by Andy Schneider
With cold weather settling in the region for the last couple of weeks, most rivers are; low, clear and cold. While not as many Winter Steelhead enter tributaries during these conditions, enough fish are still moving in to keep a hardy angler busy. 40-degrees seems to be the magic temperature for Winter Steelhead: above 40-degrees and they behave, just as Winter Steelhead are suppose too, but below 40-degrees, they start to get lethargic and are not as predictable.
One of my favorite techniques for Winter Steelhead fishing is to pull plugs. Thankfully it works well in cold water conditions, since making multiple passes in a jet sled in 20-degree temperatures is brutally painful!
While I used to think that I had to "down-size" my Steelhead plugs fishing in cold water, I've actually come to believe a larger plug may work better. #30 HotShots were my #1 "go-to" in cold water and I caught enough fish to keep me believing in them. But I found that the #30 wouldn't dive deep enough into a hole that I knew held Steelhead, so I swapped out to a K11X for the deeper holes. Soon I found my self using nothing but K11X's (and now; MagLip 3.5's) for cold water Steelhead and catching more fish than I did with the #30 HotShots.
Some tips I've learned fishing cold water:
-Long line your plugs. For some reason, fishing your plugs 70- to 75-feet behind the boat produces more bites. Sometimes this means that you need to start your run well above any sort of holding water, to make sure your plugs don't miss any part of the holding water.
-First Water. Having "First Water" is always nice, but during optimal flows and "Steelhead Green" water, it's much easier to catch fish behind anglers than during cold and clear water.
-Wait. I've had some of the strangest bites on plugs during cold water. Sometimes, they bite just like normal. Other times, I've had them pick up the plug and slowly load up the rod without any head shake. Other times yet, I've had them pick up the plug and just hold it till the boat passes them, thinking that we are hung up until the line comes tight into a Steelhead.
-Good netting needed. Cold water Steelhead seem to "roll-up" your line, more so than they would normally. This makes it tricky trying to net a wrapped up fish, coming tail first at the boat. Without savage take-downs and hard runs, the hooks don't seat as firmly into a fish's mouth, making it easier for them to throw a hook at the boat.
Here is a video from Friday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhe-5E2cPEQ&feature=youtu.be
of you will recognize the river and hole, but please don't think that the river is navigable at the current level for every jet boater. While I've run this river at even lower flows, it takes a lot of scouting and I still bumped bottom. What the video doesn't show is the minutes of scouting all the runs from boat and shore.
The video does display Tom VanderPlaat doing an excellent job of netting a fish that might have thrown the hook if fought for much longer. The video also shows how far above the holding water I started fishing....a long ways....but it produced for Brenda. It was our only Keeper of the day, missing another one in the 38-degree water.
While many of anglers didn't brave the 24-degree temps on Friday, it was still a fun day with friends and pups!