Slow it Down for Salmon & Steelhead by Nick Amato

Slow it Down for Salmon & Steelhead by Nick Amato


Tackle rigged and ready, check.

Strategy to get to the bucket in Heaven’s Riffle first in place, check. A hike through the hidden trail, weaving up and down through the forest, ends perfectly—no one in sight and not a footprint to be found in the gravel.

One cast later and let your imagination run wild. The water explodes and I’ll let you finish the rest of the event….

An hour later, using the same technique and lure not another sniff is achieved.

steelhead fishing fish on fishon catch

That undisturbed fish probably would have hit anything.

Maybe even a dry fly.

There are many other steelhead or salmon in this slice of dreamland.

Is it time to move on to the next pool?

If you’re after numbers maybe so.

But this is a beautiful spot and you know it holds more fish. Maybe if someone else shows might be time to move along, but in the meantime, why not take in the pleasure of resting the pool and changing tactics.

steelhead fishing jake gregg clackacraft  

A big part of fishing is trying new tackle.

This might be a great time to experiment with different sizes and colors of the jigs, plastic worms, and beads that are “guaranteed” to be winners. Maybe change up your fly—a different color, weight or style might do the trick.

If your fishing bait maybe just lightening up the leader or using a smaller piece.

Metal? Try different sizes and finishes?

There is something very satisfying about hooking a second or third fish out of a pool that has been disturbed by a hooked fish.

Nowadays many steelhead anglers fish really fast. Whether from a boat or the bank the goal seems to be to make just a few quick, but accurate casts into what appears to be the prime holding area of each drift.

The math often works out. If you are using an effective technique and hit enough fresh spots during the day, the odds of picking up aggressive biters go way up.

But you’re passing up all kinds of fish, which is good for other boats and bank anglers alike.

And honestly, it’s not as easy for me as it used to be to hike 6 miles of creek or river. Or canyon dive slippery trails all day. Sure, that’s the way to find new spots and really get into them, but isn’t part of the fishing experience supposed to be about relaxing?

summer steelhead fishing fish trout clackamas oregon sandy river

I had a memorable day way back in the late ‘80s that still makes me shake. My brother and I were exploring the upper Clackamas River. We were in pursuit of hatchery summer steelhead that were once planted there. (The same numbers of smolts are still planted in the lower river now.)

We were learning how to cover water effectively with homemade spinners and had been having some success in fast and/or choppy water.

On this sunny day, we discovered a few pools that had schools of summer steelhead in long rafts lining the bottom. I hadn’t seen anything like this except a few times in the Kalama while fishing with my dad when I was really young.

We couldn’t believe it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited. We climbed up on a boulder so we could watch the fish take our lures. Sadly, we had one fish half-heartedly follow one time and that was it. The 50-plus fish were having nothing to do with our tackle. Even our “old school” drift gear didn’t do the trick.

I now know what would have worked, and more than a few knowledgeable anglers were having some incredible fishing at the time. Working the fish with light line, yarn flies (with or without small pieces of bait), tiny weights, and long, limber rods was the trick.

 glenn hall umpqua river fishing

Another really good time to work the same water is when fish are moving.

The subject of fish movement is complex. In the rivers I fish the most for spring Chinook water temperature and height play a huge role. But run timing also plays into it. The springers will move in just about any condition during the peak of their migration window. It’s really exciting to hook them on steelhead gear, in summer steelhead water. I’ve had them take jigs, beads, spinners, small plugs and of course small pieces of bait in all kinds of crazy water. Not just the deep resting pools that they eventually end up in.

During peak migration fish will be passing through so you can fish the same water over and over with the expectation of hooking a migrating fish. 

spring chinook salmon kings fishing big fish chrome

Of course, many of the springers will pick certain holes to stack up in and this is definitely a time to work over the pool for an extended period of time. River salmon can be fickle, so it pays to figure out a pattern and also continuously experiment with different types of bait, lure, or fly presentations. They often go on an early morning bite, turn off, and then there might be a 9:30 bite, noon bite, evening bite, etc.

In popular holes that are getting fished hard you can really see the bite come on. Off course some fish will get caught throughout the day. If bobber fishing, you’ll notice in deep pools the fish will suspend at different levels as the day passes. Sometimes they might be holding near the surface, from 6 to 12 feet down. At other times near the bottom. Experimenting with depth is often critical for success.

spring chinook

Guess I’m getting older, but another reason I really like to fish the same run over and over again is if I’ve had success on the same place before. In a beautiful setting, it’s easy to passively cast and daydream about fish hooked that season or during yesteryear.

Each cast is made with the confident feeling that there is a real possibility of hooking one. Even knowing that more fish could be hooked by speed fishing 100 holes, hooking a fish on your own terms in a relaxed state is truly a rewarding and joyful event.

- written by Nick Amato (Editor of Salmon Trout Steelheader)

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