That first cool breeze that signifies fall is fast approaching stirs something in all steelhead anglers.
While it has only been a few short months since the fish left the tributaries of the Great Lakes, summer feels like an eternity while everyone waits for a new run of steelhead and the excitement it brings. When the weather starts to chill and fall rains swell streams, many flock to their favorite hole only to be disappointed by a lack of fish and explosion of other anglers. Here are a few tips to sway the odds back in your favor and find success in this early season!
Fish The Lake
During this early season, steelhead will move into the streams at night and go back out to the lake as dawn breaks. It’s part of their staging process and is a reason why so many have more success right at daybreak rather than a few hours into the day towards lunch. Simply put, there are more fish in the streams at night than during the day. Anglers can catch more fish by focusing their time on the lake itself! The mouth of the tributaries is a great place to start but steelhead will cruise for several hundred yards up and down the beach as they wait for the next rain to start their upstream push. There is more opportunity to be had by fishing the lake rather than the streams when a majority of the steelhead are still out in the big water.
Bring A Headlamp
For those that still want to target the streams themselves, the low-light conditions will undoubtedly be the best bet. Instead of arriving right at daybreak, strap on the headlamp and be out there an hour or two before the first sunlight peaks out. More fish will be in the streams and even though some will have already gone back out to the lake, this is still the best chance of getting stream action. In similar fashion, arrive at the stream just before dark and scope out a nice run or hole where fish might pause on their upstream migration. Have the headlamp ready again and stay well into the night as the run of fish moves in!
Time The Rain
Later in the year, the sweet spot for hitting the run tends to be the day or two after a big rain has stopped. By then the water has crested and started to fall, providing the perfect window of opportunity to target fresh fish that have just come in from the lake. Early in the year, anglers should try to time this up a bit different by using the rain itself as the key to their fishing. Steelhead are much more likely to come in and go right back out at the first sign of dropping flows so consider fishing on the upswing side of the rising water and try to focus efforts on the peak flow, assuming it’s safe to do so. Even in muddy water the fish can still see flies and there are likely to be more fish in the drainages when it appears to be blown out rather than 12-24 hours later when the streams start to recede.
Steelhead fishing is often defined by cold, wind, and driving snow in the winter months. However, anglers can find just as much success in early fall by adjusting their thought process and understanding how the fish behave during this time. These tips can get folks on the right track and produce plenty of heart-pounding moments while others are spent wondering why the fish aren’t in their favorite spots!