Winter “Steelhead-ing” in the Real Northwest

 

Article by: Jeffrey Goudreau

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For those of you that know me, I am normally living in the far north fishing for northern pike, lake trout and other northern trophies.

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But recently I have moved to the Pacific Northwest of Canada on the Skeena River watershed to learn a new fishery and get out of my comfort zone a bit. The fishing here is open water year round and offers anglers interested in Steelhead, Salmon and other trout a heavenly playground to explore with trophies of all species. A bit different than the -50 degree winters I have been used to for the past while. A welcomed change!

The days are short here now. Typically I am at location for first light to maximize my days on the river. The day’s low temps are ranging from 0 to -5 degrees Celsius and a high of + 4 Celsius. The rivers are at their lowest of the year and allow an angler to learn all of the nooks and crannies before the spring floods the banks. So my strategy is to collect as much data during this period to allow me to map all pools, runs and areas that will be used for holding positions by salmon and steelhead later in the season.

 

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Up here there are two ways to fish big steelhead…Spey…And non-Spey.

I am not a purist of anything really. I try to avoid adopting this mentality because I feel as though it limits your life’s experiences and ultimately your trophy count once you’re on your deathbed. I once was walking downstream to my lodge room, after fishing on one of the best Arctic Grayling rivers in the world, with an amazing 50 fish plus day with multiple fish over 25 inches. I came across this guy that was casting dry flies. I asked how his day was going. He said, “lost a small one…but on the dries” as though that last bit was to be more meaningful than the fact that he was skunked, while on the best river in the world, for the species we were both after. I had a beer with the guy later and debated this topic. He wouldn’t budge and held steadfast to the idea that a dry fly caught fish was a better fish in some weird way. And I realized the downfall of stubbornness in anglers that night and will always remember this as a life lesson of what not to become. You do what it takes to get the fish in the net. Gear, bait, fly or bow and arrows. You learn to be efficient with any tactic and you learn how fish react and move in all conditions. Period.

Lately I have been working on learning the tributaries of the Skeena River. It is one of the best wild steelhead and salmon fisheries in the world. I’m finding fish ranging from 23 inches to 37 inches and on the hunt for a true 40 incher. The average weight seems to be 8-11 lbs and the fish are what seem to be majority summer run fish, full of color. There are silver “fresh-ies” lurking about in the mix and new runs beginning at the lower portion of the rivers in higher numbers now.

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Typically I am working walking pace water or tailout sections of a pool floating pink worms, egg patterns, beads and various jigs. The key is to have a decent expanse of this water condition. The smaller slips of water don’t seem to have fish in them or at least not for long during this period. They are congregated in larger numbers together in areas and are getting ready to spawn presently. Within just a few weeks this will begin here and most of the rivers will shut down for spawning.

I’m using two different Okuma rod and reel combos. A T40x TX-C-1092ML with a low profile Cedros and a Guide Select Float Rod GS-S-1363FR with a Trio 30S. The float rod allowed me to work my floats much easier at far distance than the T-40x with its extra length and was a smooth rod for hook sets and action. Awesome feel with big fish spooling out line. The T-40x allows for me to feel all strikes and to move big fish out of the heavier current. Also a very smooth rod. I’m super impressed with these rods and will be grabbing some larger sizes to deal with the larger salmon entering the rivers in upcoming months.

Lessons learned since getting onto the big “steelies” up here… Do not forget your net or you will spend most of your time warming your hands while you should be fishing…There is no substitute for good quality gear when dealing with big trophy fish and numbers. Enjoy life while you have it and are healthy!!

 

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Bait Fishing For Trout- Tips and Techniques

When it comes to bait fishing for trout whether it be here locally in one of our many Southern California lakes, or fishing in the High Sierras, there is specific proven method for “bait and wait.

For decades I have been a big fan of the Okuma Avenger Baitfeeder reels, especially the model 20. When coupled with an Okuma SST rod you have a combination that simply cannot be beat in either price or performance.

The Avenger 20 Baitfeeder is perfectly matched for 2 to 4 pound monofilament line. There are two things to remember about trout. First, they can be line shy which is why lighter line and fluorocarbon have become more popular when fishing for these critters. The second thing to remember is that with newer lines comes renewed faith in breaking strength. Where our concern for breaking off fish urged us to go to 6 pound line in the past, modern lines have incredible breaking strength. I have personally landed a number of double digit trout on 2 lb. line. You have to play the fish a little longer on lighter line in order to tire them out, but then again, the battle is half the fun!

So why do I like Okuma Baitfeeder reels so much? Trout tend to be lazy at times and furthermore need to be given proper time to eat the bait. Before the advent of bait runner type reels, we used to screw loose our drags so that when the fish picked up the bait he could swim with it and not feel any pressure. Key to remember was to screw the drag back down before setting the hook. Too often either excitement would over-take sensibility or the angler forgot to reset the drag, or else hastily set it too tight, both resulting in lost opportunities.

