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Wading Vs. Floating

Wading Vs. Floating

Can a steelheader on the bank outfish a drift-boater? Not usually. But at certain times, it's more productive to be in the water rather than on it. (December 2008)

Can a bank angler outfish a drift boat? In most cases, no.

In streams that are small and shallow, bank-anglers have a considerable advantage over boat anglers.
Photo by David Johnson.

Access is one of the biggest advantages a boat has over the bank-bound angler. The shorelines on many of rivers' lower reaches are largely private property.

A drift boat can also cover a lot of water. When fish are spread out, the more water you can cover, the better are your odds of putting your bait or lure in front of a fish.

But there are times and places that bank anglers can do very, very well -- and have a good chance to outfish a boat angler.

What are some of the advantages of bank-fishing?

1) Hatchery Access
At most hatcheries, there is a "hatchery hole" at the deadline that has public access.


These places can be extremely crowded, often shoulder-to-shoulder. But when the fish are coming in, they can be very rewarding. After all, this is where the fish are returning.

I like to fish these areas as much for the socializing as for the fish I catch. After you've fished a spot several times, you'll begin recognizing other anglers, and soon it's easy to be considered a regular yourself.

Don't be bashful. Strike up a conversation with the fishermen near you and share some fish stories. Many times, you can learn useful tips and locations this way.

I have fond memories of sharing coffee and the warmth of an early-morning streamside fire.

But admittedly, I usually can take standing in one spot and casting over and over again for a few hours only. (Continued)

These fisheries can get crowded, so it's advisable to get there early. Don't expect get a good spot if you show up right at daylight. Getting there up to several hours before daybreak is sometimes what it takes.

I like to take note of which spots produce the best under different water conditions and return to those spots at the appropriate times.

Since they're usually crowded, you should follow some rules of etiquette. Practice "When in Rome . . . " -- that is, use the same technique that everyone else is using. If everybody is drift-fishing, don't step in and fish with a bobber.

Also, get into the rhythm of casting when the guy upstream of you is reeling in. This will really help you both avoid crossing lines and getting into a lot of tangles. If you're new to a spot, don't be afraid to ask questions.

Mainly because the water is usually fairly fast in places like this, drift-fishing is usually the method of choice. These locations are usually most productive just as the rivers drop into shape and when fish are racing to the hatchery.

I prefer to use 10- to 12-pound-test with a 10-pound leader, a 1/0 hook and winners, cheaters and corkies ahead of yarn and bait like eggs and sand shrimp. Having a few kinds of scents along may give you an advantage over the guy next to you. I like thick, sticky scents like Pro-Cure Super Gel and Smelly Jelly in shrimp, sand shrimp, anise, krill or crawfish.

To carry all that you'll need, wear a fishing vest or at least a coat with lots of big pockets. It pays to have all your gear on you or very nearby and to have all your leaders pre-tied and ready to use as you break off. Store them in a Pips leader dispenser or a Finsport leader wallet.

Since it's going to be fairly crowded, when you get hung up, don't mess around too long with trying to un-snag your rig. Instead, break off the line and re-tie so that others around you can continue to fish.

Guide Gary Lewis and Washington-Oregon Game & Fish editor John Geiger drift the North Umpqua. Drift-anglers can cover more water more quickly than wading fishermen.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Some of Oregon's most productive hatchery holes are at the North Fork Nehalem fish hatchery, the mouth of Three Rivers on the Nestucca and at the mouth of Cedar Creek on the Sandy.

2) Parks
Where can bank-fishermen get access on some of the more popular rivers? State and county parks offer this kind of access.

On the Siletz, there's Moonshine Park. On the Sandy, there's Oxbow County Park, and the Clackamas has Milo McIver State Park.

These parks are on sections of river that offer large areas of access for the bank-fishermen. They're most productive during low-water conditions when there will be fewer boats fishing the water -- if there's enough water to drift at all. Also, because fish will be concentrated, there will be less area for you to cover.

Drift-fishing is the most popular technique at Moonshine. At Oxbow, drift-fishing and plunking are used the most. But if you can get away from other people, a sideplaner and plug can work well, too.

Depending on water flows, bobber-and-jigs and drift-fishing are most popular at McIver.

There's good access at these spots on these very popular rivers. But for the bank angler who wants to get out and work for some fish, there's much more out there.

3) Small Streams
Fishing small streams is my all-time favorite way of catching steelhead. Even when I'm full-swing into a season of guiding anglers five days a week, I rarely pass up the chance to fish a small stream on my day off.

Smaller streams are a lot easier to cover on foot. The smaller, the better. And their size makes it easy to cover an entire hole in just a few casts.

