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|Sandy River Winter Steelhead|
AN UP-DATED REPORT FROM: Mark Bachmann
Prior to 1990 the Sandy River and its winter steelhead had a reputation for being difficult for the fly angler. The winter weather and water conditions, as well as sexually developed fish, create some of the most demanding conditions that a fly angler will encounter all year. Sandy River winter steelhead are bottom hugging denizens of this cold, often rain swollen river. Since the early 1990's, most fly anglers now use two-hand fly rods so that large expanses of water can be covered more efficiently and winter steelhead are much easier to catch with flies than they used to be. Developments in tackle and cold weather clothing and a superior understanding of the quarry have combined to make winter steelhead extremely vulnerable to the fly rod angler. Fly speed, pattern and depth are important. Because of their mating instincts, winter steelhead, especially the males, can be territorial and will attack a fly to drive it from their hold. Large flies dressed in steelhead spawning colors can bring jolting strikes. Fresh steelhead have an acute search image of the marine organisms that nurtured them. Flies dressed in the form of squid, shrimp or krill can trigger a feeding response. Steelhead will also consume spawn. Roe type flies can be deadly.
Long authoritative rods help control the line at all ranges. Single handed rods of 9 1/2 - 10 feet balanced with eight or nine weight fly lines are ideal when covering small and medium size water at ranges to forty feet.
|Run timing is dependent on which part of the river you are fishing. The Sandy River drops 6,000-feet in 55-miles. Water temperatures can be very different at different elevations. Sandy River Steelhead spawn at temperature ranges from 43 to 56 degrees. Within the Sandy River Basin, wild steelhead have been observed while spawning from late October into early July. Mid-February through April is the time of major migration and spawning activity.
Early November is Indian Summer in the Sandy River canyon. Days are mid-fifties and nights are in the forties. The first light rains of the fall season raise river levels and many summer steelhead and a few winter steelhead are available. The first wild winter steelhead are some of the most aggressive biters of the year.
November can be a most interesting month as the angler may catch steelhead that have been in fresh water for six months or six days. Their form and color will vary greatly. Most are two salt fish from seven to twelve pounds.
The winter run peaks during the last two weeks in January through the first two weeks in March. This is after the coldest and most fluctual water flows. Historically the major winter floods happen within 30-days on either side of the Winter Solstice. These winter floods clean the riverbed of accumulated summer silts and prepare the gravel for steelhead spawning. Winter steelhead are normally available in fishable numbers through April, and occasional stragglers are caught as late as June. Through the peak of the season water temperatures in the lower river can vary from 44 degrees to 35 degrees with 40 degrees average. By late April, water temperatures average around 50 degrees. Steelhead spawning activity continues until water temperatures exceed 56-degrees. Wild winter steelhead have been observed spawning in the upper basin as late as July 4.
|The best winter trips are by drifting part of the lower 20 miles, although 30 miles of the river is open to angling during the winter.|
|Dressing For Cold Weather Fly Fishing|
|How you dress will make as much difference to your success in winter steelheading as your choice of tackle. Experienced anglers who catch steelhead during the winter months, don't have the time or an inclination to use any but the most practical gear.|
|In the Pacific Northwest, winter steelhead weather can mean rain and lots of it.
The word "rain" turns most people off, because they associated it with discomfort. However, rainy days don't have to be uncomfortable, if you dress properly. Many rainy days can be beautiful. Everything is washed and clean. Rain softens the edges of the landscape. It dampens sound, and a rainy day on the river can be one of personal intimacy. But the best reason to fish in the rain, is that steelhead are more aggressive on cloud-cover days. If you dress correctly, you can be comfortable, even during long days in cold, wet weather.
If you don't dress correctly, you can get cold & wet. As you lose thermal energy, your motor skills will suffer. Warm muscles perform better than cold ones. Dress to keep yourself warm and dry. Keeping your skin surface free from dampness is one of the biggest keys to staying warm. Many people think that preparing for rain only means the addition of a rain coat and chest high waders. The selection of these items are very important, but what you wear under this outer layer is also very important. Any moisture trapped within your clothing will conduct heat away. This means that you not only have to keep the rain out, but your clothing also has to have the ability to disperse your own perspiration.
|When dressing for cold or wet weather fishing; dress from the inside out. The layer of clothing next to your skin is the one you will feel all day.
