On The River: Takeaways from My First Winter Steelhead Adventure

Now I am not a stranger to angling travel, or steelhead fishing. However, going into this latest adventure, I knew there was going to be a learning curve. Steelhead fishing in British Columbia (A.K.A: BC) is an amazing experience, and fishing later into the season is no different. However, it is a completely different ballgame in terms of packing and preparation when compared to fishing the more popular “fall dates” in late August, September, and October. For those reading this who may be considering a trip to BC later in the season, On The River: Takeaways from My First Winter Steelhead Adventure

Find Ways to Stay Warm:  

Winter fishing for steelhead is no joke, The weather and water temps are cold and trending downward. The most important factor in a successful day during the winter months out on the water is finding ways to start warm, and ultimately stay warm. This starts first and foremost with properly layering. It took me a couple of days to figure it out, but I finally found the proper kit for the tough BC conditions on day 3.  

From head to toe, my kit looked like this, For my baselayer, I utilized a Simms Solarflex Hoody, this layer is lightweight, and extremely good at wicking away moisture. Next up, was the Simms Thermal Zip Top with a Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket to follow. Lastly, that was all topped off with a Gore-Tex Shell to keep out any rain, snow. We like Simms & Grundens Gore-Tex options. If the day was exceptionally cold, I kept an additional puffy style layering piece to add to the mix.  

Layering the bottom half was much easier in my opinion given the fact that you automatically are adding waders to the mix. Starting off, I utilized a pair of the Simms Heavyweight Baselayer Bottoms coupled with the Patagonia R2 Tech Face Fleece Pants. When paired with a pair of compression socks, a wool heavyweight sock, and a few strategically placed single use toe warmers I found myself to be toasty warm!  

The single hardest part in the equation to stay warm was the ability to keep your fingers from freezing, I found that a pair of nitrile gloves, paired with a pair of Orvis Softshell Fingerless gloves, and a couple of stick-on toe warmers inside in between the nitrile and softshell kept my fingers in the game and mobile enough to control the thinnest of running lines.  

In between runs, I found it nice to get out and walk around to keep up the heart rate and get the blood pumping. Also, a cup of hot water or coffee during the downtime was always welcome and great for morale.  

Fish the Slower Water:  

One major difference between fall steelhead and winter steelhead fishing is the water that you find your fish holding in. Naturally, later in the season, water temps are considerably lower given the change in water temperatures. During periods of low water temps, you are more likely to find steelhead sitting in slower, often deeper pockets and buckets. This is since steelhead are a lot like us, when it gets cold, it’s time to focus on conserving energy. So, don’t waste your time fishing traditional fast riffles, instead look for the areas where the water transitions from fast to slow, typically at the head of pools, or at the end of a riffle. These areas where fish can “chill” are most likely to produce during these chilly winter days.  


Fish Your Fly Slowly:  

The odds of a steelhead rising to crush a skating dry fly in low water temps is extremely low. Like we covered in the last section, steelhead are doing their best to conserve energy during the winter months. However, this does not mean that they will not eat flies. To give yourself the best chance, do your best to SLOW your swing down. This is best accomplished with the use of an Intermediate Tip, or Intermediate Shooting Head. Pay close attention to the hang down at the end of the swing as well, fish will eat very late into the swing during this time of year. 

Take Breaks to Stay Sharp:  

Like I stated above, Winter steelheading is a COLD activity. You will find yourself standing in the middle of a run losing focus at some point during the day due to being partially frozen. With that said, make sure to take breaks when things get too chilly. Step out of the run, and go for a quick walk, grab a cup of coffee, or even think of starting a small fire. Reintroducing that warmth into your body will help you to maintain focus over the course of the day. Which, in theory will keep you casting at the best level possible and keep you in the game longer.  


Check Your Leader & Flies Often:  

Steelhead fishing is a game of consistency, persistence, and hope. Working hard to get a fish on the line only to watch it break off due to a casting knot or dull hook point is a major blow to morale. Make sure to check your leader for knots of kinks regularly as well as your flies to ensure the hook is nice and sharp. If either of these things is not looking pristine, take the time to replace them as it could mean the difference between putting a fish to hand or breaking a fish off.  

Winter steelhead fishing is an amazing experience. Most of all make sure to stay safe, keep your confidence high, and never stop believing. Who knows, that next swing may produce the fish of a lifetime.