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Event Article: Fishing the Smith River

Chasing Winter Steelhead on the Smith River (continued)


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 first fish


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 extremely clean


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 donít 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 zone.


The fish were so fresh that they still had some sea lice


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