Expect to bust some brush, climb over logs and wade back and forth across the river. But all that work is worth it. You may not see more than a few anglers all day.

I like to

hike several miles of river and hit all the likely spots with a few casts. If you're fishing with a partner, you can even drop off vehicles at a lower point and an upper point.

You can then fish from Point A to Point B, much as a drift-boater would float from one ramp to the next.

This is where reading water is of utmost importance. Learn to recognize were the fish should be, and then determine the correct technique for hooking one. Float-fishing or drift-fishing? If the current is too fast for the float, use drift gear.

When I approach a hole, I like to start my first casts in the tail-out and then work my way to the head.

If I hook my first fish is in the top end of the hole, it may spook any other fish down in the tail-out.

My preferred method is float-fishing. Years ago, before I started using floats, I actually gave up on some rivers because after snagging up, I spent more time re-tying than I did fishing.

Float-fishing changed all that. A float not only keeps your gear just above a grabby bottom, but it allows you to work seams and pockets not otherwise accessible to drift gear.

I use foam "dink" style floats or Thill Turbo Masters. To use under the Turbo Master, I'll carry a variety of jigs in pink-and-white, cerise, pink-and-purple and orange-and-white. I also use 4-inch pink worms or bait under the dink float.

When I'm using bait, eggs are always my first choice. Sand shrimp, night crawlers and tiger prawn meat are also effective. I found that sometimes, adding a small piece of prawn meat to a jig can entice a bite in extremely cold water.

If the water's cold and clear, casting a spinner might aggravate a territorial response. Spinners can work very well when the water is really cold because they can excite a steelhead into biting.

And there's nothing like watching a big buck steelie appear from under a log to smash your spinner!

Another kind of lure that bank-fishermen overlook is the small steelhead plug. The size of a small stream lets an angler stand at the top end of a hole, slowly back-spool a plug down through a hole and then slow-reel it back upstream.

Small Flatfish and Kwikfish, tadpollies and Hot Shots work well.

Metallic red, blue pirate gold and chrome with a black back are great colors.

If the water is up, I will usually carry two rods with me -- a float rod and a drift rod. The higher and faster the water, the more it will carry along drift gear and keep it from hanging up. I'll use the drift gear in some of the deeper holes and bigger tail-outs.

When it comes to deep or heavy water, nothing gets down faster than monofilament line and lead.

When there's an aggressive fish there, if you present the right offering correctly, you'll hook the fish in just a few casts.

Small streams can hold fish at all times, but they're usually best within a few days of a rain. Since they have a small drainage, they usually drop and clear quickly. While the drift-boat crowd is sitting at home watching the gauges on the big rivers, the bankies can be hammering fish.

Small streams with hatcheries or hatchery plants are obvious choices. Consider Big and Knat creeks on the lower Columbia, Eagle Creek on the Clackamas system and on the coast, the North Fork Nehalem, North Fork Alsea and the Milacoma.

But don't just concentrate on hatchery streams. Some very good fishing for wild fish can be had all up and down the coast on just about any small stream if you hit it right.

Do be careful not to trespass. A lot of these streams flow through private property, but many others are in state lands or timberlands that are open to the public.

Also, if fish are actively spawning, leave them alone. You can recognize them by their dark color and presence in shallow water, or if you see them digging their redds.

4) Low Water
At least once each winter, Oregon usually experiences a dry spell that lasts a few weeks to a month. Large rivers clear and drop. On these big rivers, I've had more double-digit days during low-water periods than during "perfect" river conditions.

In effect, lack of rainfall causes them to narrow to the size of a small stream. And that gives the bank angler all the advantages associated with small-stream fishing. Simply treat the river as you would a small stream.

When the water gets low, there are fewer places for the fish to hide, less angling pressure -- and the wading becomes a lot easier.

6) Upper Reaches
For the bank angler, the very same popular rivers that get pounded by drift boats downstream can be very productive in their upper reaches.

For one thing, the bank-fishermen can get away from the boats. For another, the rivers are much smaller. The fish have fewer places to hide. And reading the water is much easier.

Try float-fishing the deeper holes. Work floats along near-shore seams. Drift-fish the tail-outs.

Again, the more water you can cover, the better your odds will be. Move often!

The upper reaches of the Sandy near Cedar Creek, the Wilson from milepost 6 to 24 on Highway 6 and the Nestucca above Blain all offer good access and fishing for the bank-fisherman.

When given an opportunity to pound the banks, I jump at the chance because I know that I can have a great day of steelheading. So if you are bank-bound, don't always assume that the grass is greener for boaters.

With some effort and persistence, you can score show just as many fish -- if not more -- than those guys in the boat.

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