Water flow yo-yo . . . . December 9, 10, 11 . . . . 13, 14, 15, 2019

GaugeShotThe “water flow yo-yo” pattern seems to repeat itself more often in late fall and early winter, but it can happen at any time during the steelhead season.  After a week of stable water levels on Erie tributaries, hours of rain brings about a rise in the flow that eventually peaks and then returns to an average flow level.

Water level changes usually present both fishing opportunities and challenges for steelhead anglers. The keys to success are an awareness of where the steelhead are holding prior to the flow shifts, and an understanding of to where they migrated after the high flow ends.

On the rising side, steelhead fishing is great. The neutral  mood fish sense the pending high water.  They eat to gain energy to move up stream. The also eat to sustain themselves when they are lying on the bottom in a negative mood.  No matter the reason, egg sac, jig anglers and pinners enjoyed a day-long bite that is so good it is difficult to find the right adjective to describe the intensity. A “fish-a-drift” bite happens more times than you can imagine. Yes, there were a few down time stretches that lasted 15 minutes or so, but for most of the day multiple hookups are the rule.  

When the rising flow exceeds your ability to get your bait into a fish holding location, stop fishing. You are wasting your time. High water frustration will spoil the day.  If you have traveled a long way and cannot wait for better water, you can fish the Walnut Creek Marina Basin, Presque Isle Bay, North/South Pier or some of the smaller Eastside tributaries. Sixteen Mile Creek is the most popular option.

As water flow drops to a level that you know from past experience suits your presentation style, get on the water. Steelhead that have struggled through the high water or moved upstream because of the increased flow will feed to replace the energy spent moving or holding in place!

Post high-water fishing still requires knowing where to fish. It can require some prospecting to locate a pod of fish.  You also need a willingness to slow down your presentation to reach deeper into the water column.  Pinning or bottom-bumping with a noodle rod are the most productive methods to float egg sacs in the strike zone.  Fly anglers go big and bright and plenty of shot to achieve hookups.  Add some additional hooks and weights to your tackle supply. You will lose plenty of tackle when fishing deep.

Watch this video to see what winter post high-water fishing can be.  Just remember magical video editing can take an afternoon of effort and make it look too easy to believe.  Steelhead fishing success requires plenty of hard work. The air temperature during this video was mid-twenties.

Rain events driven by low pressure are followed by an air temperature drop and clear-sky high pressure system that usually slows or stops the bite until the steelhead have time to adjust to the pressure swings. In late fall and early winter, an air temperature drop may complicate your game plan. Overnight temperatures in the teens will form slush and in extreme situations skim ice. The former makes fishing difficult. The latter closes off most deep, fishing holding water. Only time and rising air temperature corrects these issues.

This video shows the “dark-side” of steelhead fishing after a quick freeze.  You can succeed, but the hill you climb is steep.

The next time you face a high-water forecast or the downside of an Erie quick freeze blast, prepare to take advantage of the opportunity you have been presented. Those big fish need to eat so they will looking for a meal as soon as the water conditions improve.

The only rules - fish were they are, give them what they want, and be safe wading in high/cold water.