January is coming to a close. Surprisingly enough for a guy who absolutely loves winter steelheading, I’ve spent very little time on the water. To be honest the weather has been kind of all over the place to start the winter off. December cold snaps and what seemed like an unbelievable amount of early snow had us in the grips of winter well before the new year and I really had all but hung up the steelhead gear for another year. The snow fall and subsequent freeze up was then followed by a lengthy January thaw. Quickly things went from locked up to blown out. To fish was a matter of timing, timing that I could not seem to grasp, hence the reason I have had very little time on the water. But you know what? I’m ok with that; a peace with it. It wasn’t that way for the last couple of weeks, no, the weeks have been frustrating and painful to say the least. But there is something that I’m holding onto that is helping me to keep my sanity: February is right around the corner. I know what you’re thinking: Is this guy nuts? In all fairness, yes I am, but for reasons other than I’m looking forward to the approaching month.
Second only to January for the coldest average temperatures of the year, February may not seem like much of a month to be getting excited about, especially when talking steelhead. We were lucky to have the January thaw that we did. The rivers are now left wide open, and while some may still need a little time to settle down, the chances of them freezing over completely this late in the winter are pretty slim. Open water awaits, and it’s looking very promising that it’s here to stay. With February weather typically being much more stable than that of January or March, some of the best steelheading of the year could be over the next few weeks.
Now I have to clarify that it’s not really the weather that has me excited. Who wouldn’t rather be chasing chrome in the warm spring sun, right? The stable weather does have me amped up to be fishing more predictable conditions and in turn spending more time on the water, but it’s the fish themselves that have me pumped up. The fish hanging out in the rivers right now are some of the biggest, most beautiful steelhead anyone will ever lay their eyes on. They’re not the chrome bright fish they were when they entered the rivers a few months ago, but instead are adorned in full fledge spawning colors that make it blatantly obvious that no two steelhead are the same. Every fish is different making each one just as incredible as the last. The last fish of February isn’t any less significant than the first. People wonder why I’m so obsessed. This is why. I strive to catch these fish for no other reason than to see them up close, to wonder at their beauty. I can release one, only to have a strange need to see another.
It won’t be long, a few short weeks, until these fish will begin their spawn and in turn start heading home to bigger water, making way for their spring run counterparts. Winter steelhead will be nothing more than a distant memory. Sure, I can fill the void with spring run fish, but as the nicer weather approaches and the rivers begin to crowd with likeminded, fair weather steelheaders I will wishing my way back to cold February days. So, I’m going to take advantage of it while I can. If anyone needs me, you know where I’ll be. Better yet, wait a few months, maybe you can catch me when I’m a little less distracted.