Be Aware of the Cold – Winter Steelhead Fishing NY

two anglers with a big fish, caught while winter steelhead fishing NY
Brian Kelly and Tim Brooks with a fine catch while winter steelhead fishing NY on the Salmon River.

Watch Temperatures While Winter Steelhead Fishing NY

Fishing for winter steelhead can be a maddening affair at times. One day they bite really well, only to go quiet the next.  It’s enough to make you shake your head and wonder why you left a warm bed for all of this.  But don’t fret; paying attention to the weather details can help you choose the right time to be on the water and cash in on a hot bite window.  Experienced anglers have learned these tricks after years of watching the weather and piecing together the weather puzzle after good days and bad.  Here are a couple factors to pay close attention to:

Check the Barometer 

Barometric pressure affects steelhead in the winter more than any other time of the year, due to the stationary nature of winter steelhead.  Winter steelhead are holding far more than they are moving or migrating, so keeping an eye on the barometer will help you be on the water at peak times. It’s always important to keep a barometer in with the rest of your steelhead fishing gear, especially in the winter.  Here’s some advice from Chris Mulpagano, a long time fishing guide on the Salmon River who has been winter steelhead fishing NY for over 20 years:

Find the Sweet Spot

Man poses with large fish while fishing for winter steelhead
Chris Mulpagano says stable weather conditions are the best fishing for winter steelhead despite a frosty morning.

“First, try to avoid fishing in extremely low pressure (under 29.50) or high pressure situations (over 30.10).  These tend to have a negative effect on the fish’s moods, and will put them off the bite for prolonged periods of time.  Calm, stable weather periods are best, as the fish will be in a comfortable and biting mood.  Look for a barometer range of 29.90 to 30.05; this means stable weather and a consistent bite.” 

Changing Pressure

Chris also offers this advice– “Watch for an incoming or outgoing system that causes the barometer to rise or fall.  Some of the best action can be when a prolonged high pressure begins to move out of the area and the barometer starts to fall.  This pressure change is the trigger to a hot bite.”  Generally, paying close attention to the barometer in you steelhead fishing gear this winter will put the odds in your favor.

Water Temperature Matters 

Water temp is another variable to consider for winter steelheading.  Winter water temps in the Great Lakes can range from a low of 32.5 to 36 degrees in most streams. Like a barometer, it’s smart to keep a water thermometer accessible in your steelhead fishing gear.  

Rivers with hydroelectric dams tend to have a more constant temperature range throughout the winter.  Since these dams draw water from the top of the lake that they create, the water temp usually stays in a range of 33 to 35 degrees.  Obviously, this will change the farther away you get from the dam, as feeder creeks can warm the water by a few degrees, or extremely cold weather can freeze up the lower ends of these river systems.

Feeder Creeks Keep Fishing Open

The advantage to fishing such streams is that you can fish them all winter long, since the flows from the dam keep them from freezing up.  The disadvantage is that they take much longer to warm up, so you may not see any fresh fish for a longer period of time.  The Salmon River is a prime example– the upper river towards Altmar will stay open all winter, while the lower river towards Pulaski can jam up with ice and slush during a prolonged cold snap.

Changing Temperatures mean Changeable Fishing Conditions

Rivers that free flow for a long distance or aren’t influenced by a power dam can warm and cool much more quickly. This can result in fresh runs of steelhead in the middle of winter if the weather turns mild and warms the stream quickly. The problem is, when confronted with long stretches of below-freezing temps, these streams tend to ice over and stay that way until spring. The Sandy Creeks in Jefferson County fall under this category.  Either way, there are plenty of opportunities to catch steelhead all winter long in a variety of stream types throughout the region.

Time of Day

The final factor to consider when fishing for winter steelhead, is the time of day that you are going to fish.  The old adage of fishing the middle of the day in the wintertime often holds true, as this is the warmest part of the day and the fish can become very active from late morning until early afternoon.  This is especially true on rocky streams with very little or no groundwater influence.  Often these streams will be full of slush and ice until the heat of the day melts them off.  It’s no coincidence that this is usually the time when you’ll find a steelhead or two willing to bite your offering. 

Finding The Right Fly Fishing Spot

Another point to keep in mind when fishing for winter steelhead is finding a pool that sees direct sunlight in the winter.  Watch the angle of the sun during the warmest part of the day to see which of your favorite pools get the majority of the sun.  Those that get the best light at the best time tend to produce better than the rest.

However, there are times when the fish ignore the rules and bite well at first light no matter how cold it is.  This was the case on the Salmon River several years ago when Chris and I found a hot pod of the fish that hit everything we threw at them, even in single-digit temperatures!

Find Your Fly Fishing Pattern

Once you find a winter steelhead fly fishing pattern that works when you’re winter steelhead fishing NY, stick with it. Winter steelheads tend to be creatures of habit, and you can take advantage of this by paying attention to the details. It’s these details that separate the 5% of the anglers who catch 95% of the fish from the rest of the pack while fly fishing for steelhead.

Enjoying the Solitude 

Some enjoy the peace and solitude of fishing for winter steelhead more than any other season.  Maybe it’s the solitude, or the peaceful, scenic surroundings that draw some to the river in the winter.  No matter what the call, it is a great time to get rid of the cabin fever and bend the rod.  Just like fishing for these magnificent fish at other times of the year, knowing where to look and what steelhead fishing gear to use while you are winter steelhead fishing NY, can lead to some fantastic opportunities.

Original Article By Brian Kelly

About the Author

Brian Kelly has chased steelhead from British Columbia to New York and enjoys teaching others about this great sport, as well as testing his skill on new waters.

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