Thoughts on 12 months of steelhead

Brian Chou, Portland, Oregon

I am very blessed to live in a region of the country that allows me to get out for these amazing fish every month of the year if I choose. Being successful throughout the year, however, requires an open mind and a little bit of creative thinking—and sometimes even being on the water for reasons other than to fish.

Let’s start with the assertion that, to me, there are no hard lines in steelhead fishing. One of the most important things that I have learned from my years in search of these fish is that experimentation not only breaks up the monotony, it works. I don’t strictly fish subsurface in the winter or top water in the summer—reversing these methods has produced for me more often than not when the primary method has yielded no result. In a game where there can be so few points to plot on a graph of conclusion and understanding, confidence can be created by way of creativity. And confidence fishes.

As an angler, adaptability and understanding of how conditions—such as water flow, clarity, air/water temperature and even barometric pressure—can influence the behavior of these fish will help you not only find where the fish are, but how to get them to eat as well.

In an ideal world, fishing pressure would not exist and every fish we swung over would crush a bare hook on the first pass…but we know better. And even in this world, I will say that my choice of fly, in many cases, is tertiary to my water selection and presentation.

That said, my preferred methods of fishing throughout the year are dictated by a combination of factors, including, but not limited to:
1) What flies I want to fish
2) What kind of casting I feel like doing
3) How much I want to deal with people
4) If there is good food nearby or on the way

Also, other than landing a dozen fish over 20lbs, things that contribute to what I define as a successful mission are:
1) The company
2) The scenery
3) Knowing that I covered the water as best I could
4) If there is good food nearby or on the way


Given the growing popularity of our sport, I find it to be interesting how angling pressure has, in a way, forced me to fish differently than how I observe other anglers fishing. I’ve become much more observant of their presentation and how I can either speed up or slow down my pass so as to yield a different response from the fish. In a previous life of mine, this tactic was simply called product differentiation. You can only imagine what happened when these methods were applied on certain non-pressured gems…

I can’t say that I really have a favorite season, because every one has its allure. But I will say that my favorite presentations are big flies in high water, and long, dry-line casts through the riffles in board-shorts.

I love technical water because it forces you to fish and not just cast, although I am a firm believer that there is no downside to becoming a better caster.

Do I carry a loop when swinging flies? Yes. So I can feel the take better.

Learning the different nymphing disciplines drastically improved my success rate and understanding of the water column.

I like clickers not because of their sound (because they can be downright annoying at times), but because of their simplicity and dependability. If my 80 year old reel has not broken yet, its probably not gonna.

I would encourage those just starting out to embrace the many facets of this dark and often frustrating fly fishing endeavor—fly tying, feather dyeing, conservation, line tinkering for example. They not only add accountability to your successes, but can serve as mental exercise between fish.

So can photography. Rain or shine, the scenery we surround ourselves with can be breathtaking. Being able to capture the landscape allows me to revisit it anytime I want, no matter how shitty of a day I’ve had.

Time spent on the water with friends and family is priceless. These are days that I’ll remember forever, from huge camping trips to drives along the river with my daughter, you’ll never know what you can learn about the river or another way to fish the spot, within the spot, within the spot.

Lastly, believe. This isn’t a religious statement, because like politics or how you train your dog, that ain’t my biz. But believe that there are forces out there that we just can’t understand. Karma is very real to me, and so long as I am giving each and every run my best, my turn will come. I once heard that luck is when opportunity meets preparedness.

I couldn’t agree more.

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