High and Dirty Steelhead

High and Dirty Steelhead

High and Dirty Steelhead


Seasons change and they come and go every year. With spring and fall means rain. So with that our creeks and smaller rivers start to rise, carrying muddy water, and dump it into the main rivers. When the river starts to clear you will find Steelhead anglers everywhere in the Great Lakes region chasing their beloved Steelhead.
Many stay home though if the water is running too high. And if visibility is to a minimum but I must say sometimes you’re missing out by not going during high water periods. If the river is chocolate milk and unsafe that’s one thing but if there is some visibility and it’s safe I still fish. No fish is worth losing your life over.
Practice safe wading with a wading staff and always wear a wading belt. If it’s safe to go then I’m on the river and choose to fish differently. Steelhead can be caught on jigs, flies, spawn, spinners and minnow baits in a variety of conditions.

First, if the water is cloudy, head upstream, above the inflowing creeks. You should find clearer water there. Don’t know where they are then get on Google Earth or get a map of the river. Do your homework before you even leave the house.

When I arrive I also get out of the car and stop at bridges and boat launches. I will put my waders on and judge the clarity myself. By stepping in the river and looking at my boot and how far down I can see it. I even take my measuring tape sometimes and measure it for my fishing journal. I’m looking for at least a foot or more. What a lot of people forget is the visibility downstream vs upstream sometimes can be night and day.

With rising rivers means fresh fish in the system and those fish are usually biters. Keep that in mind when you’re making a plan. That should drive you to get out and give it the old college try. You can’t catch a fish by sitting at home. By having stained or cloudy water allows you to approach steelhead much closer than normal. They
can’t see you as easy; this is to your advantage.
Hence why when I walk upon a hole I just stop and look at things for a minute and make a plan. Sometimes during high water, those fish are real close to the bank trying to get a break from current or the silt. So consider making a cast or drift before you go stepping into the hole and spooking the fish you’re after. Also during high water
and poor visibility fish sometimes are on the move during daylight hours. Not just at night I have seen this first hand. So some holes might not have a fish in it and a few hours later it will. But sometimes they get their move on cloudy, high water days remember that.
Now smaller rivers will come into shape faster than a larger river but this depends on what part of the country in live in and how those rivers are feed. Be it run off or cold water springs etc. So bottom line is, some rivers near you clear up at different rates. So if your home river is a larger one and takes a while to shape up, then all the more reason to learn high dirty water tactics.
Everyone thinks the color is the main thing to focus on in the high dirty water. Yes, it’s important but not as important as the lures contrast. Certain color combinations provide more contrast in the water hence drawing attention to your offering. I personally love black or gold lures accented with the colors, like chartreuse, red and
orange in dirty water.
I also believe that bigger lures aren’t always better in high dirty water. I actually sometimes use smaller lure profiles in dirty water. The fish will tell you what they want based on their level of activity. That changes by the water temperature and the water clarity. Sometimes they are willing to move great distances to hit your
offering when other times you have to bump them on the head with your offering.
Hence why water temperature and clarity is so important to the Steelhead fisherman. That subject alone we could write a book on.
Vision and contrast are only a small part of the equation. Things like scents, the lure motions, and displacement also come into play. You have to experiment the fish will tell you what they want. You just have to pay attention to the clues the fish and river give you.
So if you’re a fly fisherman, or casting lure’s you need many sizes, colors, actions and shapes to try. If you’re a float fishermen try different sized pieces of roe and spawn bag sizes, and colors.
I hope this post has inspired you to get out and give Steelhead fishing a try during high water periods. We only have some much time to get after this fish at certain times of the year. So get out there and make the most of it. As always practice C.P.R.
Catch, Photo and Release. May all your Steelhead Dreams Come True.








Ole Willie!

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