Fly Fishing for steelhead during the winter months can be an amazing experience with fall colors ablaze, reasonably pleasant air temps, and fresh fish running throughout the river Sounds like paradise, it would be for just one thing, every angler feels the same way and the fishing pressure can be well, kind of like a war zone. Massive amounts of anglers wanting to experience this Mecca of fly fishing all competing for your spot and your fish. And, well others who have no river etiquette at all, Tramping through productive fishing lies, crawling up your back while you fish and land your trophy steelhead.
Want to get away from the crowds and the chaos? Try winter steelhead fishing! This is where we separate the men from the boys. You will definitely get away from the crowds, but be prepared for some frigid fly fishing on the streams of the Great Lakes. There will be times when you think why did I do this? But be patient and prepared and you soon will heat up when you hook your first winter steelhead
Before You Go!
I guess the most important aspect of winter steelhead fishing is being prepared. Several things you can do is first be prepared for the cold. There are so many new innovative products to help you stay warm, check out your local fly or outdoor shop and they will definitely get you ready to tackle the elements.
On the Great Lakes in particular, water levels are critical, so be sure to check the conditions before even thinking about heading out. Rising water can be a wonderful thing as this will usually trigger a fresh run of steelhead or even just get steelhead on the move. This CAN be a great thing but NOT always the case. Yes the fresh run is a positive influence on the stream, but moving fish are not always the most productive fish. Be patient and look for good holding water, such as pools or obstructions own the river such as logs, undercut banks, bridge abutments, etc. This is where your chances will be best. Understanding and knowing your specific river and its conditions is essential to consistent success
As always is really a personal thing. The most important thing to consider is be sure to have your gear in top notch order before you go. The beast thing you want is to have an equipment malfunction when the weather is so cold you cant feel your fingers. Be prepared with the proper flies you will need for your trip, plus your leaders and tippet material. I do suggest using Flour carbon leader and tippet material during this time of year this will definitely help with all the abrasive substances in the river such as fishing tackle, ice, and of course our least favorite the zebra mussel. This little invasive species, not only destroys the Great Lakes environment but can also do a number on your leader and tippet. One thing that always amazes me beside the fact that anglers never practice their casting is the fact that so many are oblivious to the importance of a sharp hook. Take the time and invest in a great hook sharpener and sharpen your hooks!
Rods & Reels for Steelhead
I am almost afraid to address this subject because everyone has their own opinion about their gear and its almost like you just insulted them when you suggest anything other. So I will just give you my thoughts on the subject and you can go with whatever works for you.
My personal and most reliable outfit is my Winston 9 1/2 foot 7 weight with a matching Billy Pate fly reel. I love the 9 1/2 foot rod, this extra footage helps first make a very accurate and consistent roll cast to locations in the stream that I want to target. The extra length also keeps my fly traveling in the target zone for a much longer period of time. The more you have your fly in the water, the better the chance of success!
As for leaders again I like to use fluorocarbon because of the non-abrasive nature of the material. Some anglers also believe it is invisible in the water but I am mostly impressed with the sturdiness of the material. This is the same for the tippet material also. As for regulations pertaining to leader and tippet length please consult your local state fishing regulations.
Where are They?
Again water conditions will play a big part as to where steelhead will be patiently waiting to take your fly. In the case of high, moving water, search for those slower seams, river obstruction, undercut banks, anywhere the river slows is a great location to entice a steelhead to strike. Keep on the move and don’t overfish one location as the high water will keep the fish moving. Lower water conditions is the time to really search for those conditions above and spend some time working those areas as the fish are holding and are not on the move as frequently.
Avoiding the crowds is essential to finding steelhead and hopefully your choice to venture out in the winter will take care of this factor. The crack of dawn is not the critical aspect as it might be during the early season as it would be during the earlier season. Steelhead need to basically warm up before they even start to thing about feeding. So guess what my fellow anglers the “Crack of Noon” is probably your best bet!
