Steelhead Fishing on Large Rivers
Fishing the Large rivers of the Northwest for steelhead by Pro Guide Dennis Hull
The pacific northwest has many large rivers that have great runs of steelhead or sea run rainbow trout. Some examples of these are the Columbia River, John Day River, Willamette River, Rogue River, Umpqua River, Cowlitz River, Snake River. Fishing large rivers for steelhead can be somewhat challenging. Steelhead tend to stay closer to the bank than Salmon, in shallower water, sometimes as little as 3 feet deep. Using bait and smaller river techniques is not as effective in the big rivers as it is in the smaller rivers. Big river steelhead fishing is usually done by using anchor fishing or "plunking" techniques. On the snake river, John Day river, Umpqua river, Cowlitz river and Rogue river in certain areas the smaller river techniques and fly fishing for steelhead can be effective but on the larger rivers like the Columbia and Willamette it is mainly a find a good slot, point or likely travel spot and either fish from the bank or anchored in a boat with plugs, spinners or drift bobbers and wait for the steelhead to come to you. The key in the big water is to find a travel lane that the steelhead use and stick with it. Finding one of these good spots can be tough with all of the water available to the fish. For that reason it is a good idea to go with a guide or someone that has already done the work of finding good fishing spots. A technique known as side drifting is becoming very popular in all rivers and can be very effective in the larger rivers as well if you know where to do it. This technique involves using a light enough weight to drift you boat with the current keeping you bait suspended just off the bottom. It is a very natural presentation and when the steelhead picks up the bait because of the boat moving downstream and the fish pointing upstream the strikes are quite hard, this makes it much easier for the beginning steelhead fisherman to tell the bite.
Steelhead runs on these rivers vary. Most rivers have both a summer and winter run of Steelhead. The Columbia however has steelhead present almost year round due to all of the different smaller tributaries that feed it and there individual fish runs. The Columbia also has a run of steelhead known as the "B" run fish that are destined for the Snake and Clearwater rivers in Idaho. These "B" run fish and the Cowlitz river Skamania stock fish are the largest of the steelhead that return to these rivers and can go as large as 30 lbs with 20 lb fish fairly common. While finding these fish can be tough to do when you do it is well worth the effort.
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