When winter trout are feeding on nymphs there is not much difference between a small trout and a steelhead. They are going to both react and take advantage the same food store source the same way.
This past winter, the more the steelhead fead on the Stone fly nymphs, the more precise our presentation had to be. Just like the steelhead we had to adapt to all variables and conditions of this winter.
When we tried to fish the same way, with the same normal presentations, we were greatly disappointed. Many of the normal presentations produced nothing more than a lot of casting and a few poor hookups.
By late winter it is almost like fishing a winter Midge hatch in a Spring Creek. The same went for the style of presentation. We need to be as precise with the drift as we need to be with midges in spring.
What I mean by this is that we have to make certain the flies are drifted in the correct structure of the pool, current seam and depth. If we were slightly off, nothing would happen but the fore mentioned poor hookups and casting practice.
StoneFly Nymphs Patterns
Some of the best stonefly patterns to have in your fly box are:
- Black StoneFly Pattern
- Golden StoneFly Pattern
- Yellow Sally StoneFly Pattern
- Skwala StoneFly Pattern
- Kaufmann StoneFly Pattern
Although there are lots of stone fly nymph patterns you only need concern yourself with the list above. The more natural looking the better, however sometimes you do need a little bit of flash in the body.
Keep in mind that Stone fly nymphs live and grow in fast moving water. Their normal feeding activities cause him to become dislodged from the river bottom and set adrift.
Trout will take feeding positions in the throats of the pools. Or more precisely, along the current seams in the throats of the pools, that is, along the edge of the fast and slow moving current.
The trick here is to find the ideal seams that the fish are sitting in. To do this you need to systematically cover the inside edge of the faster moving water into the slow moving water.
Depth of the drift is also important; the flies need to drift just off the river bottom. You want the fly to drift clean but within a few inches of touching the river bottom. This is best achieved by using strike indicators.
This is where my favorite term for these things comes from, Drift management devices. By using a strike indicator you can control the depth of the fly and also maintain the drift in the correct current seam.
As I mentioned below the Salmon River has a massive population of stoneflies. This population is made up of several varieties of Stoneflies. The exact number would be interesting to know. But for us, we need to know that during the winter months fishing stonefly nymphs in sizes ranging from 8 to 12 will get the job done.
These fly patterns do not have to be complicated patterns. Often the simpler basic nymph pattern works the best. We have also had good results with adding a little flash to the fly, either in the wing case or mixed into the body itself. What is most important is fishing the right locations in the river, getting the fly in the correct water column and depth.
We need to keep in mind; just because it is winter and the river is quiet does not mean the fishing will be easy. Just like the steelhead we need to adapt to what is happening in the rivers.
Stone Fly nymphs for Winter Steelhead
We all know about how winter steelhead fishing can be both productive and an excellent opportunity to enjoy the river without intense fishing pressure. There are lots of challenges when winter steelhead fishing. These includes dealing with the equipment icing up and the Cold. In past winters, however, there have been some historically chilly winter with cold temperatures with many of our rivers totally iced over well into spring,
Some are unique with even the Salmon River itself having heavy ice mid river on down. And with the historic cold winter temperatures, the Salmon River had heavy anchor ice in the bottom portion of the river for the first time in several years.
We also had an additional Element, the lack of salmon eggs. Due to the unusually stable water flows the steelhead were not exposed to the normal volume of stray eggs.
Typically eggs are set adrift during water flow increases. In fact there was not a water flow increase until spring snowmelt run off. Add to all of this, we also had an issue with sick steelhead, a thiamine deficiency. Last winter definitely had its challenges.
We were faced with few choices - adapt or enjoy another winter of cabin fever. Given these choices and never dealing well with cabin fever, we decided to get on the water and adapt. As a result this past winter was a unique learning experience for winter steelhead fishing. The cold was not that big a deal with the new modern cold weather clothing. As for the steelhead we did have a very good fall run, and there was good numbers of fish in the upper river.
We need to remember that the Salmon River and the Great Lakes steelhead do have some unique characteristics. First Great Lakes steelhead will continue to feed while they’re in their home rivers on a spawning run, - our steelhead like to eat.
The longer they are in the river, especially over the winter, the more trout-like these fish become. The next thing we need to keep in mind is that Chinook salmon can dominate a river in many ways.
In this case the decomposing carcasses of the salmon in the river create a strong nutrient base. What this means for us is a lot of bug life in the rivers - in this particular case, stonefly nymphs.
This last fall we had a light run of salmon. This meant there were fewer eggs in the river over the winter. When we add all of this up, we had wintering steelhead hyper - keyed in on stonefly nymphs. Obviously the trick here is to capitalize on this opportunity.