How to Get Ready for Your Winter Steelhead Trip

Cold Weather Strategies for Steelheadad
Winter Steelheading can be tough but the rewards can be big.

Your going on a Guided Winter Steelhead Fly Fishing trip and being properly prepared will help you make the most out of your day on the water; here’s a few tips from the pro’s.

How to Get Ready for Your Winter Steelhead Trip – #1 How to Stay Warm

Winter Steelhead trips are going to be during those cold months of the year- often when the weather is at it’s worst!  Here is where proper clothing can make a huge difference.  Having the right gear can be the difference between a great day or shivering cold misery!

First, dress in layers.  Start with a good base layer of some type of long underwear tops and bottoms.  There are lots of options with a quick easy search for duofold long underwear.  Medium weight should typically suffice unless your in the extreme cold part of the world and need the extra heavy duty expedition weight.  Here you are going to shoot for a balance of warmth and moisture wicking without getting too hot, creating sweat and thus making you colder.  Another factor to consider here is are you standing in a boat or wading all day or will you be hiking.

Socks is another important part of staying warm.  I’ve found some of the best ones for me to be these: Fox River Socks. Some anglers prefer to use two pairs of socks.  The first layer is a thin light compression sock to help keep blood moving in that cold water and helps to wick moisture off the skin.  The second layer is a good medium weight wool composite sock.  Remember that good circulation is the key to warm feet.  If your boots are tight your feet will most likely be cold.  Some anglers like to upsize their wading boots to be sure they can wiggle those toes and stay warm!

Next, a good base layer of fleece or thermal shirt/fleece sweat pants.  I like these:  Simms Thermal Mid-Layer Zip Top and Simms Base Layer Pants

For the next layer on top I LOVE a good hoodie.  Here are two of my favorites:  Swing It Like You Mean It-Thermal Hoodie, The TUG is the DRUG Woodstove Hoodie.  On top of a good Hoodie if needed or instead of a hoodie I really like is a good puffy jacket for a layer of insulation.

Typically over that I would have a good top quality rain jacket that is not only waterproof but windproof.  Here is one of the best: Simms Guide Classic Wading Jacket 

A good hat is important and even better if it’s a lucky fishing hat!  It’s important to have a hat with a bill on it for fishing.  This helps you block out sun glare and also acts as eye protection.  Here’s our favorite “Lucky Fishing hats”.  Steelhead Tug Hats

Another item that can make even the worst weather days a breeze is a good hand warmer.  I really like this Electric Portable Hand Warmer.  It’s rechargeable.  Keep it in your pockets and warm your finger tips while your fly swings!  This can be the difference maker!

Spey casting fun
A good lesson in spey casting can get you started in the right direction or be a good tune-up to keep you on the right track.

How to Get Ready for your Winter Steelhead Trip- #2 Prepare Casting Practice

One of the best investments you can make to enjoying your day on a guided winter steelhead fly fishing trip is to dial in your casting BEFORE you get out on the water with a guide.  The guide will be doing his best to put you on the very best water with the best chance of success and if you can’t cast the fly and fish it properly you may not catch anything.  Bad casts often lead to snagging the bottom which goes with lost flies and thrashed water, ie. spooked fish.

Head down to a local river a few times to work out the kinks.  If your still having trouble getting a consistently smooth cast check with a local fly shop for a good casting instructor.  You can also reach out to us in the Portland, OR area and we can help.  Check out our Private SPEY CASTING Lessons or one of our Winter Spey Skagit Mastery Classes.

How to Get Ready for your Winter Steelhead Trip #3 Match Expectations To the Reality of the Situation

Another thing to consider is do your expectations match the reality of your guided fishing day.  If you are expecting to hook 5 steelhead in a day and the guides clients have struggled to hook 1 per day all season you may want to realign your expectations.  Or if you are a beginner and getting 1 out of 8 or 10 casts to lay out correctly don’t assume a steelhead will hit on every good cast.  Consistency and efficiency are the hallmarks of steelhead swung fly success.

