tidal steel

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by wadin' boot, Dec 4, 2012.

  1. wadin' boot Donny, you're out of your element...

    Posts: 2,046
    Wallingford, WA
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    Most of the Steelhead topics are on catching in the rivers or as an occasional by-catch on the beach. Is there a reason for no tidal river reports/discussion? Maybe like they're just moving through too fast? Does anyone fish estuarine/tidal rivers for steel if so- any tips on tides or techniques?
  2. stilly stalker Tuna sniffer

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    Carlsbad, CA
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    I would love to be able to target them in the salt, but they seem so elusive.....I guess if I was going to try Id start at the beach at the mouth of the Quilleyute ;) I guess there Id have some confidence that thered be a good # of fish in the area.
    Baitfish patterns, or squidros are what Id throw in the salt for steelhead. I guess out there you could have the chance of a nice chinook too
  3. JesseC Active Member

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    seattle, wa
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    Bandy and I killed a perfectly good day flogging the water with hoochies and spin n glows off a 1ft slinky on the beaches of Whidbey island. Ahhh, the yesterdays of ambitious angling.

    There' s a pretty strong contingent of guys that fish the beaches for them around there.
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  4. daveypetey Active Member

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    University District, Seattle, WA
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    From what I remember of Dec Hogan's book, it seems that the Steelies shoot through the estuary/tidal areas and cover a lot more water once in the river per day than a school of Salmon.
  5. Salmo_g Active Member

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    Boot,

    My very limited experience with steelhead in tidal waters suggests that the fish are actively migrating, generally on the flood tide. They don't disappear at slack and during the ebb, but neither I nor others I've talked with have any idea where they go. I've never taken much interest in tidewater steelheading because all the estuaries I've checked out get greatly increased turbidity during the flood tide, which facilitates upstream migration, but not fly fishing.

    I think, but don't know, that technique wise, one could find a strategic location, and stand in one place and fish, covering the likely water while waiting for migrating fish to pass by. There is a particular spot on a particular river where I have thought about trying this, but it's a long drive, and the flood tide covers it up, so I'm not sure for how much of the tidal swing it might be fishable.

    Sg
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  6. Salmo_g Active Member

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    I wonder where Dec got that information cuz I haven't found good documentation, and once in the river above tidal influence, radio tagging shows about the same rate and variability in migration rate as salmon.

    Sg
  7. Smalma Active Member

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    Marysville, Washington
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    From what I have seen steelhead; unlike salmon, tend to migrate pretty directly upstream through the tidal sections of rivers. Rarely do they mill around mouth of river or nearby marine areas. Rather they ,move directly up the river. Something else to keep in mind is that steelhead tend to be less numerous than most salmon stocks returning to our rivers.

    While not tidal steelhead I have had some excellent and consistent fishing just above the tidal influenced section on a couple north Sound Rivers. The trick was one of timing. The best fishing was always in the frist few hours around and after the high tide downstream and seasonally it help to time my fishing during the period when the peak numbers of steelhead would be entering the river (that is before the fishing peaks upstream).

    The drill was to fish the traveling lanes; especailly during higher flows. At low flows the fish would tend to stack up to a degree in the first few "holding' ones. The moving fish on larger rivers were typically more accessible thus catchable for the fly angler. Duriing the 1980s and 1990s I focused my efforst in late December and the first half of January for hatchery fish and late February and early March for wild fish.

    Wonderful fish!

    Curt
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  8. g_smolt Recreational User

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    58°19'59 N, 134°29'49 W
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    I have fished for (and done well with) estuary steel in SE AK, but I think that the estuaries in question are so much different from the estuaries in WA, so much so that I think the techniques used to fish them would be totally different.

    The fish might exhibit some of the same behaviors, however. I have seen estuarine and near-rivermouth fish in what appears to be "acclimatization mode" - suspended or traveling slowly near the surface, right at the freshwater lens/salt interface. Additionally, the fish I have seen entering the river on high tides seem to move "in and out" as the tide is rising, then make the commitment to fresh as the tide peaks and begins to fall. These are the most skittish fish, IMO, and they are only occasionally caught.

    I have had good luck with floating lines/long leaders/tiny flies for estuary fish - tiny enough to sink very slowly thru the fresh lens, but almost suspend in the salt.
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  9. wadin' boot Donny, you're out of your element...

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    It makes little sense to me why a fish wouldn't have to/want to do time in brackish water before hitting fresh. I am presuming though the salt to fresh transition means some adrenal equivalent/kidney gearing that can absorb and excrete salts to a calm homeostasis. (That and the adrenal/kidney equivalent is probablly getting some whacky orders from the pituitary that is otherwise directing the fish to get busy.) In general those systems are very quick to respond to stress, not so quick to respond to a basal maintenance order, the latter presumably being important to an easy transition upriver... that transition would likely require some energy, hence the original question do steelhead bite in tidal rivers...

