Photo by Scott Haugen.
To consistently outwit prizefighting steelhead from the bank, there are certain steps you can take to help improve the odds of success.
A few of these steps you could do at home, before you make your first cast. Others you could apply on the river. Doing your homework ahead of time, and knowing what you’re getting into, will pay off in the long run.
Here are five steelhead tips you can apply this winter to help get more releases or fish in the freezer.
1. RIVER-LEVEL CHECK
Several factors influence how much water is flowing in a river. Flow impacts clarity, water levels and overall fishing. Rainstorms, quick snowmelt, emergency openings of dams, the operation of irrigation canals, even tributary activity will impact the level of a river. When it comes to winter steelhead, this should help you determine where you’ll fish and how you’ll fish.
Before heading to your target river, it’s especially important to get river-level information. This is the time of year when conditions change overnight, and tracking approaching storm systems can save you many hours of frustration.
There are many regional Web sites that lead to river-level monitoring stations, and they are frequently updated. Radio, television and newspapers may also offer information worth noting. Some regions still offer telephone hotlines that can direct you to specific streams.
Knowing how much water is flowing through a system can dictate how you fish. By being aware of what’s happening, you’ll be prepared to use the best approach to find steelhead.
For instance, you might not be a plunking fan, but if the river is high and off-color, it’s going to tough for jig-fishing. On the other hand, if the river is low, a subtle presentation may be called for. Be aware of what the river is doing, and adjust accordingly.
2. TIE LEADERS AT HOME
Tie all you leaders before you leave home. This is a huge time-saver and will help you increase your catch rates. When on the river, keep that line in the water as much as possible. By having leaders pre-tied, change-outs are quick when a leader gets snapped off or needs to be replaced.
Be sure that your leaders, drift-bobbers and baits are all within easy reach. Some days on the river, you might go through a handful of leaders, while on other times, you might rifle through four dozen or more.
There are a number of ways to put together a homemade leader keeper. But when bank-fishing, I prefer a Pips Hook & Leader Dispenser (find out more at www.mackslure.com This round box fits in a pants or vest pocket, features a clear lid, holds multiple leaders and used properly, will keep them from tangling.
The more accessible your leaders, the quicker the change-out, and the more time your line spends in the water. When you’re on the river, it’s time to fish.
3. BE WILLING TO MOVE
Unless you’re spending the day at a single hole waiting for fish to arrive, one of the biggest detriments a bank-angler can have is being tied down. If you’re not mobile enough to find fish, catching them can be tough.
Being mobile can be controlled by many factors, such as what gear you brought, the water levels or how long you have to fish.
Often bank-anglers hit one or two spots before going to work. They don’t have much time to devote to finding fish. Still, if you’re not catching fish, and other anglers around you aren’t either, it’s time to go and search for them. That goes not only for a section of a river, but for exploring other river systems as well. Many winter steelhead streams are small and located near one another, which makes it easier to switch locations.
Over the years, I’ve found that the majority of fish I’ve caught from the bank have come in the first 15 minutes after my initial cast. This is usually the result of the fish already being in the hole, and then being shown something they like.
Bring what gear you need, and no more. If you’ll be using various approaches, some gear or extra rods can be left in the rig, so as not to tie you down. Be ready to fish a different method, however, should the need arise. You may need to be floating jigs at one hole and drift-fishing yarn balls at another. Be willing to diversify, try various approaches and stay on the move. Equip yourself to be mobile. It can pay off in the form of more fish.
4. CHANGE OFFERINGS
Nothing can be more frustrating than knowing that fish are in front of you but not biting. If you feel that steelhead are out there but not responding, often all it takes to make something happen is a certain change in one tiny piece of gear.
Rather than continuing to cast the same thing, recognize that you have options. The possibilities are many. And being aware of what changes can be made to get a bite is one of the factors that separates exceptional anglers from the rest.
Maybe it’s the size of a drift-bobber, the color of a lure or the length of leader. Perhaps 1/4 ounce more lead would slow the presentation, or a shift in your angle would help swing the bait into the sweet spot. Consider adding scent to the bait, or if you have been using a scent, try another flavor.
Possibly your hooks need to be downsized, or your spinners tuned. If the water’s clear and the fish are on edge, a fluorocarbon leader might make the difference that would help you get the bite you’re looking for.
Next time you feel frustrated, try changing some element of your gear to elicit that bite. You may just discover a new approach that will work for years to come.
5. FOLLOW THE CROWDS
An early start isn’t always the best answer for catching fish. In fact, a late start can yield surprising results.
Early-morning pressure can be intense, especially when it comes to bank-fishing. However, after only a couple of hours of fishing, many folks head off to work, while others will usually call it a day by mid-morning.
If you’re looking to avoid crowds, try following them. That is to say, head to the river after the majority of anglers have left. Arrive around that 7 or 8 a.m. timeframe,
when the first shift of bank-anglers will have left for work.
Another good late-morning arrival time seems to be around 11 a.m. — a time that some folks prefer because it gives the fish a little time to settle down from the early-morning rush.
When fishing later in the morning behind crowds, it pays give the fish something they haven’t seen yet. A different bait, maybe a shrimp tail instead of eggs, or jigs rather than yarn balls, or a different color or style of drift-bobber due to a change in lighting conditions might be key.
Even pressured fish will often respond to a different presentation. You never know unless you try, and it seems that the late-morning angler who follows the crowds and is willing to experiment with a variety of presentations will find results.
Open your mind, pay attention to details, and be aware of what you can do to make your time on the water more efficient. In the end, your angling skills will become more proficient — and you’ll catch more fish.
You can bank on that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
For signed copies of Scott Haugen’s latest book, 300 Tips To More Salmon & Steelhead, send a check for $29.95 (which includes S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489.
This and other titles can also be ordered at www.scotthaugen.com