Early Season BC Steelhead Fishing

Early Season BC Steelhead Fishing

“Early” Season Winter-Run Steelhead – Float Fishing

It is almost that time of year, and the 1st of December is our signal here at the store that Winter Steelhead are without a doubt in our local waters. Alas, this is not our “Go-To” time for Winter Steelhead locally as most river systems do not normally see better numbers of fish until the end of December or into early January. But this is a good time to scout the rivers you plan on fishing for the upcoming season. On most years, Summer Freshet and even Fall rains can change a river systems dynamics, whether it be depth or change of certain areas. The better you learn a river system, the better your success will be. If you can put in a good amount of time on the water earlier in the season, chances are it will boost your confidence and keep you in track when peak season arrives. Our best terminology for this fishery is that Steelhead fishing is a game of inches. There are so many factors that come into play when you spend a day on the water. As we work through this article, we will pick apart what you need to do in order to become a better early season angler, and overall better Steelhead angler in general.

Effort, motivation, focus, confidence, and time. These five words describe what it takes in order to be a successful Steelhead fisherman any time of the year, especially early season. Remember them, and apply them. It will make a world of difference in your success. In the Winter Steelhead fishery, 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish, and when it comes down to Early Season, this applies even more.

The weather can be nasty, river conditions could be tough, and to add, there are usually very few fish around. When fishing early season, we recommend fishing throughout the day as long as possible and covering as much water as possible. When covering a section or length of river, there is no shortage of areas one should cast as early season Steelhead, and Steelhead in general can be found in almost any water type on any given day. There are of course spots that Steelhead will lay in more often than others, but at the same time there is no rhyme or reason as to where they are moving or sitting. When working through a section of water, you will want to focus on slower to walking pace water, but do not stray away from faster troughs or shallow pocket water. If you can, cover it all. A critical method to covering water effectively is to start at the top of your selected stretch of water, casting tight to shore and working your way further out, while working your way downstream at the same time. Couple casts, and take a few steps. If you have a feeling you have not covered the water well enough, think there may be a fish, or have missed a fish, you can repeat the process again. In a lot of cases if you think you have missed a fish, exercise more casts into the same area. If you have not gotten another bite, try switching up to a different presentation. More often than not, this will draw a strike from the fish you have missed. Steelhead can be very aggressive, especially early season as they are fresh and have not seen a lot of things float by them.

When targeting these early season fish, do not worry as much about what you have on your hook, but more so the water you are covering. All of your standard presentations will produce fish early in the season, but in most cases this will not be the deciding factor whether the fish bites or not. Most early season fish will bite on the first drift through the spot, and if you miss them, chances are they will bite again and you will get a hookup. Depending on water conditions (height and clarity), we would suggest a brighter presentation of a medium to large size.

Lastly, our KEY piece of advice in order to be successful in this fishery is to fish the CORRECT depth. Time and time again we see anglers fishing way too deep for the section they are covering. Always always always remember you do not need to be dredging the bottom to catch steelhead, especially early on. More often than not, steelhead will lay right on the bottom, but they will rise for your presentation. A correct depth is to be about a foot off of the bottom. This will give you the best approach to the fish, without dragging your line and gear across its head.

What to Use

Plastic/Artificial Baits:

  • Plastic Eggs (Mad River Eggs, BNR Softbeads, Cleardrift Soft Beads, MAd River Soft Beads)
  • Roe Imitations (Jensen Eggs or equivalent tied in mesh)
  • Rubber Worms (Pink, Orange, White)
  • Jigs
  • Yarn/Wool (Pink, Cerise, Chartreuse, Orange, Fire Red)
  • Blades/Spinners (Silver, Gold, Multi-Colours)

Natural Baits:

  • Roe
  • Roe Bags
  • Shrimp
  • Prawns (Raw or Cooked)
  • Ghost Shrimp

Float Fishing Set-Ups


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