Steelhead Fishing Requires Getting Wet

Written By: Bill Adelman, March 13, 2012
Species: Steelhead

Generic Saltwater Salmon Image

Last time we skirted the striper fishing successes, which were few and far between. Having kept track of the run into November, the outlook wasn’t much brighter.

When fish were located , most weren’t even keepers. Every now and then a few anglers who launched their overpowered bass boats and did the run and gun technique, did get into pods of fish, but again, not many big ones.

The “funnest” part of this approach was stumbling onto working baitfish and tossing surface plugs. When fortunate, one could follow the action and be “into” fish for as much as half an hour.

However, fishing is still fishing. The current salmon run in the Sacramento above the Highway 113 bridge isn’t the hot ticket either, but it’s still fishing. Just being out there, staring at a twitching rod tip for the better part of the day is a good use of my time.

All it takes, just as when watching for the magic sturgeon “pump,” is the anticipation that it will happen. When it doesn’t, there’s always next time. You just got to believe, right up to the point when the last snack is devoured, hoping beyond hope that eating anything will trigger a strike.

Is there an up side? There is, if you like to get wet, or at least sorta wet. Steelhead fishing on the Feather is actually pretty good. Let’s consider the wet part. Most river anglers understand that description to mean ya gotta wade in order to catch fish. Waders, be they chest high or belt high, along with hip boots, all share one thing in common.

You WILL get wet. Remember last season, when that leak just below the crotch added so much water weight, something like 10 pounds per gallon, that you could barely make it back to shore? Remember how difficult it was to toss ‘em out, especially as they were only 11 years old and were 4 pounds heavier due to all the patches?

Then, in spite of her arguing that waders were not a suitable wedding anniversary gift, your wife gave you a gift card to the local fly shop, where they sell really high quality and completely waterproof waders. Completely waterproof! Then why is a patch kit prominently attached to the wader? Because they aren’t! You tried them on in the shop, even bringing your wading boots to be sure all is well. It was.

The next time you handled them was standing at your truck, parked in the lot at Watt Ave. on the American River. All went well. Keeping in mind that you so very carefully walked through the willows in order to get to the upper end of the drift, what could possibly go wrong?

After about 5 minutes of wading, the ever so familiar sensation of cold water seeping into but one boot is evident. Oh, and the patch kit is on the workbench in the garage.

This is nothing new. We’ve fished under these conditions many times before. At least, that teensy hole isn’t in the crotch. Plus, I know how to find it. In fact, I have a rather large bucket just for the purpose of submerging the air inflated wader, all the while watching for the tiniest stream of air bubbles snaking towards the surface.

Did I mention that it’s always a good plan to have an extra pair of pants and sox in the truck, just so’ you’ll have something dry to wear on the drive home? So, we’re here and we’re wet.

So what? No harm – no foul, as long as the missus doesn’t find out. You certainly don’t think that another pair at Christmas is even a remote possibility?

Steelies. Along about now, both of the salmon that actually made it back upstream this year will be in a spawning mode. Single salmon eggs or small roe balls are a great approach for the spin or cast angler. Use just enough weight about 3-4 feet above the hook to keep the presentation skittering along the bottom, through the rocks, without getting hung up.

Yes, “skittering” is a universally accepted term within the steelhead community. In smaller water, such as much of the Feather and American rivers, hanging a split shot or two from a single length tag off of your leader is an efficient way to re-rig very quickly. When you hang up, just utilize a steady pull on the line & the shot will become dislodged from the tag & all you need to do is add more shot. Rigging saved.

When the opportunity presents itself, start your quest at the top of a riffle or narrow run and slowly work downstream. As we already know about wearing polarized sunglasses, spotting those two aforementioned salmon will be an easy chore.

Give extra care to working your presentation below the salmon, starting closer to you than where the fish are finning, then elongating each cast beyond their position. Steelhead are trained to await the free drifting eggs as the salmon spawn, thus, fish below the salmon. They’ll also lie in a favorable current, which is why they won’t always be directly below the spawners.

For now, just this advice. Fish slowly, repeat a cast many times, as steelies will move across the current for no recognizable reason, and, oh yes. Stay dry!

Next time…more steelhead stuff. Tight Lines!!!

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