Low and Clear: The struggles of a fall without rain

Suddenly it’s November. At one point it seemed like this time would never come. Although I’ve been catching fall steelhead for over a month now, November gets me particularly excited. At some point during the month the run is going to peak and the steelheading is going to be at its best. At least that’s what I’m hoping. To be honest it really doesn’t look like it’s going to turn out that way. The reason: low, clear water.

Around here there are very little if any strains of fall spawning fish. The fish that run in the fall will hold over all winter and spawn in the early spring. Since they’re not in any hurry to spawn they’re not in any hurry to push up the rivers. Fall steelhead have the luxury of waiting for absolutely perfect conditions before making their move. Sometimes this happens early on, sometimes not at all. It can make it a little tough to time a run. Under conditions like the ones I’ve been faced with this fall I’ve seen rivers not get a single fish until December or later.

During a normal fall November will see the peak of the run. Unfortunately this fall has been far from normal. A lack of any significant fall rain has to lower than normal water levels, so low in fact that even a couple of recent rains have failed to impact water levels. It’s a situation I’ve ran into on more than one occasion when fishing certain rivers, but the rivers that I frequent are rarely like they are right now. It’s something I don’t see too often and it’s something I’m not particularly fond of. As a matter of fact I would much rather fish water that is high and dirty; water that would scare the average steelheader away. This year’s lack of rain has turned big rivers into small streams, and has forced me to make some adjustments.

I recently put together an article that took a look at stealth steelhead fishing in today’s Great Lakes ( http://realfishing.com/magazines/real-fishing-magazine-spring-2015/ ). Stalking Great Lakes steelhead has changed over the years. Gone are the days of 2lb test leaders and long limp noodle rods. I mention in the article that with the advancement in modern fishing lines, most notably fluorocarbon, I never have the need to run any less than a 6lb test leader, even in clear water. It’s a theory born of many hours experimenting with different leader strengths and brands. It’s something that I was very confident in and for the most part still am. But something has changed this year. The ultra-clear water has me thinking perhaps I should revisit my theory.

So that’s what I’m doing, and to be honest it’s still a little early to have any solid evidence that disproves my theory. There has been a couple of days so far where it would appear that downsizing has salvaged a fishless day. I tend to experiment more with bait selection before I tamper with my set up (it’s a confidence thing, I know I can catch fish with the set up I run on particular rivers) but now I’m beginning to realize the two go hand in hand. Bait preference for steelhead is dependent on mood, which really is a direct result of conditions. Water; weather; fishing pressure; all factors that contribute to a fish’s mood. A fish’s mood determines their willingness to take what we offer to them. There comes a point where everything, bait, line, terminal gear becomes too big and too gaudy and just all around unappealing and fish will simply watch it drift past, or worse push deep into cover.

Conditions this year haven’t meant a total lack of fish, but they have led to me second guessing myself. Uncertainty scares me. Confidence is a huge part of steelheading and I can feel that confidence slipping away. But maybe this is a good thing. Maybe it will open my mind a little. Maybe it will make me a better steelheader.

Despite the fact that fall steelhead have the luxury to run whenever they want, if at all, there are rivers that I know will get fish. Until we get some serious rain those are the rivers I will be fishing. They’re big rivers and the fish are very spread out but I love a challenge and where some, most maybe, focus on the negative (and in turn make excuses) I personally see it as an opportunity to do some experimenting. Who knows, maybe I will shock myself and disprove some of my own theories.

The next few weeks aren’t going to be easy. I’m sure some of my experimenting is going to lead to fishless days but if the results are a better steelheader then I’m all in.

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