Team Spirit

Silver ghosts or the fish-of-a-thousand casts, steelhead have adopted many names. For both the beginning and the expert fisherman they can be elusive. I struggled to connect with a steelhead in the beginning but once I connected with my first fish others came easier. The challenge in steelhead fishing is the number of variables involved: water clarity, air and water temperature, turbidity, season, time of day, water flow rate, and habitat are just a few of the variables that a steelhead fisherman needs to bear in mind. Making it all the more challenging is that the structure (e.g. the gravel and rocks and how the current behaves) in the river is constantly changing and a boulder that holds fish at a flow of 3000 cfs may not at 1500 cfs. Additionally, there are a wide array of ways in which to target steelhead: bobber and jig, drifting eggs, pink worms, divers, plugs, spinners, spoons, yarn, beads, etc… and all may work on one day whereas only one may work the next.

It is safe to say that steelhead are not phantoms of the river and it shouldn’t take a thousand casts to catch one although my first certainly took that many. If you casting a thousand times or more for fish you are probably targeting rivers at inappropriate times or simply not working over the right water. Before the New Year I was consistently connecting with one or two fish on most outings. In the beginning it was the norm to come home empty handed and smelling decidedly clean but in the past couple years I consistently come home stinking of slime often with some work to do on the fillet table. However, on occasion I get into a fish funk and weeks can pass without a fish. Poorly timed to coincide with my big fishing year such would be the case for me in the past few weeks.

I find the most helpful thing for me during these slow periods is to go fishing with friends. When I fish for steelhead with friends it is a definitely a team sport. I am always pleased if just one of us can connect with a fish. Watching a buddy catch a fish is almost as good as catching a fish myself. For one it brings a lot of joy to me to watch someone connect with a fish because I know exactly the kind of joy that brings. Secondly it restores my faith that the river can and will produce fish. Lastly every steelhead fisherman has two or three steelhead methods that they confidently and frequently use. While there is usually some overlap I have found that I can learn a lot from my fishing friends even guys who are just starting out always have something to teach me.

This was the case this past week when two buddies and myself were out fishing on a nearby river. We stopped at a hole that has consistently produced for me in the past. During one extremely low water event a few years back my wife and I floated and fished this section and a discovered a 75 yard boulder field littered with rocks as large as small compact cars. I pulled one summer steelhead hen out of those rocks on that day but you would never know those boulders were there during typical flows. On this particular cold and wet January day the flows were substantially higher and all three of use were working over this section with brass spoons which happens to be one of my favorite techniques for catching steelhead. One of my friends is a big time egg fisherman. I’ve never liked fishing with eggs. They are expensive (unless you acquire your own), messy, and don’t last long on the hook. After a half hour of casting spoons he switches over to drifting eggs and in a couple casts hooks up with nice hatchery steelhead hen straight out of waters that I had previously worked over with a spoon. We were all super excited to bank a fish that day and most of all I learned how important it is to go back over the same waters with a different lure. Had I been fishing by myself that day I probably would have just left without trying anything else and would have learned very little. Fishing as a team increases your odds of success and of learning something new. I highly recommend it especially for the beginning fisherman.
A winter hatchery steelhead falls victim to cured salmon eggs drifted with Yakima Bait’s Lil’ Corkies.