Unlike the ‘throw out the rules’ Lower Dean below the Canyon, the section of the Dean at BC West that we call the Upper River fishes like most classic steelhead holding water. In the late summer of 2009 we had very low water conditions on the Dean, which provided us with a great reminder of the techniques to use in such a situation.
Steelhead fishing is an art and a science, and no two anglers will agree on the right approach at any given time. That being said, most would agree with these five rules of fishing during low water.
- Try a dry! Catching a steelhead on a dry fly is a pretty magical experience, but it doesn’t happen with the regularity of fishing wet flies. In general, low water conditions are the time to give it a shot. Fish a dry on your first pass through the run – you never know who might poke his head up out of the water.
- Fish small flies. Over the past 15 years, those obsessed with swinging flies for steelhead have been pushing the envelope on fly size. When you’re fishing a colored-up Skagit River in January, tie on that 4″ Intruder without a second thought. But if you’re looking at a Dean River in August with 4 feet of visibility, that #4 Lady Caroline might just be the ticket. Go small when the water’s low.
- Lighten your tippet. Depending on the river that you’re fishing, a light tippet might range from 4 pound test to 12 pound test. Regardless, your tippet is more visible when the water’s low and clear, so bump it down a notch.
- Work more slowly. In most river systems most of the time, steelhead move less when the water’s low. This is probably not the time to blaze through run after run with a shotgun approach. Work the quality water thoroughly, with just a couple of steps between casts. Make a pass with a dry, then a light tip, then a heavy tip. If you get a grab, take a couple of steps back and maybe try a different fly or two. A patient, thorough approach will pay off.
- Fish deep too. It might not seem obvious, but it’s more important to fish heavy tips when the water’s low. In high, muddy water, fish are comfortable in the softer parts of the run, and in fact they prefer staying out of the ‘power water’ that’s way out. When the river drops and clears, the heavier parts of the run are easier for the fish to battle, and the extra cover is worth it. So yeah, listen to Tip #1 and start off with a dry – but don’t walk away from that quality piece of water without doing some dredging too.