Fishing "Used" steelhead water

What are your thoughts and tactics around fishing "used" steelhead water. With our rivers as crowded as they are, after fishing a spot at first light, I am often left with negotiating decisions of where to fish next. If you are lucky, you may be able to get to another run that has not been fished yet, but otherwise I am left to decide which piece of used water to fish and how to fish it. I fish a floating line and waking fly almost 100 percent of the time from late spring through fall. I always seem to hear that fishing surface methods on used water is a waste of time, but I do seem to recall times when I have gotten steelhead on top in water that was just fished over.

Just wondering your thoughts and expereinces on this subject.

Grace and Peace,
Used water becomes new water once rested for a while. I've picked up fish from runs I've fished thru previously with no takes, after having given them at least an hour or more to "rest", and then come thru again with a different fly..


Tight line takes ain't no fakes!!
When fishing a river with many fish and many moving fish like the Deschutes, Dean,Rhonde,Snake etc,I don't mind fishing behind people and often hook fish. I don't think it is because I am particularly skilled, but more that the fish are continuously moving in the run, jousting for position and basically moving around in the run.Once that fish or group of fish has moved to a new lie and repositioned,they become protective again and get grabby. I call it shuffling the deck. You could watch someone fish through a run and when they are done and you move in to fish, three new fish just pulled into the tail. Now you are in position to pin one. I think much too much is made of fishing "Used"water on bigger rivers. If you are fishing known holding water and using good technique you should have as good of a chance to hook a fish as anyone in the ditch, weather you are 2nd through or 10th through.

Look at famous runs like the Mixer on the Skagit. People rotate through that run all day long and fish are hooked, and it is not always the guy who goes through FIRST. It's mostly the guy that goes through BEST!

On smaller rivers with smaller runs more distinct runs, like the NU, it is often not that much different. You may have to let the pool rest a bit longer but I have seen fish caught right after me as well as me hooking up fish right after someone else. Fish move around. You may hook up using a slightly different casting angle, a smaller or larger or different color fly than was previously fished in front of you. Subtle differences can make a dramatic increase in hooking or not hooking fish. Show them something they haven't seen. Pull that funky fly out of you box that you never fish, it just might work. Get weird!

I agree w/ thewaker. Get Funky! Get Weird! I used to think it was pointless fishing "used" water, so used to go through it quickly and sloppily. This last season I got lucky and hooked a fish or two in "used" water while doing it quickly, so started spending more time thoroughly fishing it after that. It paid off. Show em somthing different or in a different way. Fish "used" water with confidence like you would first water.
In a side tangent, there is a lot of irony in what you guys are saying for me. I was the experimental type trout fisherman before I really got into steelheading. I would always try all kinds of tricks in a good pool and manage to pull a large trout out most of the time. The irony is I blame that very style for my rocky start as a steelheader. If only I had just fished the water thoroughly and consistently back when I was very young, I didn't really have the patience to stick to the basics like that. So what some of you are saying is very true but don't let the green horns get the wrong idea. You definitely want to keep this experimental fishing within the context of what you know about the steam and the fish. Otherwise it can be a major waste of several years.

For me, fishing used water, like I said above, is all context. The more I fish the streams I do, the more I understand places that are worth it used, ones that aren't, and all the in between. Also, you learn specific rocks that you can only know from experience, sub surface buckets et cetera. Those "single step" spots may make a run worth it used if the angler before you doesn't know it.


Active Member

Your last couple of points are what separates the better anglers. Intimate river knowledge. I don't really see much reason to 'do something different'. At least not often. Do what you normally do to catch fish from the taking lies. Or how you normally catch fish when they are expected to be scattered. I don't buy into fly patterns in the least. As has always been the case the size and style that gets used the most (including other fly anglers) results in the most fish. Presentation differences sure. If you get to the 'bucket' without a result try a few different swing angles and speeds before moving on. Run a couple of casts with a hitch if you were swinging without. Try a different tip if you are fishing down. In today's day and age how many runs does one get over 'virgin' water throughout a day anyway? On any of the popular rivers most water is recycled past first light. Confidence is everything. You pay better attention to the details. You fish better. Going through the motions is a recipe for less fish.



still an authority on nothing
a long time ago, I was SH flyfishing at the Barrier Dam on the Cowlitz, in the middle of a crowd of chuckers/snaggers/drifters/eggers/spooners, etc.

I hooked a chromer on a #4 skated muddler! So I wonder if the fish see it as "used" water, or whether that's just our perception of it. On the other hand, I love first light/first cast as much as the next guy, I'm just saying...
Who says the people who fished it first knew how to present their offering? Fish it the the way you know to fish best, the results will follow. Fish move and that can also change their attitude.
The older I get the less important it is (to me), to be first on the water. I'll bet I've caught most of my steelhead after 9:00 or 10:00 anyway!


Active Member
I could care less if a dude just stepped out of a run 10 seconds ago. No need to get funky, nymph, or any of that BS. Just step in and know what you're doing, and assume the other guy doesn' on. Many of my steelhead taken over the past two months have occurred with me sitting patiently at the top of a run waiting for the guy below to give me swinging space. There's nothing better than watching the WTF :hmmm: expression when you hit a fish a guy just swung over 3 minutes ago.