Back before there was a mad rush to simply try to catch one and post it online to show your ‘friends’, good anglers would take the time to do a little observing before simply barging in and wading deep and casting far.
Observation of water, or waters, is sorely lacking in many anglers, and, like the saying, ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ apparently, so it is with water!
Fish doesn’t know what bank you are on, they just know what’s comfy and secure. With Steelhead, life starts with several years of hanging out in the river before the big smorgasbord of the North Pacific, and those years taught them one thing, finding cover and survival!
Why else would a winter Steelhead, in 36-38F (3-4C) water, sit in riffles less than shin deep, or under that log next to shore? Fish don’t think, ‘hey, lets hide under that log over there’, they remember that security, just like they remember to eat things that come drifting towards them, we know they don’t feed during the spawning run, but they still eat. (Big difference)
Every experienced Steelheader has spooked a fish wading in too quickly. (If you haven’t its because you were not paying attention frankly, because it’s happens all too often to most) However, there is an old rule of ‘cast your leader first’ to experienced fishers, yet it’s lost on many that this means they can be anywhere, and not just the far side, and especially in riffles. Ever notice it looks deeper in the far side? Yet if you wade over there you see it’s no different than the side you were on? It’s the perspective of distance and depth playing tricks on your perception of where fish can be.
I used to work for an outfitter who enjoyed his pipe, because it made him enjoy being observant far more. He took the time to sit, stoke his pipe, and watch. Now this was rising fish trout fishing but it still speaks volumes about taking the time to observe, look for fish, watch how currents move, potential threats like snags or wood, or notice small seams and how currents flow through a run.
Using loud or bright flies and following them through the swing visually shows you things you would miss if you couldn’t see how the fly moves through a spot. One can spend a whole day on the water learning new stuff they would miss if they were just blindly flailing away hucking and swinging. There is a reason a Heron moves slowly.
So much emphasis is placed on technique in today’s Steelheading, yet so many need to be like water…my friend