Being methodical simply means, being like a metronome. Tick, tock, Tick, tock, Tick, Tock. Everything you do must be with purpose and thorough. When you walk up to your favorite piece of steelhead water, you have to cover every inch of it. We count steelhead density in the teens on rivers, not the thousands like we do for trout on the Madison. If you miss a piece of water, well, you just may have missed your chance at a steelhead for the day, or even the week. So each cast, each step, each mend needs to be with the sole intent of covering every inch of water.
Being observant, is often the difference between covering a lot of empty water and covering water that holds a fish. Whether that is taking note of where you hooked a fish in the past, or where someone else has. It can also be noticing the environment when you see a fish roll. Look for water that holds fish.
So, with being methodical, we must cover all water, and being observant we cover water that we know holds fish. If you use both of these techniques separately, you are an average steelheader. The "fishy" guys have figured out how to do both. They marry the two and find water that holds fish and cover it methodically. Next I will discuss, how to be methodical in your covering of water.
When I walk up to a particular piece of water that I feel may hold a steelhead, I go through a quick mental checklist.
How far do I need to cast in this run?
How many steps between casts with current water clarity?
Where do I start in this run?
and finally how much time do I have?
In order to cover water completely and effectively, we need to cover all of the water that could hold fish. This is all of it. Well that would take us too long to do. You would have to cast and make little steps all the way to the tail out, and then run over to the other side and do the same. One run could take you all day to cover completely. Well since steelhead density is measured in teens and not thousands of fish per mile, it would be foolhardy to spend all day in one run. So when I walk up to a run I look at the water and decide what water is most likely to hold fish, and I will fish that water effectively. No need to cast 100+feet if the slot is 40’ out. Cast 40’ and cover it completely.
The number of steps between each cast is going to depend on two things. One how clear is the water today? If clarity is two-feet then I would be a fool to step 6 feet between casts. One cast will be out of the steelheads view and the next will be behind him. Step the distance of the clarity. The other factor is, how good is this run? If it is a fish producing machine, i will shorten my steps up and give any fish a second chance to see my fly.
When walking up to a run the first thing we want to do is jump in and start swinging. Don’t! Take a few minutes to look at the run and see where everything is. Where does this run start? Is there a big back eddy just bellow the riffle? (don’t fish the back eddy) Look and find that point where all the water starts to move in the same direction. Start just above there, and work your way through the run from there. I have had several people ask me, “Why don’t you start up there?” Well, it’s because the fish are less likely to be sitting in a spot where they have to fight to hold position. If the water is swirling around like in a back eddy, the fish will have to constantly be maneuvering to hold its spot.
Each minute during the winter season is precious. We only have a limited number of hours during the day. If we spend 4 hours in a run, that run better be a super high percentage one. Your better bet is to do some mental math and find out just how many hours you can spend in each run. If you have a 10 mile float and that float has 5 great runs in it, well you need to divide the time up evenly between runs. If the float has just one great run and several so so runs, then by all means spend the lions share of your time in that run.
Cover every inch of the water you plan on fishing. Be methodical and like a metronome. Don’t get lazy and start 4 stepping through a run. This is where the guys that catch and those that don’t are often separated. I can easily find myself in the later group. I get bored, cold, or mentally fatigued and often find myself moving too fast through a piece of water. Think about swinging for steelhead like you are painting a wall. You want to cover that whole wall with paint. Focus and do just that with the fly. If you cover all the water you have decided to fish effectively, you will increase your odds dramatically. Next month I will go over putting methodical and observant together.