Tom Larimer, as you may know, is one of the top-shelf guides in the Northwest, spending a whole boatload of quality time on the Deschutes River and the surrounding area. Tom also leads group trips to Alaska West and BC West each year, which we’d be happy to tell you more about if you drop us a line.
Anyhow, Tom was gracious enough to let us run his thoughts on catching steelhead in cold water with dry lines. He knows a lot about this stuff – it’s probably worth a read.
Cold Water Dry Line Steelhead Fishing
Many folks assume you can’t catch late summer steelhead on floating lines once the weather turn nasty in the fall and the water temperatures begin to plummet. The key is to know the current water temperature as well as the water temperature history for the week prior to you going fishing.
With water temperatures at 45 degrees and up, getting a steelhead to come to the surface is not asking too much. However, as the water temperature falls into the low 40’s and high 30’s, it pays to know what the temperatures were the previous seven days or so. I’ve seen a summer steelhead landed on a dry fly in 39-degree water, but the water was cooling slowly during that time period. The fish had weeks to acclimate to the cooler temperature. Plus, the water temp had risen from 37 degrees that morning. Always remember rising temps will activate steelhead in the late fall, even if those temps aren’t above 40 degrees. That said, falling water temps, even if the mean temperature is in the low 40’s, could work against you when try to coax a steelhead to the surface.
Bottom line – when the water temperatures fall into the low forties or below in the late fall, don’t be afraid to fish a floating line as long as the river temp hasn’t spiked down in the previous week. If it has, you’ll have more success fishing a sink-tip and a sunk fly.