Pre-Storm Low Water Winter Steelheading

Before the recent rains, we were “plagued” with low water flows for most of our area coastal rivers. Plagued is a strong word for conditions that many may find to be desirable. Wouldn’t you rather fish a river that is clear and you can see through the water more than a river that is high, swollen, brown, and turbid? Most would agree that a river that is too low is better than a river that is blown out. Notice I did not mention a river that is high and off color; because many anglers (including myself) have had some pretty banner days while fishing swollen off color waters.

Recently a great customer of the shop had a friend come for a trip for some winter steelhead action. They were hoping to rope into some nice chromers, but unfortunately the water levels were so low for so many days; so the hunt from chrome would not be a giveaway. We were going to have to work hard for some fish.

We decided to change the original plan of hitting up one of the larger rivers; since the action was very low in frequency since the last time when we had higher flows. We went to a smaller river, but we knew that fish were around, and the only issue was hoaxing them into taking the offerings.

Equipped with a switch rod and a fly line catered for nymph fishing we rigged up the rod with a thingamabobber and a weightless egg pattern with split shots for the weight (stealth bomber presentation). The other setup was a spey rod lined up with a Skagit Compact Head with the short T-14 MOW tips. We were totally prepared for anything out there; whether it was swinging or nymphing (dead drifting).

When we hit the first spot, it was indicative that we were going to get some action. We were offered a shot at a huge buck sitting in a tailout next to a smaller hen. They were looking like “players”; so we were going to have to see if they wanted to play. We swung several popular patterns and the fish did not budge at all. They just sat an wagged their tails while holding in front of a large boulder. When we were about to give up on the swing, my client inquired if he could try a bright blue pattern, and I figured, “why not…”. He swung it by the fish, and the hen pursued the fly 10 yards across the tailout; to then decide that it was not interested in playing. That was cool though…..

We tried hard and fished many spots as we worked our way up the river. We swung another tailout with that same bright blue fly and we were gifted with seeing a chrome bright fish pursue the fly for literally about 30′, but it was not a taker. More and more holes, but no fish on the end of the line so far, but the water temperature was climbing ever so steadily. Maybe the warmer water would trigger the fish into action. There was not a lack of fish, but there was a lack in the water temperature. Maybe that was the missing factor, and trying for more fish would only tell.

As we started to make our way back, I spotted a large fish holding in a run. Jerome bombed down the canyon wall and got in position for the fish. At the same time the fish relocated and it was holding in front of a rock near a smaller hen. He tried to get the right drift to the fish, but the current was rather tricky. After several attempts, the indicator went down, and he struck. The line became tight, and the fish was on. It was the smaller hen, and not the big buck, but “oh well”. It kind of gave the coldwater battle, as it just sulked and made some slow runs. No jumps or radical thrashing surface action, but it was a steelhead on the end of the line. He brought it in, and I scooped the bounty with the rubber net. It was not even the prettiest fish; since a sea lion had its way with the fish, and gave it some whopping scratches. On the flip side; fish in the bag now!

It just happened to be that another bright little hen pulled into the same holding spot. Now he knew what it took to get the grab, and he probed the thingamabobber and a weightless egg pattern through the spot, and within three casts the line was tight again! Woo hoo! Fish #2 on! The fish was on for a bit, but somehow it managed to fuse the line with the river’s bottom. We could not alter the scenario, and before we knew it the fish was off, and the line was still hitch to the bottom. Oh well….two hooked is not too bad…..

We took off from the river and had a killer day!


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