    I guess the conclusion is, try it, get back to us...meanwhile we'll be fishing the happy runs of river ------

    alternatively there's a reason why there's forty guys chucking stuff at Reiter, and it's not rocket science to figure it out
  10. Salmo_g Active Member

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    Reiter is a different explanation Boot. Hatchery fish are in a race to get back to the plastic bucket they were born in. Wild fish appear to migrate much slower.
  11. James Mello Inventor of the "closed eye conjecture"

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    Tacoma
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    While not strictly tidal, there are folks in the GL's that hit the fish pretty hard from the jetties at the mouth of rivers. They do have a tide, but I'm not sure if it's influence is great enough to modify migration.
  12. Smalma Active Member

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    Marysville, Washington
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    To add to g_smolt's suspended steelhead comment. I have watch traveling steelhead along the Whidbey Island shoreline quite a few times and those fish even though traveling quite quickly were always suspended. Typically traveling in 8 to 12 feet of water while 3 to 6 feet below the surface. To consistently catch those fish the gear guys would cast hoochie/spin-glo combos across the fish's traveling paths and retrieve their gear staying at about the fish's depth to the shoreline. The steelhead typically follow that gear into the shallows and often grab at the angler's rod tip in as little as 18 inches of water.

    It seems reasonable to me that the steelhead would continue to travel in that suspended fashion until reaching shallow water or the river/tidal current pushes them to the bottom or the channel edge. The plunkers in the Snohomish, Skagit, Green, etc consistently catch steelhead in the tidally influence portion of those rivers, often with their gear in that same 3 to 6 feet of water. So the fish will bite.

    Boot - I don't know why the steelhead do not need time to adjust to the change from salt to fresh but they do not seem to dally in the lower river like salmon often do. Maybe in the higher flows of the winter they have ample time to adjust by traveling in that salt/freshwater interface.

    Curt
  13. KerryS Ignored Member

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    Sedro Woolley, WA, USA.
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    This stuff is absolutely fascinating. A area of steelhead behaviour that I never really questioned in the past.
  14. o mykiss Active Member

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    It's been a long time since I read it, but I'm pretty sure there is a chapter in one of Steve Raymond's books (Steelhead Country maybe?) about fishing for steelhead in estuaries. Not really a how to thing (so am pretty sure it wasn't in the Estuary Flyfisherman), just that he figured it out in one place and had it pretty dialed in. He was pretty coy about where it was as I remember it.
  15. g_smolt Recreational User

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    I think that might apply here. At the risk of sounding over-simplistic, my experience is that AK spring steelhead seem to act the same or nearly the same within a given set of environmental and physical conditions. Figuring out one system with a set of conditions gets you a whole lot closer to figuring out another system with matching conditions, even if it is new to you. However, this also (and always) leads to the steelhead mantra - "Hmmm...never seen one do that before".
  16. SeaRun Fanatic Member

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    Northwest, WA
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    I've fished SE AK tidal spring steelhead for decades, and have had much success all the way down to "barnacle water" - waaay below high tide influence, a mile or more down from the top of tidewater. I've seen fish hold in many of the same pieces of water that coho do in the fall, and typically fish them with loooong leaders and smaaaall flies on a sloooow swing. Often, an observant angler will come upon them while cutthroat or dolly fishing with smolt patterns on the saltchuck. I've even seen them caught on size 10 and 12 Smolt patterns and 5 wt rods, though I never leave camp without a steelhead rod when cutthroat fishing the 'chuck anymore! On an incoming tide, the current eventually slows to the point where it is not moving at all; at that point, it is time to bust ass up to the next good water with current and hit it again. At the very top of tidewater, fish will often hang out for days, and fresh can be seen moving into the holes on each tide. My avatar is a fish from a SE AK tidewater hole taken on a 15 ft leader and a size 8 beadhead bugger swung agonizingly slowly about 15 minutes before the water started to move upstream. Tidewater is truly one of my favorite places to chase steelhead in SE; I love the hike-and-hunt mode of covering a long estuary - chasing cutthroat and dollies with my 4wt LL, watching early spring bears digging roots and swinging up sea-lice steelhead!
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  17. Chris Johnson Member: Native Fish Society

    Posts: 1,797
    Bellingham Wa.
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    I have a copy of Raymond's Estuary Fly Fisher, and I'm pretty sure he talks about he and his son fishing for steelhead with some success in estuaries. I've often thought about giving it a try but never have, oddly enough, since I live a stones throw from one. Maybe this is the year.
  18. Klickrolf Active Member

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    Klickitat, Washington
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    Excellent input! It's all hydraulics and conservation of energy. Rivers & tides have a rolling motion, water rolls from the surface down. The sweet spot for the upstream migration is at the bottom of the roll...that's where they'll be when migrating. With tides the fastest moving water is pushed to the surface because resistance is reduced at the air/water interface and the roll is a few feet below. Incoming tide they'll be near the surface, outgoing tide they'll be at the bottom of the roll.
  19. miyawaki Active Member

    Posts: 3,240
    Kent, Washington, USA.
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    Hey Boot! Go to Bush Point on Whidbey Island. Fish the incoming tide in the cove to the right of the restaurant (if it's still there) and in front of the first house if they don't kick you off the beach. Use an intermediate line with a #2 or 4 unweighted Mustad 3407 hook with bead eyes, yellow chennile body with a turn of yellow and a turn of orange hackle at the head (I just made this fly up after I saw a hootchie a long time ago). Don't wade past the middle of your calf. Make long quartering casts across and downtide strip very slowly back against the tide. The fish travel close to shore and quartering casts (not straight out) keep you in the zone. The best times to fish are when the rivers are in spate (high and muddy if you're not Scottish). They're still a fish of a thousand casts, but at least they eat.

    Hope this helps,

    Leland.
  20. miyawaki Active Member

    Posts: 3,240
    Kent, Washington, USA.
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    Oh, one more thing. They're pretty hot.

    Leland.