What's the coldest water in which you have ever caught a steelhead. I caught one in December in 37 degree water. From what I've read, that's a bit colder than ideal. I'm wondering if other folks have had similar experiences.
Big Tuna -
During the late 1970s there was a period in Whatcom County where the air temperature never got above freezing for 30 days. The Nooksack froze from bank to bank from its mouth to Lynden. It is the one and only time I have seen anchor ice forming on the low elevation western Washington streams. The water temperature was as low as 31 degrees. Caught several steelhead in the North Fork (all on convential gear) at that temperature. Possible but not recommended.
I think it depends a lot on the fish, the trend, and the context. I have caught fish in 32.5 degree water in coastal Oregon but those steelhead are in fresh water for just a few days, so they are active and aggressive the entire time regardless of conditions. I've also caught fish on the SKy in 33 degree water when it has been cold for several days there, like they are used to it or something.
But, I find that fish turn off when a river is dropping in temp considerably and rapidly. I was fishing the Ronde one week when the water had been consistently in the 40's; we were catching several steelhead a day.
But, a cold snap dropped the temps eight degrees in one day (42 to 34), and three boats hooked one fish. The next day, with consistent temps - 34) my boat landed nine fishing the same holes with the same lines.
Of course, overall I agree with Bob that water in the forties is primo in the winter. But don't give up because the water is cold; consider the trend and the fish.
Like everything else ..it depends. I would prefer temps in the 40’s. As circlespey wisely points out, context is a large part of the equation. Which river are you on, are the fish rested? Temps constant or dropping. If they are very cold but rising there is hope. Thompson fish in particular are still aggressive in very cold water if they are well rested. My first trip to the Thompson in late December of ‘92 proved very cold indeed. My poorly made sink tip for my newly built Sage 9140 failed about 2 hours into the first day.. The loops were shredded by iced guides. I put on a floater, long leader and a slimly dressed 3/0 Partridge Bartleet. The strong winds aided my pathetic spey casts, allowing me to cover the run with boulders the size of VW’s. I hooked my first Thompson steelhead, a beautiful 12 lb hen. I finished out the trip with the floater and 2 more fish.
This is not to say I recommend floating lines in winter, but sometimes the impossible is possible. And yes I learned to be much better prepared.