Steelhead in High Water – 5 Tips

Lots of steelhead get caught in water like this.

We’ve written in the past about how to approach steelhead fishing when the water is low. Today we’ve got the other end of the spectrum – here are 5 things to keep in mind when the water is high!

  1. Go fishing. Nobody ever caught a steelhead sitting at home on their couch. Don’t give up just because you don’t have 3 feet of visbility. The fish are still out there, just in different places. If the river’s in flood stage and conditions are dangerous, be safe and stay away. Otherwise, get out there!
  2. Fish a short line. When the river’s low, the best holding water for steelhead is often out in the middle of the river in the main current. When the river is high, they still prefer the same kind of water – only now, that water is often right up against the bank. Fish aren’t going to fight massive flows in the middle of the runs when the water is up, so keep your line short and cover the juicy holding water that’s now often 5 to 40 feet in front of you.
  3. Fish lighter tips. Contrary to what your intuition may tell you, you generally don’t need to be too deep when the water is up. With less clarity and higher flows, steelhead feel safer in shallower, softer water. That means that dredging may put your fly beneath the fish. On the end of that short line that you’re casting, fish a lighter sinktip. You may be surprised at what you find in not very much water.
  4. Fish big flies. Here’s your chance to break out the giant Intruders! Those big profile flies were designed for conditions in which it takes a big fly to get the attention of the fish. Go big. The right colors will depend on the river that you’re fishing, but in general, darker colors tend to be more visible in dirty water.
  5. Look for soft water. You already know that you should mostly be fishing a shorter line to stay out of the really heavy current. Steelhead like softer water when the level is up, so you should be on the lookout for it at all times. Maybe it’s right up against the bank. Maybe it forms on the edge of a big current seam. Maybe you should think about checking out a big back eddy. Think like a fish – where are the comfortable holding spots when the main river has all that current? Fish there.
More Steelhead Fishing Tips


  1. scott owens says

    I agree with fishing near the edges in high water, usually works well for me. I truly enjoy fishing in water that is flowing above normal. Many times while fishing for kings on the Salmon river one must be careful about getting in the water too early in the morning before one can see where the fish are at…usually three feet off the bank and it is not unusual for the kings to bump into your legs as they move up stream. What fun!


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