Low Water Steelhead

The day dawned crisp and clear as it had for the past two weeks. The winter rivers were at their lowest and somewhat coldest (can't say this West Coast winter has been that cold) that we were probably going to see this year yet my enthusiasm for hitting the river was at an all time high. I have learned to crave the times of extreme low water since I have learned the power of the jig! Nothing quite turns on these cold water fish like the site of a jig flowing above them.

After a slippery ride to the river I couldn't help but smile to myself as I noticed a definite lack of anglers on the water today even though it was a Saturday during the peak of the winter steelhead run. Low and cold water conditions had chased away many of the fishermen and those that remained had little faith in the water they were fishing, but I knew better. As I pulled in to a favourite road side stop I couldn't help but smile to myself, I was shaking with anticipation.


A quick walk down the slippery frost covered rip rap led me to a favourite run, not just of mine but of many others as well as the bait stained rocks would attest too. I was far from being the first through the hole today but I held my confidence as I began to string up my 10' rod with its accompanying center pin reel. I strung the 10lb main line through the guides and slid on a slightly trimmed down 4" float. Several feet down I affixed a small #12 black swivel and 2 small split shot just above it. 18" of 6lb leader was attached to the other end of the swivel and a 1/8oz pink beaded jig to the other end of the leader.

There was a fly fisher working the top end of the run so I slipped down river a fair ways to give him room to work his magic. There was no need to hone in on anyone else’s drift as we were the only two die hards left fishing this run today. This was a nice run with a moderate to slow current and slight ripples on the top. Perfect for my chosen weapon today. The float was extended to about 3.5' and with the 1.5' leader I was all set to fish this 6' deep run. I started close to shore and extended each cast about 12" or so across the drift until I had reached the opposite side of the holding water, then moved down 10 steps to repeat the process over again. 


This is the system that I have found to work best for me. 10 steps down will allow me to slightly recover the end of the previous drifts to ensure that no fish are potentially missed. About mid-way through the second down stream shuffle I thought I had touched bottom, until I realized that I was at least 1' off of the bottom! The next cast was placed in the exact same spot to repeat the drift and as the float neared the spot I readied myself for the strike. I was not disappointed! 

As soon as the float dipped, I struck, and the fight was on! At the sting of the hook the bright steelhead began a series of violent head shakes, trying to dislodge the bait that bit back. When this did not relieve the tugging at its mouth it panicked and made a blistering run ending with some massive water displacing surface thrashing that I was sure would break my fragile leader. Luck was with me as the leader held and the fish sulked on the bottom... but not for long. More brutal head shakes followed as the enraged steely tried to shake the jig from its mouth, all the while slowly falling lower into the run. As the water started to shallow up the chrome steely made a bee line run to the top of the hole leaving me scrambling to catch up with the slow retrieve of the center pin. I abandoned the handles and started to bat the rim in an attempt to catch up with this race horse of a fish and finally made a solid connection just as the fish changed direction and headed back down. A short run ended in a full body leap, clean out of the water and the magnificent fish seemed to hang in eternity as I revelled in its glory. All of its high paced antics seemed to tire out the fish as it headed back to the bottom to sulk and regain its strength, but I would have none of it. I applied all the pressure that I dared and coaxed this prime 13lb hatchery steelhead into the shallows. 

I elected to keep this fine hatchery specimen for the table as it had been some weeks since I had tasted the light flavour of a fresh steelhead on my plate. After marking my licence I took a moment to reflect on just how much I had come to love the low water conditions of winter that so many people have come to hate, with a prime steely to further boost my confidence into my next low water expedition.


Rod Toth