Fishing where they are and give them what they want is a proven formula for steelhead fishing success, period.
The second part of the statement is easy to answer – they want food. You can fool them or feed them, but your presentation better look like something that will put energy into that animal. They eat so they live. That is easy to understand, right?
Fishing where they are is just a tad more difficult to nail down especially in steelhead seasons when fishing pressure and/or a decrease in returning fish numbers are contributing to lower catch rates. I believe that is happening now and could continue for years to come.
The only thing to make finding the steelhead easier is the amount of your “looking experience” so new anglers are working with a significant disadvantage.
You know or will quickly figure out – not all tributary water holds steelhead!
So where should my search begin?
Follow the crowd. Successful anglers attract a following.
Many good locations have parking areas crowded with cars and easy to find “elephant trails” leading to a good fishing location. Keep in mind, this suggestion is about finding steelhead and may not provide an ejoyable fishing experience.
What happens if you arrive in Erie and no one is fishing, just you? Now that is when you gain “looking experience”.
First question to answer is about water flow. Is the water high, low or normal? Low water – start near the lake, high off color water start high on the watershed or at a good breakfast diner, normal flow just flow flip a coin – no wrong answer here.
How you prospect for good fishing locations is all about your presentation.
Bait or fly anglers should select a presentation in which you have confidence and that gives you the opportunity to make plenty of casts. Early season cranking a spoon, spinner or flat fish are good choices for a reaction bite. Late season you cannot go wrong with a black jig tipped with a maggot fished under a float. Power minnows with small strike indicator are good universal bait no matter the month. Fly anglers use flashy egg patterns or shiner pattern streamers are my best guesses.
Experienced anglers surely do not need to take advice from me. They already have a mental checklist of casts that will identify fish holding areas. After checking the weather and flow, they leave home with a stream destination in mind. They will spend time early in a fishing trip going through their fish finding progression. They also have two or three additional stops designed to locate fish. By day two, they have eliminated the guesswork.
That’s the way it’s done. Have at it!