Many people know of that famous American river fish: the rainbow trout. One of its closest cousins that you can reel in is called the steelhead. Typical trout live solely in freshwater their entire lives, but the steelhead isn’t an ordinary trout species. Wondering what makes the steelhead so fascinating? Their uniqueness is found in their perplexing behavior.

Steelhead migrate out to the ocean when they are young, then return to their freshwater river roots as adults to spawn. Unlike rainbow trout, their color changes over the course of their lives, and unlike salmon, they don’t die when returning to the river. Steelhead are determined fish, generally challenging to catch and even more bewildering to understand. Read on for further info and the best winter steelhead fishing tactics and tricks to catch yourself an elusive prize.

Timing is Everything

As we mentioned above, steelhead return to the river when it’s time for them to breed. Therefore, sport fishing for steelhead is all about timing. Fishing for steelhead presents an enjoyable challenge because they only return to the river twice a year to breed. Winter steelhead fishing season traditionally occurs between the months of November and February. During this season, steelhead travel upstream at shorter distances than in the summer months. You may have a shorter timeframe to reel one in, but it makes the thrill of the catch even more exciting.

Steelhead Approach 101

Another one of the most advantageous winter steelhead fishing tactics is to be aware of lies in the approach. Steelhead that run in the winter tend to be fast movers, generally stopping their movement only to rest for brief moments. This necessary knowledge of their movement provides information upon which you can base your fishing approach. Options are plentiful, but knowing exactly how to move your rod or line makes all the difference in catching this aggressive fish.

The most effective way to catch steelhead is with a bobbing or jig method. The main fun resides in the tug-of-war between human and fish. As the steelhead will not stop to feed along the river while awaiting breeding, the fisher or angler must edge up on the fish just enough to make it strike out. Colored lures and swift movement attract fish to strike, and it’s up to the angler to pick out their flies, bait, or lure. Patience isn’t just a virtue—it’s a beneficial steelhead fishing tactic.

Location, Location, Location

River fishing is heavily influenced by the amount of water that flows in a specific area. The distinct flow of the water affects its clarity and water levels. Knowledge of a river’s current water levels will guide your decision as to the right approach to take and the right location to fish for winter steelhead. 

With determination and a bit of guidance, you will soon understand where to look for steelhead and when to keep moving. At River Adventures, you can experience some of the best steelhead fishing in Idaho on the Salmon River. Contact us today to book the fishing trip of a lifetime!