Ontario Trout FishingTrout Fishing Techniques
Late Season Steelhead Trout
The late fall is often looked upon as the slowest time for fishing as it is kind of a transition period. The warm water species have shut down until springtime and the ice-fishing season hasn’t quite started yet. Even though it is technically still fall, the cold days of winter can definitely be felt in the air, which can scare away a lot of anglers who don’t want to bundle up and battle the cold north winds. But without question, some of the hottest Steelhead action of the year can happen right before winter sets in and the coldest days arrive.
Fall-run Steelhead first enter into creeks and rivers as nighttime temperatures start to drop off and we receive a few days of cold rain. Although it differs from one body of water to another, the run generally begins around mid to late October as fresh Steelhead enter into the creeks and rivers mixing in with Salmon whose spawning run is beginning to taper off. These Steelhead will hold in the river throughout the remainder of the fall and winter until the ice starts to melt out in the spring. The best thing about this is that as the days get shorter and colder, the action seems to get better, perhaps in direct relation to the fewer number of anglers on the water.
The first step to catching these late season Steelhead is finding them. Cold water temperatures mean that fish will be lethargic and will therefore favour holding in slack water areas. Deep, slow moving pools usually found close to the lake are your best bet for finding these late fall Steelies. Unlike in the Spring where Steelhead use pools only as resting areas while they move upstream, fall-run fish can hold in the same pool for weeks or even months at a time.
Tackle plays an important role in both getting these fish to bite and also bringing them to the bank. Light line with a thin diameter is key as the clear, cold water can make these Steelhead very wary. I generally fish with a 6-lb monofilament main line and about three feet of a 2 or 3-lb test leader attached with a small barrel swivel. A long rod (more than 10.5 feet in length) combined with a loose drag setting on your reel will absorb much of the shock and allow for the use of such light line. Above the barrel swivel use the lightest float possible, as it will need to be sensitive to indicate a light pick-up from fish. A size 12 – 14 egg hook below a string of small, evenly weighted spilt shots will allow the float to sit upright. The split shots should be spaced out in a shirt button pattern, with the heaviest weight nearest to the float and getting increasingly lighter as you get closer to the hook. The shots should be spaced roughly 6 inches apart and be no closer than 14-18 inches of the hook.
Although roe is the hands down favourite for river fishing at any time of the year, it is not the only choice. I usually start off by drifting a roe bag to catch the active fish in a pool. The typical rule of thumb is natural colours (white, orange) in clear water and brighter colours (pink, chartreuse) in off-coloured water. When roe isn’t producing, try drifting a small natural coloured fly under the same float set-up. Drifting anything different can get the fish’s attention even if in a negative feeding mode, so if the water isn’t too cold, I have had a lot of success using small worms. It gives the fish something different to look at during this time of the year and has a very natural presentation in the water.
More than any other time on the river, a good pair of polarized sunglasses is absolutely crucial late in the season. Limited hours of sunlight, and the inevitable grey skies that seem to plague the colder months makes visibility very tough. A light coloured lens like amber or yellow will brighten up the water and help to guide drifts better.
Don’t Let The Cold Get To You
As with any other cold-water fishing, ice can form quickly on your rod guides and can make for a frustrating day. Rubbing Vaseline on the top few guides and on the float, or a quick squirt of WD-40 should eliminate any ice build up, at least temporarily.
Another important thing to remember is that dressing in layers is the best way to stay warm, especially during the morning hours. Don’t forget to pack a toque and a set of fingerless gloves, as they help keep you on the water as long as possible.
Don’t let ice on the water discourage you. If there is a thin later of ice covering the river, you can easily break it up using rocks or fallen timber on the banks. You’ll need to be patient to allow the ice chunks to float downstream and also to let the pool settle down. After a short wait, be prepared to reap the rewards of catching fish who haven’t seen bait in a while.
Forget the stereotypes of the shoulder-to-shoulder Steelheading that are synonymous with the spring run, late season river fishing gives you the chance to fish virtually by yourself and have the opportunity to catch the biggest and most beautifully coloured Steelhead of the year. If you don’t mind fighting off a little cold weather, you may just find yourself fighting some late season beauties on your favourite river or creek.
By Chris Van Vliet