Becoming a better winter steelheader: Part 1 of 3

Part 1: Equipment

This is the first of three-part post to help you become a better winter steelhead fisherman. With all this wet weather we are getting, winter steelhead are piling into many our North Coast Rivers. As the flows begin to drop, it will be time to get out there and chase some winter chrome!

One of the biggest obstacles when it comes to winter steelhead is getting your fly down in the zone and keeping it there throughout the swing. In the higher flows of winter we have to change our techniques and setups to accommodate for higher flows and potentially off-color water. This usually means fishing larger flies, heavy sink tips, and skagit style lines to chuck all this heavy shit!

Lets first start off with finding the right line to meet these demands. Skagit lines are pretty much the only way to go in the winter months since they can turn over big flies and heavier sink tips. Look for a line that will carry a lot of grains per foot. This is what is going to allow you turn over all this weight. Shorter skagit lines such as Rio’s Skagit Short, Airflo Compact Skagit, and Rio Skagit Flight are all good choices. Finding the correct skagit line for your spey rod is the first step in the process.

The second part of our line setup is going to be sinking tips. If I had one weight of sink tip to choose for the winter months it would be T-14. T-14 comes in a variety of different lengths and carries 14 grains per foot, which will help to turn over small dead chickens upwards of 6” in length. Rio’s new MOW tips are a great tool for winter steelhead. They come in 2.5’, 5’, 7.5’, 10’, and 12.5’ sink tips are will cover most fishing situations. There are times however when tips such as T-17 and even heavier ones are a must when getting your fly down between ledge-rock in heavy flows.

When it comes to leader material, Maxima Ultragreen is the only choice. I like to fish 12 lb most of the time but when fishing around a lot of structure and in off color water, there is no reason not to fish 15 lb. Typical lengths off the end of your sink tip will vary from 3-6’ and sometimes longer when fishing a heavy fly and wanting to keep it down in the zone.

Flies can play a very important role in hooking winter steelhead. The most important thing is to fish the right fly in the right situation. This means picking the correct fly for the water type you are fishing. For example, you don’t want to fish a 6” long flashy string leech in super low clear water or fish a #6 Green Butt Skunk in high, fast water with a visibility of only 3 feet. In low clear water, look to fish smaller and darker flies in the 1-3” range. In more off-color water and higher flows, look to use flies in the 3-6” range with a lot of profile and more movement. Typically we are fishing water with visibility in the 3-8 foot range. Here I want a fly that will have a good profile with a lot of movement to make sure the fish can see it and want to attack it.

Here’s a good list of winter steelhead flies we like

Idylwilde Marabou Tubes

Hickman’s Fish Taco

Hartwick’s Hoser

Hobo Spey

Silvey’s Tandem Tubes

Hickman’s Party Boy

Howell’s Signature Intruder

Howell’s Prom Dress

Morejohn’s Bantam

General practitioners

Boss’ and Comets

When choosing colors, it is always a good idea to carry a variety of colors and color combos. Some favorites would be black/blue, purple/chartreuse, pink/orange, and then your basics such as black, purple, red, pink, and orange. This will give you an option to fish certain flies in specific water types and clarity. We will get more into flies in part three when we talk about choosing the right fly and tip for specific runs.

Go for the grab!


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