Fishing the Smith River
Chasing Winter Steelhead on the Smith River
We previously targeted Salmon
and Steelhead two years ago with Gary on the Klamath, and earlier this season he
won the Guide Tournament on the Klamath, a river that he specializes in. The
Smith Steelhead are among the largest in the state and the river holds the
record at 27lbs 4oz as proof. The average Smith River steelhead comes in around
10 - 12lbs with fish in the teens being common place. Many steelhead in the 20+
lb range are caught each year between the Winter and Spring. The average Chinook
salmon caught on the Smith weighs 20-40 pounds but fish over 80 pounds have been
caught on the river. The Rowdy Creek fish hatchery supplement the natural runs
of both Steelhead and Salmon.
An example of our bait, a bit of
yarn and some roe finished with a fish pill
Gary has been fishing the
Smith just as long as he has been on the Klamath and though the two rivers are
geographically close to one another they are totally different animals. For
starters access on the Smith is better and anglers can be found along both
shorelines up and down the river, but no gas powered craft are allowed on this
rather narrow river so drift boats are the norm which allows anglers to cover
the most water in a single day.
Zander kicks things off with the
Over 90% of the guides we saw
on the river were using Willie branded drift boats which feature thick aluminum
hulls. It quickly became clear why aluminum was favored over glass on the Smith,
the rocks are absolutely huge on the river, and coming into contact with these
rocks both when launching and fishing is routine.
Gary and Zander move to the shore
for a photo op
When we met up with Gary it
was 6am and we were in total darkness and rain when we launched the boat. He
rowed the boat up onto the opposite bank and we prepped the gear and waited for
the first light. We had one fly rod in the boat, three spinning rods and one
baitcast outfit. Though many anglers target fish with flies on the Smith the
river is known for humbling even world class fly fishermen. Unlike the Klamath
where fish will readily take a fly the Smith requires anglers to really tickle
the fish to strike.
On the very next drift Cal hooks
into a nice hen
Over twenty years ago the
river was fished primarily with plugs but that all changed with the advance of
the side drifting technique. Today side drifting roe or even just a bit of yarn
and a Fish Pill out of a drift boat is the method of choice for targeting
Steelhead. Most anglers employ ball weights or Slinkys to prevent snagging and
use a fluorocarbon leader tied on a free moving swivel on top of the weight.
Once we were properly geared up Gary rowed up the side of the bank and with the
rain pouring down we made our way up to the top of a riffle and cast our lines
into the edge of a seam.
The fish on the Smith were
Keeping the lines parallel
and well spaced is key to a proper presentation and we made sure that our rods
were pointed ahead of the line to maintain the proper bait appearance, you don’t
want your bait to drag or appear unnatural. Like a moving sidewalk the lines
moved down the river at a consistent and the drift boat moved parallel to the
baits at almost the exact same speed, making it easy to keep our baits in the
The fish were so fresh that they
still had some sea lice
Section: Hook it up and reel, reel fast!