Maximum perspiration zones are your arm pits, groin and feet. All these areas need special clothing. Your inner layer should be made from synthetic material, such as Simms WaderWick for maximum comfort during moderate temperature conditions. Simms DownUnder Merino Wool Underwear is the best next-to-skin layer for cold weather/water fishing conditions. This inner layer should be soft and designed to wick moisture away from your skin. Remember, this is only the first layer of a multi-layer system that should be designed to adjust to changing climatic conditions.
Never wear cotton clothing under your waders.
Cotton retains moisture and has very little insulation value when damp. It also becomes a medium for fungal infections. The organisms that cause infections such as jock itch and athletes foot can not live in synthetic fabrics. Synthetic materials tend to "pass-through", rather than "retain" moisture from perspiration. Nylon, acrylic and polyester do not retain as much moisture as cotton or silk. Wool is the only natural fiber that will keep you as warm as synthetics. Wool is more expensive and often thought to be less durable than synthetic materials, but Merino Wool has an enthusiastic fan club. Merino Wool fiber is very fine in diameter, therefore soft when touching sensitive body parts. It also displays much warmth per weight.
|Dressing with layers of Synthetic material can further customize the wicking of moisture away from your body. A layer of Simms WaderWick™ or Merino Wool Underwear next to your skin with a layer of Simms WaderWick™ Thermal Fleece over it can keep you roasty-toasty during what would otherwise be inhospitable climatic conditions. Pay special attention to the layers that cover your legs and feet. These extremities are the ones that will be immersed in cold water. When water temperatures are below 50-degrees double layering is recommended. Water temperatures below 40-degrees demand even heavier double-layering.
An insulated shell such as Simms Kinetic Jacket is the ultimate insulation for your body core, and slips inside your waders with ease.
Pay special attention to your socks. Water runs down hill and some of your body perspiration will collect at your feet. This happens much less with breathable waders, but is still a factor, especially if you are hiking between pools. There is no way for wader feet to breath inside your wading shoes. Wader feet are still made from insulating, but non-breathable neoprene.
We like thick wool/nylon blend socks that have a knitted loop pile on the inside which gives them the capacity to retain a lot of loft, even with the squeezing pressure of your waders around them. They act as a reservoir for migrant perspiration but help keep it away from your skin.
Of this type, Outdoor Socks by Fox River are the best we've tested. They are knee length so provide another layer of insulation for the lower leg. Remember, all socks are made from knitted yarns which tend to wash-out as you launder them, thereby loosing loft and insulating qualities. Replace them often for maximum comfort.
Your outer layer is your first layer of defense.
It must be water-proof, but it too must be able to dispel any moisture that might collect inside it. This is accomplished by a special membrane sandwiched between two layers of protective fabric. This membrane is porous so it can breath. The pours are of a diameter that allow smaller gaseous molecules to escape, but will not allow larger liquid molecules to enter.
|Non-breathable waders and rain jackets have all but disappeared from the steelhead fly fishing scene in favor of newer technology fabrics such as Gore-Tex. Because of a revolutionary immersion technology from W.L. Gore & Associates, Gore-Tex keeps water from getting in, yet is very breathable- even when completely submerged and allows sweat and moisture to escape. This keeps your skin dry and helps you retain your body heat. Gore-Tex does not stretch, but the articulated knee design employed in Simms G3 Guide Waders, and G4 Pro Waders allows a streamlined fit with full mobility of the angler. A good fitting pair of waders should mold to your body and give you the most streamlined configuration you can have. This lessens water drag in the currents and makes wading less difficult. Waders with bent knees enable a closer fit than straight-legged waders. For durability, multi-layer construction, is nearly mandatory from the crotch down. Five-layer construction co-developed by W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc. and Simms, was designed specifically for use in fishing waders. Simms/Gore-Tex® waders feature this laminate which results in the most puncture-resistant, most durable, most technologically-advanced breathable waders you can purchase.|
|Wading shoes serve three purposes: to protect your feet, enhance your balance, and traction. The new 2014 model Simms Guide Boots are by far the best that have ever been available. Felt soles with silicone carbide studs are preferred by many anglers. Simms RiverTread™ soles by Vibram® are more durable and offer the option of replacing worn studs or cleats easier. Some guides object to having studded shoes in their pretty boats. If yours is that way, get a different guide. Fly-casting, like many other athletic events, depends on good traction. A selection of proven wading shoes can be found here.
