Steelhead Season: Catch Steelhead Year-Round

Anglers fishing a river in the fall steelhead season

Most anglers think the steelhead season means springtime, but in most areas, the the season for steelhead actually starts in September and runs until May. Fall, Winter, and Spring all have their prime fishing and their challenges.

Some guides like myself adjust methods, spots, and understand steelhead behaviors and this helps us catch steelhead all season long. These tips and advice will help you understand the steelhead throughout the steelhead season and they will help you catch more steelhead even when others have given up.

The steelhead season in many areas is 8 months of the year and it’s the cold night of autumn and the fall rains that start the season. Good anglers and guides know how to adapt and use different methods throughout the season to catch the most steelhead possible.

In this article, I discuss the spring, fall, and winter steelhead seasons so you know exactly how to target steelhead during each season.

On some rivers, there is even a summer season 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.

The Fall Steelhead Season

I like to say that in many areas the steelhead season is 8 to 9 months long and it 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.

The warmer water time is when the steelhead first enter the river until the river reaches about 50f. 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 Steelhead Season

The winter steelhead 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 38f, the steelhead 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 Steelhead Season

many anglers associate spring with the steelhead runs and the spring steelhead season is a great time to be on the water fishing for steelhead.

I split the spring steelhead into 3 groups and understanding each group and how and where to fish for them will mean that you will catch a lot more steelhead.

The first group of steelhead are the early steelhead that come in just after the ice comes out. I target these fish a certain way. The second group of steelhead are the spawners which I don’t target 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 in-depth and why it matters on my page Spring Steelhead Fishing.

Got A Question Or Comment About Steelhead 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

Tight Lines


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