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Steelhead Fishing Secrets Revealed For Winter
If ever there were to be named a game fish hall
of fame, one of the surest "shoo-in" candidates would
be none other than that mighty contender from the
Pacific Northwest the steelhead trout. And December
ushers in Washington's winter steelheading season.
Throughout the world there are only a few fish
that have earned a reputation to match the steelhead's
fish that have spawned lies, legends and lamentations.
The steelhead is high in the ranks of those paradigms of
piscatory perfection that are to dedicated anglers the
stuff that dreams are made of.
The steelhead angler is often viewed as a breed
apart from the average angler, with special skills and
the stamina to match muscles with the fabled "premier
game fish of the Northwest." While there is truth in this
view that it takes special prowess to be a
successful stealheader, the "secrets" of steelhead fishing are
not beyond the abilities of the average angler.
The trout or panfish angler should not be shy of
trying his hand at steelies just because of some
imposing "mystique" involved, according to Jack Ayerst, the
Washington State Game Department's fisheries
management chief. Ayerst says a variety of methods and fishing
tackle will serve quite well for steelheading.
There are three basic methods used in angling
"Plunkers" generally cast their lure, bait or
combination thereof into a likely stretch of the river, place
their rod in a rod holder and sit back to wait for the
steelhead to take their offering. This relaxed way of fishing is
common on the lower stretches of large river systems.
It works best during periods of high and turbid water,
usually following a freshet, when the fish are
moving through the lower sections of the river.
Another way to catch steelhead is with the use
of conventional fly-fishing tackle. This is a good bet
during summer months when the streams are at lower
levels than during the winter. Many waters or parts
of streams are set aside for fly-fishing only during the
summer. Generally speaking, the fly-fishing gear used
for steelhead is slightly heavier than conventional fly
tackle used for trout. Heavier rods, lines, larger flies and,
of course, a wider variety of gear than would typically
be used for trout are called for.
The most common method of steelhead fishing,
however, is drift fishing. The drifter cast the bait or lure
to drift through the stream current and then retrieves
the gear by reeling in rapidly at the end of the drift. Most
of the steelhead caught in the Northwest are taken by
this method. The terminal tackle consists of a variety of
lures such as fish eggs, commercial lures, bobbers, spoons
or any combination.
A new concept approved by the state Game Commission during 1981 established a category of
selective fishery (catch and release) waters that includes
several steelhead streams. Catch and release fishing is
recognized as a way to improve fishing opportunities by
expanding fish populations, particularly of wild trout
or steelhead. It allows sport fishing while protecting
the numbers of fish available in a more natural age
group structure. This concept depends on the angler's
ability to successfully release hooked fish.