In other words, for winter steelhead you typically will have to put in a lot of time to connect

You should expect that your guide will do everything he can to make you as successful as possible.  Sometimes that means working with you on your cast.  (Case in point on getting your casting dialed in before hand- that allows you to focus on fishing and finding success not spending lots of time dialing in your cast).

If that is all you want out of the day is to dial in your cast be sure your guide is a competent instructor when you are considering booking him.

Tactical approach to winter steelhead strategy. Read it then watch it in this ebook/video multi-media format.

Want to brush up on your winter techniques?  Or are you new to winter spey fishing?  You might want to check out this new ebook.  “5 Steps to Winter Spey Success”.  Teaches you the tools and tactics you need to be successful through the ups and downs of winter fishing.

How to Get Ready for your Winter Steelhead Trip – #4 Fish Hard

Winter steelhead don’t come easy and a trout fishing mindset for numbers is the wrong approach for these amazing but rare creatures.  When you hook a steelhead on the swing it’s a “happening” and you don’t know if it will be the first cast or the last cast.  Fish hard, stay focused and be ready when you finally get that grab so you can respond correctly and capitalize on finding that fish.

Remember that Steelhead are anadramous and migrating in from the ocean; some days there are lots of them around and some days they are very scarce.  The best way to make the most out of your winter steelhead fly fishing trip is to show up with a good attitude and just have fun no matter what the weather or the fish dish out to you during the day.

How to Get Ready for your Winter Steelhead Trip- #5 What else to Bring

Sunglasses are a must – not necessarily because it’s so sunny during the winter months but just in case you have one of those bad casts!  Also, good polarized lenses help you see more in the wader; this can help with wading as well as seeing fish roll on the surface or even spotting fish. During the dreary winter months a good amber colored lens (or similar lighter color) can be helpful.  Often anglers bring their regular glasses that are perfect for blasting summer sun and find them to be too dark.

Choosing Winter Steelhead Flies
Crandall’s Steelhead Fly Combo Kit. Get the flies that consistently produce.

Bring some flies- it’s always good to have a few flies in your fly box, even with a guide.  If you are with a guide you might find out the hard way some guides do not provide flies.  You’ll want to know this ahead of time and stock up on some favorites just to be sure.  Here are some of our favorites.  Steelhead Fly Collection.

If you are going with a guide always be sure you know ahead of time who is going to provide lunch!  Some guides do and some do not.  Make sure to avoid that awkward moment when the guide pulls out his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and says, “Time to eat lunch, where’s yours?”

How to Get Ready for your Winter Steelhead Trip – #6 Best THINGS to REMEMBER!

Ok, the fact is you will only get so many chances while chasing winter steelhead.  SO, how you respond is absolutely important.  Most winter steelhead grabs are a series of yanks before the real connection.  If you set like you would for a trout on the first bump – you’ll most likely pull the fly out of it’s mouth.  That may be the only chance you get all day!

When you feel that first tug, know that there might be 2, even three more tugs before the line comes tight to the fish.  Here is the key: WAIT until you feel the HEAVINESS of the fish SOLIDLY on the line.  Then bend the rod towards the downstream bank.  Then simply hang on and keep the line tight and rod bent.  Be sure to let line rip off the reel and don’t have the drag too tight or too loose.

How to Get Ready for your Winter Steelhead Trip- #7 Overview on Having the Best Day!

First things first, remember to have fun!  Enjoy your day in the outdoors, absorb the beauty around you and learn from your guide as much as you can.  Guides are often full of fun and entertaining stories from their years on the water, be sure to try to pull a few of those out of their archives.  Go prepared to fish- get some good casting practice or a lesson in before you get there and dress with the right gear.  Having the right clothing will go a long way towards just being comfortable.  Have fun on the water!

To book a guided steelhead fishing trip with Water Time Outfitters visit:

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