Written by Bob Melrose.
As mentioned in an earlier story there are many methods, presentations, lures and flies that will take Steelhead. Your favourite is guaranteed to catch more fish because it spends more time in the water. On any given day an anglers survey will show a wide variety of gear that has tempted those beautiful fish. When you hear what other anglers have caught fish on we sometimes think that they will take anything. We have all had those days when they seemed to take a wide variety of offerings. However, some days, we call them "humility days" when they have lockjaw. They are still there they just aren't hungry. Frustrating yes, but no time on the river is ever wasted.
There is a time in mid fall when the water temperature reaches around 40F.(4.5 Celsius) when most Steelhead will no longer rise to the dry fly. The river also becomes very low and clear. The combination of cold and low and clear water can make the fish a little "spooky." They seek deeper water and more protective cover and are more sensitive to disturbances. It is the time for "finesse presentations and stealth wading."
Many anglers fall in love with the big Intruder type of flies and seductive 4-6 inch long bunny/marabou leeches. They are proven performers but at times when those fish are spooky many anglers will downsize their offerings. Instead of the #2/0 snakes they have had success with #4 or #6 patterns. Undertakers, Blue Charms, Caddis, Burlaps, Silver Hiltons, Skunks, Steelhead Spratleys and many of the classic Atlantic Salmon patterns will take fish. All these flies can be "riffle hitched" to show a side profile with even more effectiveness.
One year the water was very low and clear and fishing was very slow. A visiting group of anglers, very good experienced guys, would come in every couple of days. They would show me pictures of some of the fish they were getting and the flies they were using. All the flies were in the size #4-8 range. This group was doing better than anyone else I talked with. That weekend we tried some small patterns with great results. As a buddy remarked "Sometimes they don't want the Full Meal Deal" they just want finger food. I can't resist some of those big creations but the fly box with those exquisite little flies is always handy.
Low clear water also applies to a finesse presentation for the gear angler. Big lures, splashy entry doesn't work for spooky Steelhead. Downsize your gear to the smaller Mepps and Vibrax spinners, Gibbs Koho #35, Pixees, small Gooey Bobs, single artificial egg with or w/out wool, 1/4 or 3/8 ounce jigs. Many times from a high vantage point we have watched Steelhead holding in a pool. Noisy wading and/or a big lure in those low and clear conditions send them scurrying for cover or deeper water. Wading like a great blue heron, slowly and quietly, and light tackle will yield better results.
Whether using gear or fly make sure you can complete a full swing into shore. A sink tip line with too fast a sink rate will not get the full arc and too heavy a lure will have you hooking bottom only part way through the pass. Many Steelhead will follow the fly or lure right into the shallows. We have taken many of these Steelhead right at the moment when you are just about to start the retrieve.
For many of us it is close to the last trips of the season. If you don't have the luxury of that winter vacation chasing fish on the flats, its a long winter. Here is a tip. Slacken off all the drags on your spinning, casting, trolling and fly reels. Your drag system next year will be smooth and last longer, of course now you will have eliminated another excuse for that lost fish.