Dancing With The Chocolate Beast (High Water In Steelhead Country)


Rivers are climbing over their banks and invading our forests at the behest of the Chocolate Beast. The Beast comes around most years at spring time, and is best exemplified by high water carrying lots of sediment, resulting in less than 6 inches of visibility.


With a six-inch window of visibility in front of your face, what would you do? Run down the middle of Main Street? Stroll confidently down the sidewalk? Play a game of pickup basketball? Right. Here's what you would do: Shut down, hide, and wait. If you had a really hot date planned, you might start hours early and inch your way there, clinging to hand rails and edging along buildings wherever you could.

Steelhead, which are apparently less stupid than about 90% of the angling public thinks they are, won't be running down Main Street when the Chocolate Beast hits town either. Good way to get smacked with a log. They'll be on the sidewalks. On the edge closest to the main part of the lawn. In the thinnest water you'll find them in all year.


Truth is, you've probably never experienced six inches of visibility for any extended period of time, while steelhead do it somewhere — maybe "mostwheres" — every spring. Out the window, I see 3 or 4 more inches of snow piling on top of the 5 inches we received early yesterday morning. It's melting fast. In other regions, the precip came down as rain. As I peruse the USGS flow charts for rivers across the Great Lakes region, I see the footprints of the Chocolate Beast everywhere I look. I circle the spots it hasn't reached yet, pack up and head in that direction. Still — I'll be faced with high water.

Our friend Stan Blood wrote to me this week. Said he and Jim Hummel were planning on climbing aboard the SS Sidney and drifting some rivers, but he was worried about water levels. Here was my reply:

When the water's up in spring, one of the spots where I've done really well is the stretch between Hommina Hommina and the next bend upstream (1/6 mile up or so). I know, I know — it's "shallow." But:

A/ There's gravel there.

B/ When the water's up, it's plenty deep.

C/ When the water's normal, it's "nothing water," so everybody ignores it, even guides, because they're not accustomed to fishing there — never caught a fish there.

One of many, many such spots I know of where steelhead hold in high water and where nobody else ever seems to bother them..

Like the tailout of Back of Beyond, way down there, where nobody ever fishes because it's too thin in most conditions. But, when the water's up, it's just right. Has gravel.

Think about spots like that and you'll do better than anyone else on the river. Even guides often get trapped by thinking the best spots are relatively the same no matter what the conditions are. In high water, fish where you normally wouldn't. Fish where your mind is trying to tell you it's too shallow.

I relish high water until it develops into the Chocolate Beast, because it puts fish in positions where other people want to stand, in parts of holes and runs fish never otherwise use — in entire stretches of river the fish never otherwise use.

Go to the bend below the Cedars of Hammertime (can't touch this....). From there all the way down to the next bend. Every drift boat will float right on through there, because you can normally see bottom all the way across, but it can be packed with steelhead this time of year.

High water is tough for a lot of people, 'cause they look for love in all the wrong places.

(I realize most of you don't know where the Hommina Hommina Hole, or the Back of Beyond is. But that's ok. Stan does.)

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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