Winter can be the most difficult season for the steelheader. Cold winds, snow, slush, ice and freezing water - all play against the angler seeking fish. It's these factors that separates the men from the boys. The 1%ers versus the 99%ers. We still haven't receive the notorious lake effect snows, but the weather over the weekend was an early sign that winter steelheading is around the corner. During the weekend the nighttime temps dipped into the 20s, but the streams were still warm enough that slush and ice wouldn't be a problem.
Sunday was to be a sunny day, but the overnight low was to be in the 20s again. I left early Sunday morning and the air was very cold and crisp. The sky was lit up with stars and I could see the faint light in the distance. It was the first signs that winter is coming. Winter is the time of the hardcore steelheader. He is dedicated and doesn't care about the elements. He sneers at squalls and drives through them. He's confident that fish will be caught no matter what the conditions are like. I arrived after first light and if it was spring, there would be plenty of cars parked as anglers would staked out their spots in the dark. But, not today, as I was the first to roll in. There was a dusting of snow on the ground and any standing water was frozen. I dressed for the weather wearing fleece long underwear and a thermal shirt. The cap was replaced by the toque.
The stream was clearing and the flow was just right. The water on the other hand was cold as I felt the sharp sting of it. It was probably in the 30s and that meant fishing the tail ends and off the seams. The sun slowly crept above the ridge when I hooked into the first fish of the day - a dark hen. She was in her prime winter colors - charcoal bottom mixed with reds, purple and silver. She had been the river for some time carrying her precious cargo of eggs. Spring for her seemed a long way off. I quickly released her and resumed fishing. After that another fish fell for a white sacs. Unlike the last fish, he was fresh out of the lake. His body was bright silver with a slight hint of red. Only four days ago, the river was high and muddy ushering in the next run of fish.
After that the bite shut off as I scoured the run for any others. Despise the cold water, both fish fought very hard. They made hard blistering runs and quickly bolted back into the dark water after being released. By now the sun's rays were getting stronger as I didn't have to stop as much to remove the ice from the rod's guides. This section wasn't producing so I walked to another spot I knew. This spot was at the bottom of a small island. It spilled into a long pool and eventually flatten out. On the opposite side, it ran along a shale cliff. With the aid of glasses, I could see the ledge and that's where fish primarily hold. It took some time but I hooked into a fish. Once hooked I knew it was a large fish. It stuck to the bottom and eventually I finally got it to surface. It was a very thick male, probably one of the thickest fish I caught. His tail was so thick I couldn't get a decent grip so I had to use my glove. As I lifted him, I knew he was over ten pounds and readied the camera for a shot. He was an impressive specimen and the only blemish was the healed over lamprey scar behind the pelvic fin.
The number of fish wasn't a lot and involved driving from one section to another. There wasn't a lot of people and I didn't have to stray from the road. Today, I couldn't find the pods of fish. You chalk up a bunch of theories, but that does happen from time to time. You think the water looks great, the flow is prefect and the number of people is low. That pretty well sums up winter fishing as it's either feast or famine.
Hoping I don't see rain until next spring because this constant rain every week has thrown a monkey wrench in the plans for floating the Grand for over a month.