I noticed anglers on the Cowichan making straight forward mistakes that a bit of information would cure. For instance, one person was standing in one spot and casting and casting. Apparently he had been there for hours — the opposite of what you want to do.
In winter steelheading you want to be constantly on the move. That is because of three things: other anglers, holding steelhead and moving steelhead. On a well-used river like the Cowichan you want to be first to the fish because steelhead are very aggressive and the first thing that goes by gets whacked. Once a fish has whacked something, it will not bite for some time. On the other hand, the colder the day, and water, the less likely the fish will move for anything, so more casts are called for.
On the Gold once, I put a lure under a float past a spot 40 times, and then caught the fish. The day was frigid, but I was assured there was a fish there, and so there was. But on a usual day, you do a grid pattern over the spot and step down, covering only the good water. The good water for winter steelhead is straight line runs, heads of pools and tails of pool — the last more into March and April.
You can bet everyone is being mobile going to other spots, to catch “first water” on the steelhead. So, plan your day and hustle along. Holding water is where steelhead feel comfortable and are not moving on. This happens in three-to-eight-feet runs where the turbulence above them makes them invisible and hence relaxed (if a steelhead can ever be said to be relaxed). If a steelhead enters a river and spawns several months later, it has to spend a lot of time just sitting and that is why holding water is important.
Steelhead come on and go off the bite throughout the day. So your first water can come later in the day, even on spots that have been fished as little as an hour before when the fish would not bite.
Moving steelhead offer themselves to the fisher who stands in one spot for hours, or on the first cast of a moving angler. Pass through water is usually the softer water beside a current. The steelhead moves through it, often in well- defined slots. They are here this minute and gone the next. That is why some people fish pass through water from top to bottom, then go back up to the top and do it again. Near river mouths, get the high tide and within a few kilometress of the ocean, you will find fish pass through a couple of hours after. This happens on the Stamp, for instance.
Pass-through water also includes some low percentage water. Where current is high, steelhead are not biting, just getting through. They stop in the softer water above — or below — and that is where to fish them. And, if all the anglers are on one side of the river, cross so you can be on your own. Think rock for winter steelhead rather than logs. Rock creates soft water in front, beside and behind by deflecting current. Logs do too, but look down from a bridge sometime and watch how frequently steelhead hang beside rocks.
© Copyright 2013