Winter Steelhead 101

Brad Niemeyer

Old School Member
OK, so I'm an ignorant Connecticut Yankee trout fisherman transplanted out here 14 years ago. I have attempted to figure out this steelhead thing many times before with no luck.But, this year I will catch one come hell or high water...

So in regards to high water:

How soon after a major rain storm do the rivers clear? 3 days ...5days? Should I go and check every day? When the water is reasonably clear is that the best time to fish? Should I be fishing morning, evening, or midday? Am I right to assume the recent rain will bring the fish up into the rivers?

Have mercy and thanks in advance...

Rob Blomquist

Formerly Tight Loops
As far as rivers clearing, it all depends on the river and where on the river. But I typically would wait 2-3 days after a good flood to expect fishable water. Well, I typically like to work by hydrograph, and look for a substantial drop in water level, back near what should be base flow for that period of time.

For winter steelhead, time of day does not matter much. In the mornings fish may be shallow before too many show up. If the day is sunny, you may find fish in the sun, as they can feel its warmth in the cold water. I personally would not fish evenings, as the fish have seen a lot of traffic from people, boats and lures. Let them rest.

In the winter, I typically fish from 7-9 am to 12-2 pm, and that all depends on if I am seeing action or not and how close to home I am.

Really the key is to present the fly to the fish where they are in a way that makes them want to strike. You will want heavy sink tips or shooting heads, short leaders and big #2-2/0 flies.

Genetic pollution damages wild
stocks, bonk those Hatchery Zombies!

Old Man

Just an Old Man
What do I know---I'm just an old man

How far are you willing to go to fish for them. The Skagit above Rockport is still clear. The Cascade is clear. The Sauk is starting to drop and it is clearing up and the color is good. The N/Fork Stilly is bank to bank and if it ever stops rain for a few days it should come into shape. And forget about the S/Fork same river. Clay slides seem to make undesirable until after a long dry spell.

Steelhead are in the Green and Snoqualmie for sure (I've caught fish in both recently and have seen other [gear] guys catching them as well.

Also, since the Snoqualmie is part of the same system as the sky, I suspect that the sky is holding steelhead right now, but they won't be very catchable as long as the flow is > 8000 CFS.




Active Member
The Sky definitely has fish in it. As soon as the water comes down a little all the rivers will have fish in them. Looking at some journals I used to keep, it seems I usually started catching winter fish the first week in December. I've caught them as early as 11/23 a few years.
The hatchery fish are pretty regular. You may hear "posers" go on and on about "the run is late this year." Don't believe them. Hatchery fish will always be in the river by December. Extreme low water like we had in November would be the only thing I can think of that may alter that. I've seen those years when everyone is saying "they're late this year." What usually is the case is a small run, not a late run.
As for me, first light has always been the best, but around 8:30-9:00 would be a close 2nd.
In my experience, hatchery fish seem to like #4s and #2s better than something bigger. Save those #2/0s for March and April natives if the C&R season is open. Last tip... leave the gear rod at home. If you only fish with a fly rod you'll learn to catch them sooner or later.
Good luck,

Brad Niemeyer

Old School Member
#1 I don't fish with a gear rod. In my family there is no clear distinction between gear fishing and unforgivable sins. My father would die slowly of a broken heart if he ever discovered I was gear fishing for steelhead...I just couldn't do that to the old man

#2 I would prefer to fish in my neighborhood ( sno, sky or pilchuck). It seems timing is important and frequency ( or endurance) is needed. A local river seems more practical option...

#3 I do appreciate the advice... and I will catch a steelhead :DEVIL