Steelhead Flooding into Tributaries in North Central Washington

By Brad Wagner | 02/26/2014

As they say March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, and with that in mind we are expecting some ferociously good fishing for steelhead this March on the Wenatchee and Methow rivers. As the water on these two rivers warms up and gets closer to the warmer water on the Columbia River all the steelhead that have been hanging out in the warm fertile waters of the Columbia (where food is plentiful) start heading upstream. These fish are heading up the crisp, clear water to spawn in the perfect gravel beds of the upper stretches of the Wenatchee and Methow rivers.

I will be splitting my time between both rivers as spring sometimes will produce storms that will put a river in less than perfect shape. It’s a huge benefit to have two rivers close together with such different drainage basins. In short, if the Wenatchee river is high and dirty, the Methow will probably be fishable or will become fishable sooner than the Wenatchee as it has a much smaller and higher in elevation drainage basin. With that said, we are left with very few days that we can’t fish so we can schedule days well ahead of time with a degree of certainty that we will be able to give our clients a quality day of fishing.

Now that you are on your way over to fish the Wenatchee area there’s a few things to remember about these river systems. These rivers have ESA listed steelhead. Wild fish need to be treated especially careful. It’s against the law to remove these fish from the water. They are to be immediately released after being landed. However, the bonus is there are lots of hatchery fish available for harvest also and you are not only expected to but required to retain all hatchery steelhead. The purpose being that Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife does not want these hatchery steelhead to breed with the wild fish. So come on over and do wild steelhead a favor by catching hatchery fish!

Both of these gorgeous mountain rivers feature crystal clear water and freestone landscapes. The layout of the rivers is as beautiful as it gets. They are navigable by either raft or a hard drift boat. The Wenatchee is larger than its’ cousin the Methow. Therefore, there are stretches that are much easier with a drift boat than the steeper boulderier Methow river. I usually am using my Star raft with full fishing frame in either river, but the Methow is mostly known as a raft river, while the Wenatchee river has more drift boat stretches.

We fish both rivers with similar gear. Both rivers bait and scent is strictly prohibited and highly enforced as well as single barbless hooks. Sadly, our BorX o Fire eggs and Fire Brined coon shrimp are out and will be saved for our Columbia river steelhead fishery.

The setup I use is a very simple one. First off, the bobber rods I use are Fetha Styx Chrome 1002. It’s a 10′ light action rod very well balanced with a Flueger spinning reel. And we use a floating braid super line that makes mending when bobber fishing easy and ensures a drag free drift as well as great feel when fighting these prized fish. I tie on a about 15 feet of 10lb mono. I like regular mono and not a fluorocarbon line as the fluorocarbon seems to break to easy when getting the slightest knick, this is a arguable point but I have tried many, many different lines and I feel this works best for what I am doing.

That leads us to jig selection. We could do a blog with multiple pages about jig selection. Bright days, bright jigs or contrast and there are hundreds of theories with all of them right sometimes and none of them right all the time. When I fish each person has two rods: one set up with a bright jig and one with a darker jig. I also adjust the profile of the jig so if one jig is not fishing hopefully the other one will be fishing well. For this late season I like maribou jigs in blacks and pink and also Areojigs in oranges and pinks also as well as the good ole pink worm under a float. As we get later in March egg pattern jigs and beads will be fishing well!

So now that you have made the trip over and got some nice hatchery fish these are going to produce some of the finest spring chinook eggs you can ever ask for. There are many, many good egg cures out there but here is a link to my favorite cure for spring chinook I would definitely try that out as we are looking forward to great run forecasts here on the Icicle river in Leavenworth and hopefully your spring chinook river also.

Brad Wagner operates Bobber Down Guide Service. For more info on his North Central Washington steelhead trips please fish