(Above: Hike-In Summer Steelhead Trip w/ Keith Johnson & Tom Posey)
Probably the single most important decision in steelhead fishing, is deciding when, and where to fish. You could have the most phenomenal bait, flawless presentation and technique...but if you don’t choose the right section of river, it won’t mean a thing. As years come and go, anglers notice trends in fish migration, which are unique to each river. Typically, the lower sections of rivers tend to have more access, and the upper stretches become more remote. This has some obvious exceptions, but tends to hold true for many rivers. Boat launch access can concentrate pressure toward specific ‘floats’ while private property or difficult access can render certain spots untouched.
If you're able to access an "untouched" section of water...those fish can be more than willing to play.
Hike In Opportunity
As an energetic steelheader, hike-in trips offer excellent opportunity. Now I certainly enjoy easy-access spots, especially when I can hop out of my car and be fishing quickly. This is especially helpful when I’m just trying to pick apart a river and find out where the fish are.
If I’ve got a good idea that fish might be in a more remote, "hike-in" area, I am always tempted to begin a trek. This can be very productive, or just a long sight-seeing hike. I’ve certainly had both.
On weekends and certain holidays, choosing a hike-in also weeds out the less-mobile anglers.
It isn’t all rods and bait...there are a few things I pay attention to when preparing for a hike-in trip.
1. Layers: I’ve had cold mornings turn into hot afternoons...rain also can come out of nowhere. Dress warm and bring options in a backpack, with room to put layers in. You may want to keep those layers on, you may want to shed them, but it's nice to have the option.
2. Water: I’ve drank spring water from a waterfall, and it was amazing...but bring a couple bottles with.
3. Food: Not just any food. A balance of protein and carbs. You need carbohydrates for energy, and protein for sustenance. If you go heavy on one, and not the other, you’ll wonder why you’re dragging halfway through the day. I typically will bring jerky and crackers for this purpose. Of course...some caffeine is helpful, if you’re a coffee addict like me. Bring more than enough food, especially kinds that will stay fresh for a few days...just in case.
4. Waterproof Bag or Box: Keep your valuables in something waterproof, and keep it as close to you as possible. I like to keep wallet and phone in a zipped, waterproof pocket inside my waders.
5. A Friend: No one will believe you lost a 20lb fish right next to the bank, and no one will find you if you break your ankle deep in a canyon gorge...bring a friend, especially one that is slower than you if bears are a concern.
1. Two Rods & Two Reels: There is more than one benefit to this.
b. The second benefit is huge. Have you ever broke a rod? Have you ever
birds-nested a reel? It hurts even more if you are five miles away from your car
with prime water in between. Bring two rods and reels and you’ll at least have a
chance with your other rod. Three rods between two guys is ok too.
2. Backpack: A good backpack means you have a place for food, water and gear. Don’t keep valuables in the backpack though...keep those in your wader or pants pockets. Backpacks can fall in the water...or get lost.
3. Sufficient Tackle: Spend time thinking of how much gear you could lose...and pack enough for that. Don’t bring the entire store though, if you know you won’t even try it, don’t bring it. Some items are worth bringing two of...leader spools, clippers. Don’t run out of jigs if the fish are inhaling them every cast.
Time Well Spent
If your hike is an exploratory one, realize that you won’t have the efficiency or foresight of a hike you already know. Research as much as you possibly can, learn from others that have fished it, or look to online maps and make notes. You might come to a spot that you simply can’t proceed, that’s ok. The exploratory hikes should be started with the expectation of “exploring” and if you catch fish that’s a massive bonus.
When you come upon water, cover it thoroughly and make mental notes of how it looks at this river level. A shallow flat can turn into an epic run with a little raise in water...and the bottom of a roaring falls might turn into a well oxygenated pool in low summer water.