Get ready, the fall rains are not that far off.
With the advent of the winter rains, all rivers begin to rise and head downhill to the ocean.
When a river’s CFS (cubic feet per second) flow is moving up, it is a great time to put your rain coat to the test.
You better move in quick or you may just miss the best opportunity to hook a nice steelhead. Once the river is blown out (the river is too fast to fish) you may need to wait weeks before the river begins to fall to a fishable level.
Here is a link to Dreamflows, where you can track your favorite river’s flow; http://www.dreamflows.com/.
I have found through trial and error, that steelhead feed more aggressively when its home begins to flood rather than wane.
When I’m going to do some serious steelhead fishing, I look for rain. Not just a sprinkle, but a real hard gully washing rain. I prefer the first winter storm of the season, but the theory holds true most of the time. When your favorite steelhead river is moving from low and clear to off color and rising, a few things happen.
Most larger food sources (larger bugs and small fish) are dislodged from cover (rocks or wood) and pushed out into the open by the ever increasing flow, thus creating easy opportunities for the rivers larger fish to attach.
The larger fish will not just move out into the open to feed just because it sees a dislodged meal. The Steelie needs the rain to break up the waters surface, thus creating a ceiling for which to hide from birds, bears and fisherman.
The off colored (dirty) river creates a lowered visibility which gives an advantage to the larger fish who can move about in the elevated current in search of food.
When a river is transitioning from slow to fast, the river’s flow is changing and many of the traditional holding areas will not hold fish. So you will need to step back and recall what the river’s edge looked like prior to it being engulfed. Look to fish the softest water (slower) with structure you can find.
You may need to visualize what the river looked like back in August; where were those large rocks that were sticking out of the water when the river was low or that group of willows that used to line the bank. A rivers structure will slow the water down a little when the current around it is moving quickly. The combination of slower water along with a hiding spot for bait fish is what steelhead as well as fisherman are looking for.
It is true that the rains bring new fish to the system as the rivers swell. This is the main reason many fisherman fish post rain. The term new fish also implies fresher fish, but I’m a catch and releases fisherman so it is irrelevant to me how fresh they are, I’m looking for a hook up.
If your goal is to get hooked up, fish the river as it is going up, not down. If you are not at the river’s edge and fishing within the first few hours of the hard rain, the water could become too fast and dirty, thus severely limiting your success.
The window of opportunity is very small, so make sure you check the weather often and go to Bass Pro Shops for a new rain coat, you will need it. This will ensure that you will at least stay dry as you watch the waters rise and become off color.
When fishing a rising river stay out of the water, and never underestimate it‘s power. As no fish is worth dying for.