Five Characteristics of the Successful Winter Steelheader

Characteristics of a Steelheader
Winter steelhead success!

Do you have what it takes to be a winter steelheader? Do you? There are a very few select anglers among the trout nymphers, dry fly purists, streamer tossers and euro-nymphers who truly get the idea of “winter steelheading”. Even among the ranks of the summer breeze tanned faced summer run anglers few filter through the ranks to the cold toed time of year. Here, in case you didn’t know are 5 legit characteristics of a winter steelheader.

1. Balls of steel. This simple prerequisite weeds out the so many folks who’s summer straw hats would be soaked in the first ten minutes of winter fishing. Simply put, this time of year is cold! Bone-chilling cold…then add wind, rain and the occasional slip in the river a brief snow storm and some sleet. Pass the coffee please! This is the time of year for layers upon layers of fleece, long underwear, puffy jacket, rain jacket, neck gaitor and stocking caps. You won’t hear the winter steelheader ask, “does this fleece makes my butt look big?” They know that, that big butt of fleece will be under water as they wade deeper and farther in the high winter flows trying to get away from the grabby bankside trees and reach the sweet spot where the fish of their dreams is hanging.

2. Patience. Winter Steelheading requires patience. This is no numbers game. Leave the numbers to the euro-nymphers and forget the fish counter-this is winter steelhead where the wild fish is hard to find. These amazing fish are found in very few places on the planet and there aren’t that many of them finding them requires a lot of patience.

3. Persistence. Cast after cast, wading through the run often without a sniff from a fish requires gritty persistence. The water is cold, your body is cold, you haven’t felt your toes for the last 2 hours and you keep going. One more cast…it’s the…”yes, I know I’ve made a thousand perfect casts in a row without a fish” program and liking it! Knowing that it’s just one more cast that you need to make that connection.

4. Ice Cold Nerves. The work of going after winter steelhead is tough but the brief few seconds you have to keep your cool when that fish of a lifetime grabs your fly are paramount. This is where the rubber meets the road. Do you have ice-cold nerves of steel? After all those thousands of casts, finally you feel something alive on the end of the line. Is it a pesky cutthroat or is this the real deal? As your rod thumps do you yank the fly out of it’s mouth, squeeze the line hard to the cork and don’t let go or do you wait until the fish turns with the fly in the corner of it’s mouth and solidly bends the rod. The successful winter steelheader has nerves ice cold here- this is the apex moment that all the work, cold and suffering has been pointed at.

Winter steelhead Jet boat in the fog
Winter steelheading a fogging morning on the Clackamas

5. Deep Respect. This time of year is not for the sunshine tourists, this is when the die hard anglers are out and soak in each moment like a moss soaked tree in another coastal rainstorm; saturated with deep respect for the water, the fish, the forest and other fly tossing brethren. Respect for the water that gives life to the quarry and takes life from those unrespecting of it’s power. Respect for a fish that lives such a dangerous life yet displays such abandon and ferocity. Respect for the wildness around them as they make each cast; elk, deer, moss covered trees, forests of ferns and a world of green. The winter steelheader has deep respect…

Winter steelhead angling with the swung fly is tough but rewarding. It’s not a numbers game and the pursuit is a big part of the fun. The thrill of the swung fly grab is like no other! This is a special time of year to have a chance to encounter some of the most epic amazing steelhead you’ve ever seen. Every year it gets the guide crew at Water Time Outfitters bubbling with excitement.

If you would like to learn more about how to be a winter steelheader- reach out and let’s chat: or come join us for one of our Winter Steelhead Workshops or maybe after reading this…let’s talk summer steelhead! 🙂

Good luck on the water!

Winter Steelheaders know the grab from a swung fly is the best!  That’s why we say, “The TUG is the DRUG”.  Find Tug is the Drug Fishing Wear here
Scroll to Top

FREE Beginning Fly Casting Lesson

Get started in the fun of fly fishing with a beginning fly casting class on us!

By opting into this special, limited-time offer, you will also receive tips, strategies, and the latest updates on how the season is shaping up. You may opt out at any time.

Ask a Question