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Andy Schneider

Andy is a Freelance Outdoor Writer and a true Outdoor Enthusiast; pursuing Albacore to Trout and Big Game to Waterfowl.

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January 01, 2014

Happy New Year! Small Water Tactics for Winter Steelhead

by Andy Schneider

In recent years the smaller creeks and rivers in the Northwest corner of Oregon are the first to get a push of Winter Steelhead. Many of these smaller creeks and rivers are too small or have too many obstacles for any boat, which means hiking up and down the riverbank. This can be extremely rewarding fishing and very productive. Fishing miles of river or multiple rivers in the same day, means that you are covering a lot of water and when you cover that much water, you definitely have a higher chance of success.

Approaching the water and how to dress:
If at all possible wade from downstream. Start at the bottom of the hole and work your way up. Make sure you stand back from where you want to fish. Staying 10-20 feet back from the water's edge will keep you hidden from the fish. These fish can get spooky at anything approaching the water's edge. Camouflage clothing would not be overboard, especially when the rivers are clear.

You are going to be hiking through varied terrain, and that requires clothing that can breathe, but also insulate you as you settle into a spot and fish for a while. Micro Fleece and Polypropylene are great fabrics, but also look to your waders to "breath", and keep you dry. Breathable waders are a must when hiking long distances. While neoprene waders are great for short hikes and prolonged stays in cold water, they do not breath and are restrictive for hiking. The angler attempting a long hike in neoprene waders quickly finds himself or herself tired and damp from perspiration.

Downsizing gear or not?
A lot of anglers go with shorter rods, but longer rods work better for line control in small water. Having to put up with overhanging brush and climbing over obstacles with a long rod can be difficult, but it's a small price to pay for having the right equipment to catch fish. You may need to downsize your gear, but not necessarily downsize your line. 12-pound test leader and main line on small water is not too big, unless there is a lot of angler pressure on the water. Having heavier line in smaller water is a great advantage, since fish will be more prone to head to cover and structure once hooked, fraying and breaking smaller test lines on branches and rocks.

Float fishing beads, jigs or eggs, is an extremely popular method of fishing small rivers. But drift fishing eggs, sandshrimp tails, beads and corkies all work well when used with light lead. 1 or 2 beaded slinkies is all that needed most of the time and sometimes, no weight is needed at all.

Spinners and plugs also work surprisingly well in smaller rivers, since fish can get very territorial.

Going prepared
You definitely need to tell someone where you are planning on fishing. The good thing about a small stream is that they clear fast, but they also rise fast. Many anglers have been stuck in canyons or stranded on islands. You definitely need to watch the water conditions and what is happening in the headlands.

Put your cell phone into a Ziploc bag to insure that it will still work incase of an accidental submersion. Carrying the basics 1st Aid supplies while fishing is always a good idea, but having a well prepared 1st Aid kit, can save your fishing trip for the day and keep you and a friend fishing

While this New year left us with low and clear water, don't think that the rivers are too low to fish, many rivers that are usually navigable for boats are now too low. Fishing this larger rivers like the small streams that they resemble currently will produce results.

Comments (1)

Buck wrote 3 years ago

Good summary Andy! A couple of other "musts" for me when I fish these conditions are polarized sunglasses and a rope sling for carrying out a fish if you find a clipped one. As a backpacker and occasional mountaineer, I'm always trying to find ways to travel light but also survive if the unexpected occurs. So, I have an extremely small kit containing a windproof lighter, a couple of fire starters, space blanket, a zone bar, and a few iodine tablet for treating water that I carry with me anytime I'm far enough out that I may have to spend some unplanned time "by myself" in the wilds.

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