York Winter Steelhead
While your hunting equipment may be cleaned and packed away
for the season there are a number of great fishing experiences
out there. While many anglers take to the ice to seek out
panfish and walleye, the true excitement and much bigger
fish reside in the streams running into Lakes Erie and Ontario.
These ice-cold flows hold some of the most aggressive and
strongest fighting fish of the year. We are talking about
the steelhead trout. This species lives in the lake during
the summer months feeding and growing and in the spring
returns to area waterways to spawn putting them within reach
of many fishermen. In the fall, many streams seemingly overflow
with these bright silver fish, but as the weather turns
colder and the skies begin to darken the migration slows
a bit. Fish already in the rivers remain in deep pools and
turn darker in color adapting to their surroundings. In
addition to these fish smaller migrations occur throughout
the winter months. High water from a January thaw can create
some of the finest winter steelhead fishing you will ever
experience. Before heading out there are a few basics you
will need to know.
Location: One of the biggest keys to successful
winter steelheading is choosing the right
location to wet your line. Larger tributaries are basically
the only game as smaller tributaries generally freeze over
making them unfishable throughout the winter. The Cattaraugus
Creek and Eighteen-Mile Creek are generally the most popular
Lake Erie tributaries. The lower section of the Cattaraugus
runs through an Indian Reservation that requires special
licenses. The license year starts on January first in this
area so be sure your license is up to date. The upper sections
of these waterways are typically better as they don't freeze
as easily and access is better in the winter. Out of Lake
Ontario, there are several favorites including the Niagara
River, Oak Orchard Creek, Burt Dam on 18 Mile Creek, the
Genesee River near Rochester, and the now world famous Salmon
River. All of these streams are nearly ideal throughout
the winter months. Rarely freezing over, fresh runs of fish
can be found most any weekend.
Gear: When planning your trip, the type
of gear you plan to use should be dictated by the conditions.
Extreme cold may make flyfishing gear a bit cumbersome.
Spinning gear is a favorite during the coldest parts of
the winter because it is easier to use. Light lines are
usually a necessity as water clarity is definitely a concern.
Beyond terminal tackle be sure to dress in layers to keep
warm on the water. Good quality neoprene waders are essential.
Insulated boot feet will help fight off the cold as well.
When fishing, try to avoid wading when you really don't
have to. Staying out of the water is one sure way to stay
warm and dry. Gloves, hats, and extra socks will round out
Technique: As colder winter temperatures
cool the temperature of the water in these streams fish
will become quite sluggish. It is important to keep your
bait or fly near the bottom and concentrate on the deeper
holes in the stream. Wintering fish will seek out the warmest
water they can find. It is also a good idea to target warming
trends or even bright sunny days. As the day progresses
fish activity will increase. Typically the noon hour is
optimal with temperatures at their peak for the day fish
will become the most active so there may be no need to rise
at the crack of dawn. In addition to keeping your offering
near the bottom and fishing the warmest parts of the day
a standard dead drift technique works best as these fish
are not likely to chase a swinging fly or fast moving bait.
Use float rigs or a sinking fly line and weight to get the
presentation just right.
Safety: Take your time when wading. Extra
clothing, ice, and slippery rocks can cause a nasty fall
into frigid water. A dip in the stream at this time of year
usually means your day is at an end. Not only will you freeze,
your gear will often stop working all together as ice forms
on moving parts. Always tell someone where you will be and
when you plan to return. If possible, fish with a partner.
Bring food and warm drinks with you to the river to help
keep your body active and fighting off the cold.
Winter steelhead fishing is not for the faint of heart.
The combination of cold temperatures and often colder water
can make getting to the fish and waiting for the take an
excruciating experience. However, when done properly the
fishing can be first rate. Typically the numbers of anglers
on the streams is much lower and you have the ability to
move around and try a variety of areas on your favorite
stretch of water. Try winter steelhead fishing this month
and stay warm.