Take the time and read the water it will definitely increase your chance of hooking your winter steelhead
Before we start talking about how to catch them, what is a a steelhead? A steelhead is a domestic rainbow that was born and inhabits streams that are feeders to large bodies of water. These stream bred rainbows make an annual trip to these bodies of water such as lakes or the ocean and spend time there getting very large. They then return to the streams to eat and/or spawn. In the case of the Great Lakes, this fishery is entirely dependent on the stocking of steelhead into the system. Now, yes there are some fish that take to the system and do naturally reproduce but the stocking helps supplement the system.
Ok, lets catch some!
Remember, steelhead will be on the move up river looking to spawn and once they rest the will be conserving energy for their final step, spawning. This resting takes place in the locations we discussed earlier, slow moving water, pools, river obstructions basically look for areas where they river takes a beak and most likely there will be a steelhead waiting there.
Whether you are bottom bouncing or swinging flies, remember to slow things down and keep your fly in the water and the target zone for as long as you can and your success rate will increase. Cover the water in a very constant pattern and at different angles. The slightest change in movement or angle can invoke a strike.
While nymphing or bottom bouncing get the fly where you want it and slow it down and get the fly deep. You can do this by mending the line upstream. Always start with an in-air upstream mend so you start the drift of correctly. If you try to do a full line mend on the water you will pull the fly out of the strike zone. Slow the fly down, actually I try to get the flow moving slower then the current. This can be done by putting several on water mends without moving the fly.
Change flies often and don’t assume that the fly that caught them yesterday, will work today. Experiment with nymphs, egg patterns, streamers (whether articulated or not).
Each year there are reports of anglers losing their lives on the great lake tributaries. Be safe and don’t take any unnecessary risks. You do not have to cast to the other side of the river, just be observant and you will find the same conditions close to your location.
Using a wading staff and cleats on the your wading boots are essential, but probably the most important thing is don’t take a step until you are definitely sure you are secure on the bottom. Try to always fish with a friend for safety plus you have someone to share flies with and to brag about your trophy steelhead!
Taking a tumble and getting soaked is a very dangerous situation, hypothermia and in some cases a heart attack will increase your chances of drowning and death. Let's get out there, have a good time and come home safely.
Winter steelhead fishing can be a lot of fun and very productive! Just take some time to be prepared, study your local river conditions and be safe. Get out there and get some hot steelhead action!
As 2023 comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the experiences and adventures that 2023 provided. The year started off with a bang as I traveled to my dream destination, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina in search of the massive sea run brown trout. A new friend was made and I was challenged by the enormous sea run brown trout and wind that is well known for this part of the globe. Battling the wind was not quite as horrible as I expected and was able to catch and land several very large sea run brown tout. A great time was had in the land of fire and ice.
Onward to Buenos Aires where a group of excited anglers were met and we traveled westward to Junin de Los Andes in the heart of Patagonia for an incredible fly fishing adventure! Days were spent wandering this incredible region of Patagonia, catching and releasing some very nice trout and experiencing the famous minnow run while floating the Collon Cura River, and camping on the the banks of this incredible river. The fish were excited and cooperated as we had plenty of stories to tell around the campfire each evening. Of course the magnificent hospitality of the Argentine people made the trip an even more memorable experience. After a month of fishing it was time to relax for a few weeks before heading to the Florida Keys in search of my first tarpon. The keys were an incredible learning experience with lots of water to explore and many boat problems. My grandfather would tell me “A boat is a whole in the water where you throw money into”. I truly believe his words today. All in ll it was a tough time but a lot was learned and a fire was ignited in my soul and the utmost respect was gained for the king of all gamefish! Many shots at tarpon were had but, the tarpon were not eager to play this time, hey, there is always next season!
My time in the Keys was fun but it was late April and the infamous Hendrickson hatch was calling, so it was back to Pennsylvania and my beloved home waters, the Upper Delaware River. This year was typical of the Delaware, tough conditions both atmospheric and water conditions but, was ale to land a healthy number of both browns and rainbows sipping those delicious Hendricksons. . Spring is a always a good time on the upper Delaware, as good friends gather to have have a great time on the river and around the campfire.
