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

for steelhead:

"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.

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