Be sure that your wading shoes fit for maximum support, but have enough room so as not to impair your circulation. Always wear your waders and full under garments when fitting a new pair of wading shoes. Korker's wading shoes allow you to change soles to fit any environment. Remember all of your casting and wading performance starts with the bottom of your feet. If you are slipping and sliding, you can't cast very well and you're bound to get wet and cold.
I grew up in the Idaho Panhandle; from December through March, the temperatures regularly dipped below zero. Lakes developed ice two feet thick and rivers froze from the bottom up- much too cold for fly fishing. Thinking back to those days of yore, that is exactly why I left for the greener climate of Oregon; but living in below zero weather, is a good teacher for any cold weather comfort. You learn to respect your skin, because if any little patch of skin is exposed, it is at risk. You learn to stay covered up. We used wool scarves to cover our necks, faces and ears. Over that we wore billed caps with earflaps, or in the most extreme weather we wore parkas with sheep fleece turned inside. These combinations were perfectly suited for our survival, but heavy to pack around. Incredibly, a lot of this heavy face/head insulation can be replaced by a lightweight Wool Buff; and for normal steelhead fishing weather, a Buff or Redneck made to block the sun is enough insulation to keep wind and rain from finding your sensitive areas.
|Your wading jacket forms the roof over all your innerwear. It must have a weatherproof parka hood. A wading jacket must be impenetrable to rain by keeping water from coming through the fabric shell, and must also be designed to keep water from running down your neck or up your sleeves. A jacket that is rain proof is also wind proof. If the outer shell material will allow perspiration to pass through without allowing rain water to get in, you can remain comfortable in about any kind of weather you will encounter, during productive steelhead fishing.|
We have worn every generation of Simms Guide Jacket since they were first introduced. They just keep getting better and better. The G4 Pro Jacket has proven itself to the most demanding anglers- and has held up against the most demanding conditions. It's made from 3-layer GORE-TEX® Pro Shell fabric, which offers the ultimate in breathability, durability and extended comfort. The Simms G3 Jacket is also proven in harsh conditions and costs about $150 less.
Since your jacket is the outer most shell, it is the most convenient place to carry your gear. Few avid winter steelheaders wear fishing vests. A vest worn on the outside of your jacket gets wet. A vest worn inside your vest is hard to get at. Besides, you don't have to carry that much gear.
For a whole day of steelhead fly fishing, all I carry are: (besides my rod & reel) [1.] A lanyard with a leader clipper, hook file, and nail knot-tying tube. [2.] (1) Medium size box of flies. [3.] Zippered wallet to carry Skagit tips and leaders. [4.] Leader dispenser with 10, 15 and 25 pound test hard, abrasion resistant leader material. All of this gear will easily fit in the breast pockets of a properly designed wading jacket. If these breast pockets are equipped with D-rings, you can attach your tool lanyard, and then drop the tools into the pocket- where they can't get tangled in your fly line.
Don't forget to consider your hands. Simms Skeena Neoprene Gloves are great for cold weather, especially if you are rowing. Both slit-finger and fingerless gloves are appropriate at times. Our latest tests confirm that Simms Exstream Half-finger Gloves are very comfortable & practical for fishing.
|The selection of a hat is of prime importance. It must be waterproof, even though it will be under the hood of your waterproof jacket most of the time. A baseball cap with a bill will shield your glasses from rain and help keep your face moisture free. A waxed cotton baseball cap is very practical- we had these specifically made for that purpose. If the weather is really cold, a cap with ear flaps such as the Simms Gore-tex Extreme Hat is advisable. More: Simms Cold Weather Hats.|
|Lady GaGa Fly|
|Pictured above is Travis Johnson, and one of the largest Steelhead landed from the Sandy River in recent years. This fish measured 42" in length and is in prime condition, (undoubtedly weighs in excess of 25-pounds- a genuine trophy). The fish took a Purple and Pink Lady GaGa while holding in turbid water that was less than three feet deep on a short line, while the river was in flood. Listen to your guide when he tells you to start short, or you may step on the trophy of a lifetime and not even know it, and never- ever run out of Lady GaGa Flies.|
|37-0780-TB||Lady GaGa Intruder, Purple and Pink, 3.5 inches||3 for $10.50||Sale Ended|
|37-0770-TB||Lady GaGa Intruder, Blue and White, 3.5 inches||3 for $10.50||Sale Ended|
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