Its first light on a late June day, cool enough to need an light jacket but warm enough to be comfortable in jeans. The vibrant colours of spring are still strong on the forest growth and the summer steelhead is making its way into the runoff enlarged rivers that the fish call home.
Early summer run fishing is much like late winter run fishing in April and May. Warmer temperatures and longer days beg for persistent anglers to come to the rivers and enjoy their metallic bounty. River conditions can range from low and clear to high and off coloured depending on location and snow pack from the chilling winter months. Most local early summer run rivers though will still be somewhat high with runoff and because of that the water temps will still be quite cool. Many runs of summer steel rely on this warmer high water time to help them navigate the falls and heavy rapids that prevent the winter steelhead from ascending the same waterways.
Tactics for early summers are surprisingly similar to the methods used for winter steel since the water conditions are similar. Bright 1/8 oz jigs like a cerise/white rabbit fur jig fished aggressively through pockets and choppy runs can result in some fast action should the fish be around. The early summer run is in no hurry to make it to the spawning beds and this in turn provides the angler with supreme sport. Slowly traveling fish that frequently stop to rest are supreme biters where as the late winter fish of early spring usually only has one thing on its mind, make it to the redd! Occasionally while searching for the early summer prize an over eager winter kelt will be encountered. These fish are highly aggressive and on the feed trying desperately to fuel their bodies until they can make it back to the buffet that the ocean provides for them. It is not all that uncommon to catch both a down river kelt and an ultra bright summer run on the same trip, occasionally even from the same hole! Kelts should be left to complete their journey back to the ocean in peace and if concentrations of them are stumbled upon it is best to find a new area to seek out the chrome fish of summer.
Fast forward to the dog days of summer. Blistering summer heat has drastically reduced the rivers flows to almost a trickle. With the relentless heat comes higher water temperatures and an increasingly spooky and wary steelhead which can be the most difficult conditions of all for the summer angler. Fortunately for the , most rivers that support runs of summer steel have large sections of canyon waters that shade the riffles and pools and add much needed oxygen to the water with their steep drops and crashing rapids.
Tactics to take these extreme low water fish are much more refined than during the run off days early in the season. Light lines in the 6-8lb class, small subdued coloured jigs like 1/16 oz skunk patterns and tiny natural coloured floats are the ticket now. Extreme short floating where the jig is 2' to 4' off of the river bottom will produce great results and submarining floats. Long down river drifts or casting well up stream of the holding waters is necessary to prevent spooking the fish during these times. The ultimate experience is spot and stalk fishing. Carefully scanning the flows in search of a fish then making the stealthy approach and enticing the fish to your subdued and natural presentation. A 1/16 oz crayfish imitating pattern using olive and burnt orange marabou can work wonders during these times often rivaling a black/pink rabbit jig.
With an increase in water temps comes an increase in the fight of the fish. While the early summer fish may barely clear the water, the later summer fish will jump with wild abandon clear of the water, usually more than once. Blistering runs combined with line testing pin wheeling and numerous full body out of the water jumps put these fish ahead of the pack when it comes to fight time. Anglers must also be aware that water temperatures can get too high during these times of the year to safely angle for the summer run steelhead. When the mercury creeps into the low 60F range it is in the best interest of the fish to either retain your catch or not fish at all as mortality rates climb steeply with the increasing temperatures.
Jigs for summer steelhead, easy, effective and down right fun to fish! Enjoy the bounty of our rivers but please be careful with our resource as the summer steelhead is a rare and precious gem of the river.