This Tuesday Tip is brought to you by Mia Sheppard, accomplished fly-fishing guide, champion spey caster, mother, and a lover of wild places.
Big, wide rivers like the Lower Deschutes in Central Oregon or the Clearwater in Idaho can be difficult to read. I like to break big water down into pieces. Instead of seeing a huge run, my minds eyes would see smaller more telling features. Instead of seeing a river 200’ wide, I only notice the juicy water from 3’ to 50’ out. Such as, the soft, smooth current, on the inside of a fast moving seam or the slick tail-outs above a rapid, These are the places that steelhead will tend to lie and where I focus my hunt. The premium runs!
A run is defined as a piece of water from the head where the riffle starts, to the tail out that blends into the next riffle.
Within a run there can be structure – rocks, ledges, soft steams, fast and slow water. River currents fluctuate based on volume of water, depth, and shape of a river bottom. Rocks create structure, waves, and soft seams. Transitional zones or seams are places were the water is tamed and moving slower, usually at the head of a run were the heavy current running farther out and the dead water along the bank come together.
A good time to become familiar with a run is when the river is LOW. This is when I float down a river and identify rocks and structure and imagine were a steelhead will park itself. I only know if a spot is a premium run after fishing it numerous times and it starts kicking out some nice yields.
Where a steelhead is going to hold is the million-dollar question.
This depends on if they are moving or resting. If water temperatures are between 55*-65* fish are going to be holding in faster, more oxygenated water. If water temperatures are low, between 35* and 45* summer steelhead will hold in the slower, soft water that acts much like the fish. Lethargic.
Typically, I look for a run with soft water, defined as a walking pace. I also look for basketball sized boulders or bigger. Any water interrupted by structure is good. The gravity feds rushing downhill blast of hydraulics into the spaces and this is where a steelhead will be, looking to chill for a worthwhile rest. Anyplace that provides enough cover to give them a sense of security is water worth fishing.
Learning to read river and find the premium runs is similar to learning how to drive a car. You need to learn to control the car and pay attention to the changing condition in weather, roads, and speed signs. With water, you’re learning how to control the fishing line in that moving water. Marty Sheppard, a year-round steelhead guide explains, “use your line to help you read the current. When you make a fishing cast and the fly hits the water watch the line and see what it does.”
To have success at steelhead fishing, focus on the premium runs and fish it well.
Mia grew up in Tennessee, where she hiked and chased trout in the Great Smoky Mountains. But eventually, she discovered snowboarding, after which she spent years chasing powder from Truckee, California to Girdwood, Alaska. Then in 1996, she acquired a serious interest in fly fishing. Later, in 2001, her husband Marty Sheppard introduced her to two-handed spey casting—a pursuit that forged Mia’s connection and admiration to Oregon’s wild steelhead. Finally, in 2003, the couple purchased Little Creek Outfitters, an established guide service since 1984, where they continue the tradition of guiding anglers to the region’s steelhead, trout, and smallmouth bass. With a strong passion to get more women and kids involved in the sport of fly-fishing, she conducts women specific fly fishing and Stand Up Paddle board trips, as well as a Kids River Camp on the John Day River.
Always committed to conservation, Little Creek Outfitters practices Leave No Trace and minimizing plastic. Mia is also a river steward for the Native Fish Society, Conservation Chairman of the International Women’s Fly Fishers, as well as a supporter of the Deschutes River Alliance, Trout Unlimited, and Casting for Recovery. Mia is an ambassador for Simms Fishing, Winston Rods, Airflo Lines, Keep Em Wet Fishing and Boggs Trail Butter