As you read this column, I am probably somewhere attempting to hook into a fresh winter steelhead. One of the main reasons for fishing at this time is that it is the most productive time frame in the season to catch this desirable game fish.
The record, past and present, reflects the information that in the month of January more winter hatchery steelhead are caught in our peninsula rivers than in any other month throughout the season. Simply put, it is the occasion when steelhead dominate coastal streams with their presence. So, if you go fishing and “knock on their door,” you have a better chance of finding someone home when it comes to steelheading.
One of the questions to be asked is where should one go. The answer to the question is anywhere steelhead were planted. Grant it, some rivers received a larger plant than others, and so it stands to reason your odds are going to be greater in such water. The numbers reflecting this year’s runs are encouraging. The Quillayute River system, and in particular the Boqacheil River, received 80,293 steelhead smolt. The Quinault River/Cook Creek received a plant of 404,027 fish. The Humptulips River including Stevens Creek obtained 132,145 smolt. The Chehalis River system was stocked with 317,800 smolt. The breakdown on this river system includes 170,000 smolt for the Wynooche River, 58,000 smolt to the Satsop River (east fork) and 89,000 for the Skookumchuck River and the upper Chehalis River.
By this time in the season, these fish should be spread out quite well. Steelhead tend to move in smaller schools. Henceforth, they will occupy water all along the river itself.
The matter of what water they occupy has everything to do with the amount of rainfall we have received. When the water levels drop, it is easier to catch these fish because they are holding in evident pockets or predictable slots. They will eventually congregate at their points of origin which makes the locating process much simpler.
Some of the challenges of fishing in January include the cold temperatures. Standing in cold rivers can only be done for a limited time before the chill works its way up your body. Of course, new and improved insulated waders do help correct this issue. But, I have yet to find any corrective device to deal with guide freeze ups. You either break off the ice or cause it to melt in the river water. Anyway, this problem usually only exists in the early morning before the sun warms things up a bit.
Keeping your hands and fingers warm can become quite a challenge. I have found that wool fingerless gloves work well accompanied with hand warmers. It is important to retain feeling in your fingers when steelheading. If it comes to the point that all feel is lost, it is time to take a break and recover feeling.
There are fish to be caught in January. It is obvious that there will be some challenges to overcome in pursuing these fish. However, if one is up to the challenge, it could be well worth the effort.