winter holding water

just curious where you guys fish with the most confidence and why? the head of run, midway, or the tail. i ask because last time steelheadin it seemed every drift boat i saw passed on the deeper (6 feet deep) to fish the shallower 4 feet and less, given these were gear guys float in jig, but it still surprised me being that my confidence was from the head midway. water was clear, sun was out, and they were fishin the piss out of slow shallow water. not that i didnt fish that water i just didnt have the same confidence. for winters it seems if i can clearly see rocks im not confident


Active Member
Maybe this is more help...

Winter fish, because of lower water temps, tend to hold closer to the bank or more inside of typical holding positions in classic runs. As well, it is important to swing slow and allow the fly to hang longer in the hang down. Their slower metabolism causes them to move slower to the fly. In some cases they may move to the fly all the way to the hang down. Sometimes letting the fly hang for an extra 5 seconds can result in a pull.
thanks pan, i may fish all the water but im talkin confidence, because i have confidence in the deeper water i will fish it longer before i work my way down to the more classic swing water. mayby it cause the last 5 winter fish ive seen caught were in such water


Doesn't care how you fish Moderator
Without seeing the run, I would assume the 6' water was too fast to hold fish as is with many heads of runs. The fish are tucked into the more traditional swing water along the inside. I would bet those floats were riding the seam line down, where steelhead lie. Steelhead are lazy when they can be...
the main current was to fast as always, with slower deep slots right beside it. these slots go on for 20 yards before classic swing water starts, its prime realistate. when the water is low and clear and the sun is out i feel like fish move to deeper water like what i described. now if its not so low and clear then i would fish classic swing water with far more confidence


Active Member
If you were in one spot and you saw enough drift boats go by to make a generalization about it, I feel like that's spending too much time in one spot. I'm with you though on the sun and clear water issue. If I can see the bottom or make out the rocks a little too clearly, I don't feel confident. However, I like fishing water that's 4-5 feet deep when that's about what the visibility is. You can kind of see the rocks, but there's no way you'd spot a fish between them. I generally just fish any walking speed water with basketball sized rocks, especially in front of large, subsurface boulders.
Sounds like a nice spot to have a tent. I also feel less confident when the water is clear, but have seen plenty of fish hanging out in shallow, clear water. It just 'feels' less 'fishy' to me.


You're only so smart as what you choose to share.
just to add to what has already been said, all water will hold fish at some point, but i tend to approach each piece of water differently. some i spend more time in than others, but if a given piece of water looks good, i cant help but at least throw a cast into it...and maybe you might find it to be worth your effort, but youll never know until you try.

"confidence" in this context, can be derived from a compilation of successful experiences, whether your own or watching others (like those guys that you saw fishing the shallower water), that form a "database" in your head as to where and how you have seen fish caught. but the application of this confidence is where the lightbulb can really go off....

this lends itself to how among the people that i fish with on a regular basis, each of us has different water that we consider "primo/marination station/tits" water to us. this being said, each time we see each other pull a fish out of water that we may not have fished or using a technique we may not have used, its something that is added to the "arsenal" of what to do (or not to do) next over the years in learning your rivers, you may find that eventually, there are few spots that you havent seen fish in.

not sure if swinging flies is new to you, but if it is, a good place to start would be to identify where a swung fly would be the optimal method of fishing. to me, timing and choice of water come first, then presentation a very close second.

so to answer your question as to where i fish with the most confidence? i hate to just reply with the "it depends" answer, but it really does. sure, start with the deeper "traditional" water, but i can tell you that the last 4 winters ive seen taken on a swung fly were in less than 3 feet of water where we could clearly see the rocks and structure. over time with more reference points that you plot on your "confidence map", more and more water starts looking tasty... =)
I figured I would add to this discussion and provide my observations and my tactics on the great lakes tributaries here on the east coast. First off, one main difference that I have found between steelhead fishing between the east and west coast is that we on the east coast typically do not swing large flies during the cold winter months. It is far less effective than nymphing and indicator fishing. That being said, a good rule of thumb is to fish diversions, seams, and water that is about 3-6 feet deep. I tend to fish the entire pool. I'd say the slower and deeper a pool is, the more fish hold in there. However, based on my experience and observations, I would say that the majority of fish that I have caught are hooked up in the mid to end of a pool. I have one of my favorite stretches in mind as I am writing this. Fish have taken my fly in anywhere from 2 feet to 6-8 feet of water. My personal favorite way to fish is to start at the top of a pool and work my way down. I make sure I keeP the fly in the strike zOne long enough, especially in the frigid winter water temps. We usually put split shots about 3-4 feet from the fly to keep the fly down and to instantly drop the fly down (I.e., vs a sink tip, however sink tips are also used). So, like many others have replied, I tend to fish the whole run thoroughly.

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