With winter steelhead fishing upon us, I think about side drifting along the banks of my favorite coastal river, the Trinity River.

All through these cold winter days, most of my time is spent fly fishing.

I still look forward to my days spent gear fishing (fishing with conventional tackle) in search of winter chrome. But fly fishing is a super interesting style of angling that allows me to look at a river differently. With conventional gear, at times, I can be limited. Fly fishing, from a boat, provides a ton of options opening up water we would typically skip when using conventional gear. Let’s talk options!

What weight to use?

Each river you fish may have preferred “weight” used by the local fishermen. Sometimes the most important component in the angling process isn’t limited to the hot fly or lure. It’s the “weight” or split shot that gets the fly/lure in front of the fish that all too often goes ignored. Use the wrong amount of weight and our chances are reduced.

Some fishermen find it difficult to try something new or to be new at a technique this can limit your progress as a fisherman and make things difficult.

I mostly fish the upper Trinity River in Trinity County. Located in Northern California. The Trinity River is one of the best steelhead rivers on the entire western coast of the USA!.

Leading up to the winter months, river conditions along the upper Trinity River are low and crystal clear. Autumn conditions require perfect drifts. Especially for those fishing fly rods, suspending flies under “indicators” at distances of 20′ to even 40′ or more from the boat position. Some anglers look at weight as the primary tool in getting the lure in front of the fish, but it’s also a key component in allowing the bobber or indicator to detect the strike (when the fish actually takes the lure).

What kind of weight do I like to fish? I fish “slinky weights”. Especially in small clear rivers.

One thing I like about using slinky weight is the low impact of it’s castability. Slinky Weights do not make a huge commotion on the water when cast. The last thing you want to do is alert a waiting steelhead you’re sending a bait by their face.

The Trinity Guide
King Salmon. Trinity River.

The next advantage of using slinky weight is it’s easy to make your own variety of different weights.

The #3 slinky weight is about the perfect size. Should you require more or less weight than a #3, it’s time to rethink your choice of fishing technique for the given river. It’s all too often the water speed or rate of flow that determines the most productive approach, method of covering the water.

About the holding water.

Ideally, the best holding water is described as “conveyor belt” water. Think of water flow as “conveyer belt speed”. Look for those components within the dispersed flow of the river as it flows through rocks, around bends, into pools, out of pools, transitions from shallow to deep and visa versa.

Conveyer belt speed water is the “bench standard” for describing ideal side drifting water.

For fly fishing from a boat, some of the best, most productive water on the Trinity River is conveyor belt speed water, between 4′ ~ 6′ deep, shaded. Find that water, produce a perfect drift and expect to get tight!

Last detail I want to cover: The leader!

I like to use Fluorocarbon. I prefer 8lb in our low and clear conditions on the upper Trinity River. Size of lure hook can vary as can the size of the fly. I try to use a #6 hook with my lures. Flies run from #16 up to #6 depending on the kind of fly pattern. One detail I need to share and it’s super important to use a very, very stout hook if you go hunt for steelhead close to the coast. Small flies, small hooks won’t last on fresh form the sea steelhead. They simply straighten, break and mock “trout” flies commonly used 100 miles upstream. Coastal steelhead are waaay different. I use a #4 hook, 10 ~ 12lb leader. Lures chosen depend on water conditions. That’s a topic for another post.

On the upper Trinity, I stick with a shorter leader than what others fish. Steelhead look up. Naturally that’s how they hunt as fry, parr, and 1/2lb’rs. Even in the ocean, steelhead will swim up into schooling fish to chase and eat. Just like salmon.

Steelhead are no doubt looking ahead, upstream as the migrate to their natal waters to spawn. Show a lure or fly to a fish, drifting over their heads just once or three times and they will come to your offering. Shorter leaders also detect strikes, translate into more time fishing and less time setting the hook due to the weight dragging on the bottom of the river. Steelhead don’t grub on the bottom of the river like resident rainbow trout do. Keep leaders shot, add enough weight to keep the leader “tight”. When the bobber bounces, it’s more likely a fish.

Set the hook!!!! Set!

Hope this helps! See you on the water!!

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