Late June brought a very memorable trip to Belize River Lodge with my dear friend Barry Servinete, It is always a great memory when I get the chance to fish with my good friend. Our experience was first class from the accommodations of this wonderful lodge, the food and the exceptional guides. Tarpon were hooked and landed while fishing the amazing Sibun River. The stars were aligned and seemed like it was just our time as everything we did equaled to success. The river fish are not known to be the monsters that everyone dreams about, but as our guide quoted “Its still the Silver King and you must bow to the King”
Summer was a time for rest, just an occasional trip to the upper Delaware was all that was on the schedule. September was an interesting month as we were all geared up and ready to Albie fish in Montauck, NY, the fish were not as geared up as we were expecting. We were able to locate and hook a few nice False Albacore but the experience was nothing like past years.
October is my time to be in the woods and thats exactly what I did, chasing the few grouse that remain here in Pennsylvania. Many miles were traversed across the Pennsylvania mountains but, very few grouse were taken, It seems like Maine will be an annual trek for me in the future! With the limited grouse population here in Pennsylvania, the majority of the autumn days were spent chasing pheasant both on public and preserve land.
November was a real highlight of the year, and my compass painted south again to South America, our destination, Chile. It has been several years since my last visit and my time away from this amazing country truly affirmed how much I missed this spectacular location. Traveling with two great friends made the trip even more memorable and the fact that a good friend was waiting for us to show us his new fly fishing operation in Manhuelas made the trip even more memorable. Manhuelas, Chile is a forgotten area of Chile, we were were greeted with some spectacular river, lake and spring creek fishing all loaded with some memorable brown and rainbow trout! Weather was a bit challenging, we survived and the ominous weather made for some spectacular scenery
Going forward into 2024, Riversage Outdoors is my top priority and I will be emphasizing the promotion of all aspects of Riversage Outdoors. It is my goal to introduce or remind as many sportsman of their passion for the outdoor lifestyle, either in person by participating in my international and domestic fly fishing, wingshooting, and now big game hunts, or through my videos, photographs and presentations. Please be sure to visit Riversage Outdoors website and Facebook page to stay up to date with all the exciting trips and events happening in 2024!! I also will be attending several fly fishing and sportsman shows throughout the winter so please stop by and say hello!
Family and friends are the the essence of a happy life, so please take care of yourselves and make 2024 the year you spend more time outdoors, enjoying whatever it is that draws you to the wild and live your life to the fullest!
Have a safe, happy and prosperous new year!
I am excited and look forward to hunting, fishing or just sharing stories together in 2024!
Welcome to the blog!.
If you checked out the “About Me.” page then you know my name is Ray Looking at the front page, you probably saw that this is an Outdoor Enthusiast blog, encompassing fishing, hunting, photography, travel and everything outdoors
Glad you came by. I wanted to welcome you and let you know I appreciate you spending time here at the blog very much. Everyone is so busy and life moves pretty fast, so I really do appreciate you taking time out of your busy day to check out my blog!. Thanks.
Another thing I will always appreciate is your feedback to the blog. If you have any comments or suggestions I welcome them and would love to hear them. Always. Not that all criticism is a fun thing but I think honest criticism given in an honest positive manner is something we can all learn and grow from if we are open to hearing it. I will always listen to your ideas. So I do welcome your suggestions for the blog..
I will always do my best to bring you content that will
interest, inspire, motivate and maybe even have you walking away thinking about and seeing things in a different way than before you came. I want to blog about more than just the technical aspects of the outdoor life. Being Outdoors is so much more than that and I want to touch on the essence, motivational and personal experiences we all have experienced being outdoors. I believe enjoying the outdoors rejuvenates the heart, mind and the soul. So this blog is, will be as much devoted to the experience and the essence of what we do in the outdoors as well as learning and sharing our technical expertise.
This blog will be an entity of itself, always changing and evolving and staying in tuned with the latest news, events, methods and stories of my time and your time outdoors. This is essential as everything is changing, including ourselves. Lets not get too comfortable, and challenge ourselves with new ideas and experiences. I might even surprise my viewers from time to with a little extra content and free giveaways!! 😉
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