When you bring a wild steelhead to hand, it’s up to you to take care of that fish until it’s rested and ready to continue on its long journey. There are dos and don’ts to make sure fish are treated properly.
Haul the fish into your boat with a net and set it down in the bottom of the boat. Fish flopping against hard surfaces beat themselves up just like they do on land.
Beach a wild fish for the same reason you don’t lay it in the boat. A flailing fish is in trouble.
Stick your fingers in its gills. Don’t lip steelhead; they’re not bass.
Get into knee-deep water and tail the fish when it comes near. It may take a couple of tries and you don’t need a glove, which removes protective slime from the fish’s skin.
Support a fish’s body (not in its gills) and hold the tail while you rest it before releasing. If you’re taking a photo, keep the fish in the water and only lift for a few seconds if you must.
Handle them carefully and let them go when they show signs that they’ve regained their strength.
For more detail on what to do with beautiful wild steelhead once you’ve brought them close, check out our post on landing big fish.
March is primetime for wild winter steelhead. Keep an eye out for redds (oval shaped bare gravel) and avoid walking through them. Avoid fishing to spawning fish as well. They’ve made it that far, let them do their business and be on their way.
Thank you for all the rain dances, I think they have worked! Expect more of the stuff to come down through the next couple of days. This next front will bring in slightly cooler temperatures but should not be bringing more low elevation snow. We will see a drying trend later in the week and rivers may just come in to shape by the weekend. Another front is expected to show up around Sunday, bringing more moisture our way.
Why our rivers are at minor flood stage.
Coast– All the coastal anglers that we know have been praying and hoping for rain to come. Now that it is here, we are all waiting to see if it brought fish along with it. We have no recent reports but we will be out there when the rivers clear up a bit. Fish were caught during snowpocalypse and the North Fork Alsea Hatchery has finally seen larger numbers of fish making it to the trap.
Valley– We are back to a more normal winter weather pattern, which has raised levels far above fishable. For now it is best to sit back with your favorite beverage and tie up some bugs for the coming season.
Desert– Low snowpack and water levels means that dam operators are holding back every drop that they can. This means that Central Oregon tailwaters have remained at fishable levels and are fishing well. The BWO and midge hatches don’t seem to have been affected one bit by the weather. With the high flows and warmer temperatures on other systems this is a great time to throw a streamer and see what monster may be living in out there.
Winter’s not just for tying at the vise (although you should be getting your spring patterns together) or hunting for elusive winter steelhead, it’s prime time to hit the water without a lot of competition and explore your favorite watershed from a new angle. Here are three ideas for making the most of the chilly months.
winter isn’t all about one of these…
Think lazy fish – what were you doing during snowpocalypse?
Cold-blooded fish have to take extra care to conserve energy in chilly water. Whereas you’d focus on fast riffles and drop-offs in the summer, look for pools and runs three to eight feet deep with flows moving at a walking pace to find fish hunkered down.
Sink some eggs – a big baked potato and giant bowl of chile are where my thoughts are when its cold.
I know what you’re thinking, but egg patterns can be very successful in the winter months. Whitefish spawn in winter and trout key in on their eggs for an easy shot of protein. Use a small weighted pattern to get down where the fish are.
Offer a meal – make it worth their time.
It seems counter-intuitive to throw big flies to cold fish, but streamers present trout with the opportunity to eat a big meal. And, for big fish, the deal is too good to pass up. Tie streamers on a long leader and keep them moving. Here are some great patterns to try:
Late winter brings out Skwala stones that present some of the earliest season dry fly fishing. When Skwala flies skate, they get crushed.
Work your way downstream, drifting the dry fly as normal. At the end of the drift, let the line come tight and let the fly skate across. When your fly is directly downstream, you’re not done yet. Strip the fly back, letting it wake as it goes. We get some big hits on these flies from hungry trout on the retrieve.
With all the talk of hooking mortality and how to properly handle fish, I thought I would share some of the best fish shots I’ve seen in awhile. With GoPros and every one having a personal camera, the amount of gratuitous fish porn on the inter web is border-line painful. Nick took these over his last couple of days out, and they blow any other fish-photo out of the water (punny). Yes, we are contributing to the onslaught of porn, but feel these showcase the safest way to remember your catch.
We have seen incredible advancements in point and shoot waterproof cameras, as well as waterproof housings for DSLRs. The Chum posts new cameras every few weeks, and it’s time anglers start to take note. In these photos, Nick is shooting with a DSLR and a very badass Outex waterproof case. They are pretty expensive, but the key to epic underwater photography with your big, fancy camera.
Side Bar: No one will every realize you are standing at the hatchery hole, or in your secret spot.