Most anglers think the steelhead season means springtime fishing, but in most areas, the season for steelhead actually starts in September and runs until May. Fall, Winter, and Spring all have their prime fishing times and their challenges. In some areas, steelhead can also be caught in the summer, so the steelhead fishing can run 12 months of the year.
The season for steelhead in many areas lasts for about eight months of the year, and it’s the cold nights of autumn and the fall rains that start the season off.
Good anglers and guides know how to adapt and adjust methods and spots, and we understand steelhead behaviors, which allows us to catch steelhead consistently throughout the seasons.
On some rivers and in some areas, there is even a summer steelhead run with either steelhead that hold or are trapped in small creeks all summer or there are some rivers that have summer-run steelhead such as the Skamania strain of steelhead.
In some areas, there are restrictions on steelhead fishing, so steelhead fishing might vary depending on local regulations.
In this article, I discuss the spring, fall, and winter steelhead fishing seasons so you know exactly how to target steelhead during each season.
The Fall Steelhead Season
I like to say that in many areas, the steelhead fishing season starts in September and can end in May. The fall season starts with colder nights, cooling river temps, and rains that raise the river levels and trigger the steelhead to run,
I split the fall into three stages, and I fish them all differently.
Steelhead first enter the river when the river reaches about 60f. At this time, fall steelhead are aggressive; they can be spread out through the entire river, and they will eat just about everything.
This time period runs from September to about early November.
The second period is when the water starts to get colder than 50f and runs until the water is around 40f. This is when the biggest runs of steelhead enter the rivers. These fish can still be aggressive, but there are times of the day when they can be tough.
Adapting to the conditions and by changing spots, fishing at different times, and using different baits, flies, or lures is the key.
The third and final period of the fall is when the water temps start to drop below 40f. This usually occurs in late November and runs until late December.
This is usually when most anglers give up fishing for steelhead, but this is often when I and my guides start catching the most steelhead. Some anglers give up because it’s too cold for them, but many anglers give up because they can’t catch any steelhead.
At this time of year, it’s important that you understand how temperature affects steelhead, where and when they feed, and how to adjust your presentation.
I cover fall fishing in detail and share my secrets for staying on top of the steelhead throughout the fall season on my page Fall Fishing For Steelhead.
The Winter Season
There are two types of steelhead, summer run steelhead, and winter run steelhead. Winter run steelhead will enter the river anytime from about October to March. Peak runs are often November, December, and February. Runs will depend on the area you fish, river conditions, and water temperatures.
The winter season is when most anglers give up, but I’ve had some of my best days in January and February. As long as the river is not frozen solid or not full of slush, you can catch steelhead.
Anglers believe that once the water hits a certain temperature, like 37F, the steelhead will stop biting. However, I have found that this is not the full story, and if you understand steelhead and how temperatures affect them, you can catch just as many steelhead in 37f as you can in 47f.
During the winter, it’s important that you change your tactics, slow your presentation, and get your bait, fly, or lure as close to the steelhead as possible. But, most important is understanding water temps and how to adjust your fishing to maximize success.
I discuss all of this in great detail on my page, Winter Fishing For Steelhead.
The Spring Season
Many anglers associate spring with the steelhead runs, and the spring season is a great time to be on the water fishing for steelhead.
Spring steelhead are considered winter-run steelhead. Some will enter river in later fall and hold over until water temps are suitable to spawn, other will stay in the lake through the winter and run in late winter or early spring.
I split the spring steelhead into three groups, and understanding each group and how and where to fish for them will mean that you can catch a lot more steelhead.
The first group of steelhead is the early steelhead that comes in just after the ice goes out or as river temperatures start to rise. I target these fish a certain way. The second group of steelhead are the spawners, which I don’t target at all, but these spawners offer a unique opportunity to catch a lot of steelhead if you know what you are doing.
The third group of steelhead are the steelhead that have finished spawning and are resting and recuperating or dropping back to the lake.
I discuss my methods for catching each of these spring steelhead groups in more detail and why it matters on my page Spring Steelhead Fishing.
Got A Question Or Comment About Steelhead Fishing Seasons
I go into a lot of detail on the spring, fall, and winter steelhead fishing pages, so be sure to check them out if you want to maximize your success throughout the steelhead seasons.