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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Winter Steelhead on the Surface

Having committed Bill McMillan's writing in Dryline Steelhead to memory all these years and having been blessed to have some ongoing communication with Bill as well, I have been determined to someday get a winter steelhead on a surface fly. Bill has noted that steelhead metabolisms and activity levels seem to begin a steady rise at around 44 degrees with a peak between 48 to 58 degrees - the prime range to try surface methods, regardless of season. I have given surface methods for winter steelhead a try over the past few seasons when conditions seem favorable, such as when water temps are at least 44 degress, at reasonable winter flows and with reasonable clarity.

With the lower than average steam flows and mild, warm spring weather we have been having in Oregon, I figured I'd tie up some fresh foam wakers and give them a try during what seems like an ideal window of opportunity. I've managed to raise, but not hook winter steelhead on the surface in prior seasons.

Well, it seems the stars lined up when I was out on my favorite Oregon coastal stream on 3/30/13. I started off at the head of a little run and after hooking into a little smolt, I continued down and had an aggressive grab as my waker came across the main flow into the softer inside water. At first I wasn't sure if it was a nice sized cutthroat, but after a few headshakes and short runs, I knew it was a little steehead. She wasn't a big bruiser, but just a perfect, yet petite late running hen that had not spawned yet (anal vent not distended). My first winter steelhead on the surface and it felt good. The water measured a balmy 51 degrees on this clear spring morning (raising to 55 degress in the afternoon).

After photographing the fish I continued down and had another steelhead charge at my fly twice on the same swing but I could not hook it. It felt like fishing for summer steelhead, except there are no summer steelhead on this river!

I knew getting winter steelhead on the surface could be done, of course this has been accomplished by others, but it does take a leap of faith to put the big wet flies away and tying a waker on and going with what can seem like small odds. I also kept hearing stories of folks who were getting thier indicators eaten by steelhead this year so I took that as a cue to try surface flies.

Of course, now that I have accomplished my goal of getting a winter fish on top, my confidence is up.  Bummer is I continued to fish surface flies for the remainder of the winter season with no further success on top.  Next winter I will start skating earlier in the season when the greater bulk of the winter run is in.

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