Looks like we’re finally getting back to a more typical winter season here in Southern Oregon – with snow, rain and variable flows. For the past couple months, however, we’ve all been struggling through low and clear conditions. The main question in these conditions is: how do you get it done during a low and clear winter?
The answer, truthfully, is actually fairly simply. At least the answer I was able to find over the past few weeks. First of all, notice how the flows are almost identical to summer flows.. Because the water’s so cold, they most likely won’t be found in as many shallow riffles as the summer, but most of the soft, deep inside water you get them in throughout the fall run will still hold fish. So don't reinvent the wheel just because it's winter - don't fish T-14 or a heavy fly unless the run calls for it (a lot of runs don't).
So how do you present a swung fly to them? Lately I've had decent luck with 12.5ft of T-8
and natural colored intruders – including olive, brown and tan. Steelhead love natural colors in low water year round. But I know a few people who fish even lighter tips than that and are finding fish. The main thing is that you do not want your fly to be ticking bottom at any point in the swing, all the way to the bank. There is an element of reading water that is required in a low and clear winter. In my mind it has mainly to do with whether you think fish will be holding near the bank or out in a slot off the bank. If you feel they are holding further out and deeper, get the fly down to them quick. But if you feel they're hanging in the soft inside water, I often fish a fly like the one below with a really light sink tip so that it comes all the across.
For a rod, I’ve been using the Sage Mod 7130 as of late. It’s just a joy to cast all day long because it’s light and responsive but has the backbone to make further casts and handle the bigger winter fish we all hope to find. I've fished quite a few different heads on this rod, but I just keep coming back to the Rio Skagit Max 500 because it just seems to load the rod perfectly. The moderate action of the rod, mixed with the load of a 500 grain head just makes it a dream to cast.
The main thing in low and clear conditions in my mind are:
1) Don't Fish Too Heavy
2) Fish Natural Colors
3) And enjoy the process, because that's what it's all about.
Words and Images by Marcus Mattioli
Guide Stuart Warren and Angler Miranda Stiles Featured in Photos
For more current river conditions and fishing updates, feel free to give us a call at (541) 488-6454