years.

I'm shopping for retirement property as soon as they blow those suckers!
Thanks Robert - I hope to live to see those days! Shouldn't be a problem, spme of my 2001 resolutions will help as well.

best regards,
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