Ice water in veins a must


Mar 11, 2001
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Ice water in veins a must

By ROB STREETER, Albany Times-Union

November 21, 2002

For the fly-angler who just can't get enough of a good thing, there is no need to put the rods up for the winter.

Steelhead fishing comes with its own set of circumstances, as intrepid anglers must brave the cold, put up with iced over rod guides as well as frozen fingers for a shot at catching a steelhead. Usually the pursuit is unsuccessful, but when conditions are right action can quickly make you forget how cold it is.

On Lake Ontario and Lake Erie tributary streams, these overgrown rainbow trout now are heading upstream. Initially the various strains of steelhead show up just behind the salmon runs, feeding on the salmon eggs drifting downstream.

Currently steelhead are scattered throughout the Salmon River, but water levels are high. They also have started showing up in the Oswego River in pretty good numbers.

Moving farther west, the steelhead are just starting up in Oak Orchard Creek, mainly in the lower sections. The other streams in the area -- Johnson and Sandy creeks -- are also getting fish as the water comes up while the barge canal system drains. Steelhead remain in these creeks and rivers throughout the winter months.

The biggest logistical problem for steelhead fishing is staying warm. Neoprene waders are essential for cold-weather fishing. Boot foot models are the best because your feet stay warmer in them. When it is really cold, putting a little heat packet in each boot also helps a great deal.

Navigating the stream banks through the snow and ice can be tricky or downright dangerous. A set of corkers or studded cleats for the bottom of the boots to provide good traction while walking or wading helps a lot.

Having a wading staff is also a good idea because no one wants to take a dunking in ice-cold water. Don't try and wade in much more than knee-deep water and be extra careful.

Anglers have been into steelies all fall, but the best numbers of these fish, and the really big ones, have just started showing up. Some of these steelhead can get as big as 20 pounds, although the average fish is typically smaller. Consequently, steelies require stout equipment to land.

Spinning rods are usually special rigs for this type of fishing. They are typically longer than trout or bass tackle. In the case of noodle rods, they can be over 10 feet in length and have fairly soft actions. Reels have to be top quality, with smooth drags that will not fail in cold weather.

The rods and reels for spinning have to be longer because very light line is needed to hook these fish. Steelhead are notoriously line shy, and even the big monsters will shy away from monofilament line that is bigger than 10-pound test. Some anglers even use 2-pound test line.

For fly-fishing, Great Lakes-style rods are the norm. These rods are typically longer, in lengths of 10 feet or more. They are also built with oversized guides to prevent them from becoming fouled with ice as they typically will with a fly-line in freezing weather. Fly-anglers typically use a running line system to prevent icing and use split shot to get their flies down.

Steelhead are egg eaters. Flies that resemble eggs and egg sacs for bait fishing are the preferred way of catching them. They also respond to worms and other baits as well. Fly-anglers also can connect with Wooly Buggers and nymph patterns because, unlike salmon, steelhead feed throughout their time in the rivers.

By all indications, we should have a very good steelhead season. The only variable is the winter weather. If we get a horrible winter, the water temperatures drop low and the fish become very lethargic and are less willing to hit.

While many of us are knee deep in our deer hunting pursuits, steelhead anglers are knee deep in fishing that is as good as it gets.

Rob Streeter is an outdoors columnist for the Times Union. You can reach him at, or send items to 961 Stoner Trail Road, Fonda, NY 12068.

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