Cold, snow and rain are no obstacle for ‘The Steelheader’
People and our fishing guests ask me all the time: “what do you do in the off season?” As a fishing guide that works for what seems like forever days in a row, one might think that I would have a rather bulky dislike for fishing come December when the guiding season is pretty much done for the year. Not that we’re closed but nobody really wants to fish and many think there is nothing to fish for in the winter. After many months of fishing every day, early mornings and late nights I still have this fever that is pulling me to the local rivers in anticipation of hooking into a chrome Winter run Steelhead! And the elements are usually no obstacle unless of course the river is blown out. I have had great days on the river during cold and snowing weather, sometimes the cold driving rain. In fact 1 day back in the late 90’s on the Chilliwack river it was -10 and I caught a Steely quite early in the morning and by noon it was stiff as a board!
They are simply a Rainbow Trout that behaves like a salmon, born in the river then out to the ocean to feed and grow to large sizes often exceeding 20 lbs for winter runs in the Fraser river valley, bigger for summer runs in certain famous places like the Skeena river much further north. What makes them so popular? I don’t think anyone can disagree that Steelhead are a good looking fish!, but the real allure is their ability to elude so many anglers thus making them all the more challenging and rewarding to catch. I think of Steelheading as a so called ‘hunt’. There is a lot to factor in for a successful day on the river. Weather, river height, water clarity, time of year, water temperature, and even tides. One of the greatest assets that the successful Steelheader must be in possession of is the ability to read the river. That is to know the depth, current speed, travel lanes, structure, and to know all this by simply looking at the surface. The skilled angler will know just where a fish will likely be holding in a certain run or stretch of river. This can only be learned by practice and having some lessons certainly provides you with the tools you’ll need and can save a few years of frustration. I got lucky when I started to fish for Steelhead. I think it was my 2nd time on the Seymour river in North Vancouver when I hooked into my first one. That was back in 1986 I believe. However, I have met other not so lucky anglers on the river or in tackle shops that are still waiting for their first fish after 3, 4 and even 5+ years. I feel for them. The joy of getting a hookup is intense, the battle heart pounding, and when you finally land the fish there is that sense of glory. Make sure you have a camera!
The Vedder river: local Steelhead hotspot
If you live in the Vancouver, British Columbia area and have ever talked to anyone about the local hotspots then you have likely heard of ‘The Vedder” or “The Wack” and for good reason. This river with 2 names is famous for producing good numbers of fish, both wild and hatchery(the hatchery program is stellar!). If you want your best bet at success then this is where you’ll want to go or you’ll want to be guided here. Winter run Steelhead are caught here from early December to late April with peak times from late January to March.
Right now I have some prawns curing in the fridge. My wife and daughter are used to this ritual, in fact there is probably something curing in the fridge at least half of the year and certainly almost every day from December to April. Steelhead love prawns! And roe too. If you want to catch fish then you want to have good prawns to start with. I buy wild BC side striped or Spot prawns at our local Seafood store called ‘The Daily Catch‘ on Commercial Drive. I choose BC wild prawns for 2 reasons: they are superior for scent and part of a Steelheads diet and secondly those cheap frozen prawns from overseas are loaded with all kinds of banned chemicals and drugs which cannot be good for our precious wild fish stocks. I don’t believe we should be putting anything foreign and potentially dangerous into our wild rivers and fish, so I happily pay a few dollars more. To cure your prawns it’s easy: 1/2 lb of prawns(tails only if you can get them), 1 tbsp sugar, a dash of salt, and 2 tbsp of pink egg cure(I use Ultra cure from Oregon) but many others work just fine. I put all the ingredients in a washed out yogurt container and with the lid on shake em up good. Shake them every few hours for a few days and make sure they stay in the fridge. After 3 days you can strain off any excess juice and lay them out to dry a bit on newspaper or paper towels in a cool dry place then use them or freeze them until ready to use. When you’re fishing with this bait you don’t need very much. You can put a piece the size of a peanut on a single bait hook(size 1-2 works well) or tip a jig and fish it under a float. If you find Steelhead in the river I am sure your float will disappear and your heart rate increase!
I will talk about Steelhead tips and preparation some more throughout the winter season.
Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! – Brian Mack