Using the Okuma Avenger 20, which by the way is the perfect size and is the only reel of its kind made by any reel manufacturer, everything is preset. Set your drags perfectly and loosen the bait feeder mechanism to its lowest setting which allows line to come off the reel freely when a fish picks it up. All you need to do then is simply turn the handle and set the hook and you are ready to fight your fish!

 

Lightning and Super Trout Fin & Feather

I often fish at the Palmdale Fin & Feather Club where I have been a member for the last 6 years and rely faithfully on this set up: A #6 or #8 Mosquito type hook, bullet weight ranging from 1/16 to ½ oz., small bead and Carolina Keeper. The reason for this type of set up is that it allows for the length of your leader to be shortened or lengthened on the fly in accordance to where the fish are holding.

Here is how you rig it. First, slide the bullet weight or sliding egg sinker on to your line. Next, slide on the small dark colored or clear glass bead (optional). I like this little addition as when you cast your line and it hits the water, when the weight slides against the bead it makes a slight “clicking” sound which often attracts fish. Many times I cast out using this method and get bit instantly. Following the bead pinch and slide your Carolina Keeper onto the line. By simply pinching the keeper and sliding it up and down the line, you can quickly adjust the length of your leader. Finally, tie on your hook, that’s all there is to it.

Now, what do you put on the end of the hook (kind of important right)? There are two methods that work with single hooks, both which work very effectively. Live bait (night crawlers) and Berkeley Mice Tails. Realizing that there are other manufacturers who make similar baits, the reason for the Berkeley brand is that they float. This is very important as bait which sits on the bottom of the lake won’t get bit no matter how bright the colors. Speaking of colors, best combinations for the Mice Tails are pink tail / white head, orange tail / chartreuse head, orange tail / white head and white on white.

When these artificial baits first came out, the tendency was to thread your hook right through the head. This still works okay, but my friend Dave showed me a better way which seems to get more action. Try threading your hook through the “neck” of the Mouse Tail right below the head. Doing this allows the bait to float off the bottom head up, tail down and will bounce up and down with the current.

If your preference is to fish the “bacon” as my buddy Jason affectionately refers to night crawlers, then remember that presentation is key. In order to present a night crawler to a trout in such a way that he will want to eat it, you will need 2 proper tools, a worm threader and a worm blower. Some people like to use the whole worm, but I prefer to use half and then the dark half of the worm as opposed to the lighter half. Call me superstitious, but another friend Big Fish Mike (I know, I have a lot of friends who fish), showed me this method on Lake Crowley the first time we ever fished there. Let me tell you, it made a big difference.

Once you have broken the worm in half, carefully thread it onto the worm threader by inserting the threader just behind the worm collar (this is the light section of the worm just about in the middle which divides the two halves of the worm) and thread it out the section that you have just cut. Once you have threaded your worm onto the hook this allows for air to be injected into the night crawler with the needle pointed at the un-cut end. There are many chambers in this section of the worm all which will hold air insuring that your bait floats off the bottom. Again, fish are not attracted to bait lying at the bottom of the lake.

Some anglers choose to tip the hook with either a salmon egg or even a bright colored Power Egg making it similar to the Mice Tails. Either way, one last important ingredient is to add a strong scent to your bait. Garlic, corn and anise are all commonly used attractants. The boys at Bite On have developed an old family recipe that I swear gets bit 10 to 1 over all other bait attractants. Try their Garlic, Crimson (Garlic with a red tint which helps in stained water) or Maize scents.

The final thing I will touch on is what to do with your rod once you have cast out your bait. You don’t want to miss that bite you have been waiting for all day, so to that end I like to put the odds in my favor by having both a visual as well as audible indicator. When the fish picks up the bait aggressively and starts swimming away with it, the audible part comes by way of the sound the Okuma Avenger 20 makes as line is singing off the reel. However, trout don’t always bite like this and in fact, sometimes swim towards shore rather than away from it. This is where a strike indicator comes in handy.

Strike indicators are easily made with simple household items such as an old wine cork or even an empty Easter egg left over from the kid’s big hunt last year! Simply attach a paper clip or small piece of wire to the egg or cork which will allow it to hang from your fishing line. Once you have cast your line and the bait has settled to the bottom reel up all of the slack and then set it into your rod holder (no need to hold the rod in your hands). Be sure to lift the Baitrunner mechanism at the back of the reel which allows for the line to come off the reel without resistance and now gently hang the strike indicator on the line about in the middle of the rod. When the fish picks up your bait and starts to swim away with it, before line starts coming off of the reel you will see the strike indicator pull up. Conversely, if the fish is swimming towards shore the indicator will begin to fall down.

Trout season is just now starting here in the southland and before you know it the Sierras will be back in business, God willing and the snow falls this year of course. Wherever you wind up with a line in the water put these quality Okuma products and techniques to use and catch that wall hanger!

Article by Brett Edmondson, Santa Clarita, CA
Submitted November 2015