|As winter makes way for spring, the world, once
again, starts to flourish. The ice melts away, the birds return, and the creeks and rivers
become alive with silvery-sheened steelhead! Spring signals the spawning urge in these
very adaptable fish, and they begin their long journey up the many tributaries that they
once called home. By learning what to look for once you're out on the stream, the tackle
and bait which performs best, and some tips and techniques to up your odds, you'll be on
your way to becoming a streamside authority, and a bonafide "steelheader."
Picking a Stream
Steelhead, or rainbow trout as they are commonly called, have an uncanny ability to
return to spawn in the same river, or stream, that they were born in. By doing a bit of
investigative work, you can discover which stream or river has the greatest runs come
spring. Once you have this information, however, it is time to make a difficult decision.
Either fish a "well-known" stream which has a good resident population of
steelhead, yet may be overcrowded, or find a more "out of the way" creek, which
may not have as many fish, but will be less pressured. Try to fish both varieties this
spring, and decide which you prefer best, but always be on the lookout for that
What to Look For In a Stream
Fast Moving Water or Rapids
Rainbow trout always spawn in relatively shallow, fast-moving water. Look for groups of
males pressuring a single female in the rapids, or fish using these areas to move between
pools. Fishing in rapids can sometimes be tough due to the faster moving water, but they
are a guaranteed fish producer.
Pools, or holes, as they are sometimes called, are areas of deep, slack water, which often
hold a lot of fish. Some pools may range in depth from two to 10 feet, and are usually
above, or below, rapids, or stretches of shallow water. Pools have a number of different
uses, but the primary one is as a resting area. A further reason trout hold in these areas
is in anticipation of heavy rains, which makes the river swell with dirtier water, which,
in turn, creates a more safe and comfortable trip for the steelhead.
Wood and Undercut Banks
No matter what river or stream you fish, you're bound to find a good assortment of fallen
trees and undercut banks. These two objects provide safety, comfort, and shelter for many
of these fish. Look for fish to lay hidden under these spots during bright sunny days, or
low water conditions.
There are two basic conditions that you will encounter when targeting spring steelhead,
and those are, clear water, and dirty, "chocolate milk" water.
For clear water, I prefer to use a 9-and-a-half foot long noodle rod. They can reach
lengths of up to fourteen feet, and are all thin and whippy, with some backbone in the
lower third of the rod. I match my rod up with an ultra light reel, loaded with line in
the 4 or 6-pound-test range, in clear monofiliment.
There are a variety of different baits and lures for clear water trout, but live or
prepared bait seems to be the best starting point. Salmon eggs, and worms are the two top
choices for stream anglers. These can either be suspended under a slender float, or slowly
drifted down using a few small split shot to keep the bait bouncing along bottom. Spawn
sacks come in a multitude of colours, from hot pink, orange, and chartreuse to more
subdued whites, and dull yellows. For clear water always stick with the most natural
colour you can find, as well as the smallest spawn sack you can get away with. Hooks in
the size range of fourteen and sixteen are your best bet.
Other good bets for clear water steelhead are tiny spinners in the zero or 1 size, with
silver and black getting the definite nod for colour. Small tube jigs, such as the ones
you might use for perch or crappie, can be dynamite out on the stream. Small Flatfish or
"mini" baits are also perfect for holding in the current, or letting slip into
cover, or along side undercover banks.
During the springtime, rain is a common fact of life. During these heavier rain periods,
the streams will undergo a tremendous change, namely flooding and water clarity.
I use the same rod for dirty water fishing as I do for clear water, however, it is now
possible to make adjustments to your line configurations. Since visibility in the water
may be next to nothing, heavier line will be the norm. Anything in the 8 to
twelve-pound-test seems to work well.
During this off-coloured flow, go with large baits, brilliant colours and plenty of
action. Brightly coloured spawn sacks are now your best bet, as well as bright yarn flies
and sponge balls. Spinners or plugs, in larger sizes and brilliant colours will now be
needed in order for the fish to see the bait, or even hear the bait.
Techniques and Tactics
One of the most important aspects of stream fishing is stealth. Steelhead are a very wary
fish, and if they are aware of your presence they will either scoot away, or refuse to
bite. Use the trees and bushes for cover, and always keep a low profile by staying well
back from the bank.
Always move upstream, as well as cast upstream. This gives the most realistic and
Turn over rocks and boulders to see the type of bugs and crustaceans the fish are
feeding on. Match your presentation to these "real-life baits", and see your
For many, steelheading is a rite of spring. Once you've hooked that first rainbow, you
will fall prey to its magical spell, which will keep you returning, year after year, to
the same stream, much like our friend the steelhead.