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"The program" for Winter Steelhead

As spey fishing grows more popular each year, people are realizing that the sport of steelheading is no longer for experts, fishing addicts, or elitists.  It is accessible to everyone, and with a little practice and a good mentor you can be quite successful, right out of the gates.  Many people who are thinking of getting into steelhead fishing don’t know where to even begin.  Like a maid walking into the house of a hoarder, it can be very intimidating.  Needle in a haystack mentality can play with your mind.  Lets take a look at how one may approach there local steelhead river for the first time from a guides perspective.

Summer steelhead like our variety on the Bulkley River can be easier to target than winter fish as water conditions are more stable. More risk, more reward. Winter steelhead fishing is a different beast, and you have to put in substantial time and effort in unkind elements to gain any R.O.I.  Now that we know you have to work extra hard, yet can be rewarded for your efforts, lets take a look at how to target these bone chilling beasts.  Just like any fishing it will take time spend on the water.  As you fish different sections you want to maintain focus on a specific goal.

Steelheaders who catch a lot of steelhead in a season do so because they know their river well and have developed what I call “the program”.  To develop a successful steelhead program requires two things, an understanding of the type of water that steelhead prefer and the time to explore your river regularly to find the spots that hold steelhead consistently.  For example, on the Bulkley River in the fall, large portions of runs will produce fish because there are so many fish available, but during winter steelhead season you need to narrow it down to the exact bucket within a bucket.  This is the exact location where fish prefer to hold in a given run or pool in good water conditions. These spots will regularly produce fish as long as the water conditions remain favorable.

Once you have located six to ten of these "buckets within a bucket" you have now created a steelhead program to base your fishing around.  This doesn’t mean these are the only spots you will fish over a day, but it does mean you must fish them religiously over a season.  As water or clarity rises and falls you will start to see where the fish move close to your buckets along with these conditions.  Over time you will become a complete expert at these 6-10 spots in every water condition. 

For example you find some slack water just below heavy, rushing water where the fish will have a chance to stop and rest. Or you located some pools and runs just below riffles, or a fast run with an area of slow water behind a large obstruction where a Steelhead will prepare itself for the task at hand. 

As the water clarity colors up you will find the fish will move out of your bucket and slide in close to shore.  Or as water clears and drops lower than ideal, the fish will search out the closest seam of deep water.  By focusing on your program you will begin to see the water in a different way.  Like staring at one of those old 3D pictures that would come into view by crossing your eyes, you will be amazed at what you begin to notice. and begin to understand about the river and its fish.

Winter steelhead are powerful, and when they arrive they are in the peak shape of there lives.  The rivers of Haida Gwaii are no exception and the steelhead here will go toe to toe with a Thompson River steelhead any day of the week.  With high repeat spawning rates, and short lake fed rivers, our winter run fish thrive to some enormous sizes.