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Trout & Salmon

Walking A Tight Llne For Steelhead

by Matt Straw   |  June 9th, 2013 0

Notice how red the tag alder is? Mornings have been cold, but the afternoon sun is activating plant growth, creating snow and ice melt, sending water levels upward, and driving intelligent anglers upstream.

Creeks rise, carry muddy water, and dump it into the river. The farther downstream you go, the cloudier the water gets. So the reverse is true, suggesting a sojourn upstream, where trout can see whatever you’re offering from a greater distance.

The previous post revolved around color selection in spring conditions, when water is often rising or higher than normal. In spring the goal is often described as creating a visible target, but the “tightline” is a matter of size: How big of a target will they accept?

The answer, often enough, is “surprisingly big” in rising, cloudy water. As examined here in the past few months, steelhead will take hair jigs, flies, and minnowbaits in excess of 5 inches long even in low, clear water. But those presentations are actively worked, triggering through reflex. Float fishing is different. It’s a form of seduction. Steelhead can swim along with one of our presentations for 100 feet—often twice that.

Vision is only a small part of the equation. Triggering scents, motions, profiles, displacement, and other factors come into play. The discussion on triggering strikes from steelhead by teasing a certain action through puppetry with a float is long, and deserves an article in print.

The discussion on optimum size is equally important. Lures and flies that trigger with size, flash, thump, and water displacement can be much bigger than anything presented in a manner that might be called natural. Natural presentations drift at the speed of the current in that segment of the water column that the bait is travelling in. Not, in other words, at speeds exhibited by the current on top of the stream. Where the float is.

Which suggests manipulation. Steelhead can stare at objects suspended under floats for much longer periods of time. And the things being duplicated by whatever is being drifted under a float are not expected to snap forward, speed up excessively, jerk, or otherwise misbehave. Worms, nymphs, free-drifting eggs and such are somewhat to severely limited in mobility. Best to keep motion to low-energy quivering and twitching.

Did I mention how important puppetry can be? A deft hand at long-distance line and float control is the 10% solution. A dead drift at current speed is the 90% solution. Still, 10% means 10 more steelhead over every 100 opportunities.

If the water is too cloudy, head upstream, above inflowing creeks, monitoring clarity at bridges and along river drives on the way. I stop when I can see my foot 18 inches to 2 feet below the surface. Nice to have some cloudiness. Steelhead allow you to approach much closer. If they can’t see you, you don’t exist.














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