Article: A transition game keeps ’em wet…steelhead fishing in oregon

Posted: June 19, 2013 by Hellcat in Fish Reports, Gear Fishing, Salmon, Trout & Steelhead
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By Christopher Heller

The beginning of summer is June 21st and is called the SUMMER SOLSTICE. This is the prime time of year to shine up your transition game for steelhead fishing as opportunities while the spring chinook become plentiful, hopefully, and can be located within a short drive of most of our front doors.

Unlike steelhead fishing in the winter months (when we might fish as many as eight or nine different rivers in a season) the number of rivers that support the runs we covet and also hold enough water in an average year to target productively shrink to a select few. Productive as they may be you must prepare an adequate game plan including one that includes an effective and well executed ‘transition game’.

A well executed transition game is something that continues to increase overall catch numbers in my drift boat. It’s a way of ensuring you target, cover and methodically break apart the water in front of you at all times. While you can certainly apply a transition game to a fishing hike you’re taking up or down your favorite river it’s best described in full effectiveness from the perspective of a drift boat angler. Primarily.

CREATE YOUR PLAN: Often decisions must be made quickly and swiftly especially on the float. Your chances of accurately casting into proper placement will expire before you realize it. With PRIOR proper preparations, especially on a familiar river, is easy to make sure you don’t miss any chances to capitalize on what could always a fish on the next cast.

Let’s assume you would like to target both springers and summers in the same water. Obviously we’ve all caught spring or summer salmon while fishing with steelhead gear using steelhead tactics. But to most effectively target tributary salmon you are going to gear up much differently than the last ‘steelhead only’ trip you took. Your salmon efforts will most likely be unaffected and will still be limited to predictable chinook water allowing you to bobber fish, back bounce, bait and diver or plug etc. For the purpose of this example your transition rods will be two or three light to medium weight, fast taper hardware rods. They can be spinning or casting based on your own game and comfort. I will use both depending. It’s these two or three rods that are always rigged with spinners or spoons and ready to throw.

In this case it’s the drift boat captain’s job to orchestrate all of this. Calling when and where to cast. Be specific to your anglers and use your oar to alert casting direction. This all becomes more urgent in fast, white water where your chances are brief at best. It’s often this water that is passed up, as the oarsman powers through to the next hole and the anglers prepare their fresh new baits, that is the best opportunity for a transitioning summer steelhead blasting up river as they do so with notoriety.

Keeping as many rods ‘wet’ or in the water as possible is critical to consistency. Perhaps you’re transition rods are rigged with bobbers and jigs. That’s cool too. Drift rods with small rags? Cool. Just make sure you have something for the offering at all times. Like a well oiled team communication between everyone is key and often it’s the anglers instructing the boat captain on something they saw. A direction they’d like the boat to face for a quick cast. Don’t overlook short flips off the back corner of the boat especially if boulders are present along with turbidity. We’ve hooked fish almost right under the boat in gin-clear water when we weren’t expecting it. Without dragging that spinner through that transition water..while we were transitioning…we’d have never hit that fish on the head.

When you connect with a fish in a transition situation, no matter the method, you must remember to remain calm. Everyone must remain calm. Your chances of landing the fish increase with everyone’s help and that is best accomplished calmly. If it’s a wild fish you’ve hooked then you’re ensuring it’s survival with proper handling. If it’s a hatchery fish you can hit on the head then you’re best to swoop it up with a long handled net at your first given chance as dropping your anchor can only create havoc once the fish finds that anchor rope.

Either way by remaining calm and communicating you should be able to do this and even shoot film if necessary. It’s important you land your steelhead before entering your next salmon hole which is another reason for an experienced netter on a long handled net.

The main thing I’m hoping you take away from this is a sense of excitement to maybe try something new…if only just a little. Maybe your next trip out you do so well you turn your transition game into your primary game? Nah. Springers are tough not to prioritize. 🙂


  1. Derek Reed says:

    Great article Chris. Alot of good to know facts for uping my game the next time im on the water in search for salmon and steelhead.

  2. Death Dealer says:

    Great article Chris such a great breakdown of how people need to communicate to achieve maximum safety and ensure successful bonk of fish. Seems like that’s how the last few trips of ours have been running really really smooth. The transition rods at the ready has proven very effective. Dry gear doesn’t catch fish.

  3. Great article and like you said, never has this been more apparent than on a driftboat. I’m mostly a bank junkie but lately have had the opportunity to fish out of a driftboat. It’s a whole different ballgame for organizing and prioritizing casts as I am dependent on the oarsman to put me in front of the water I want to fish. I’m all for the transition game.

  4. HotWhls55 says:

    Goodness Gracious – Content Content Content! What an awesome and well written article, which I have consequently committed to memory!
    I also like the idea of bringing transition rods/tackle on any trip, though I’m not in a boat and it creates an adventure billy goat’n the bank… it lays weight to knowing, “I didn’t miss” any section of water.

  5. Donaca says:

    Great article. I went out for first time the other day for summers before lunch no fish but nice way to start the morning.

  6. Hellcat says:

    Good work getting out Donaca!

  7. Hellcat says:

    Thanks for all the comments guys!

  8. Chromehammer says:

    Put the aforementioned pointers into work each time you float a river and your catch rates will increase exponentially. Heller has been in this game for a minute, take note, he knows what’s up. I put this methodology into action each time I float, topped with an aggressive approach and am always rewarded in the end. Great piece Hellcat brother man!

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