Steelheaders get ready — the season is finally here.

Wipe the dust off your rods and put fresh line on your reels. The cold weather and heavy rains seem to be drawing steelhead in early this year.

Reports of fishing fanatics catching winter run steelhead are coming in left and right from several rivers.

I’ve been waiting to get back to steelhead fishing all summer. I know during salmon season I said catching salmon was my favorite fish, but steelhead is my absolute favorite.

Anybody can put a herring on, troll around and catch salmon — even my wife. The true test of a fisherman is whether he’s willing to fish all day in the freezing rain with numb fingers and toes.

Is he willing to hike miles of river bank? Is he willing to wake up three hours before daylight? And is he willing to do this just for the chance he might not even catch a fish that day?

This is just a glimmer of what it takes to be a steelhead fisherman. I know it sounds like torture, but when the hookup finally comes and the green water explodes with a silver stripe, all the hard work and pain are gone and the only thing you can think about is, “When can I get out and do it again?”

Steelhead is easily the most revered fish in the Northwest. For those of you who haven’t experienced the thrill of a steelhead yet, don’t be discouraged.

Late November through December is the best time of year for beginners to hook into one.

When hatcheries release steelhead smolts they release them all about the same time, hence they all return to the rivers around the same time each year.

December and January are what I call the “Quantity Months” — on Dec. 16 last year we had 26 steelhead on. So, for the average guy or beginning this is the best time of year to get out because it is a lot easier to learn how to fish when there are lots of fish around.

The first river I would start fishing is the Lyre River just outside Port Angeles on Highway 101.

The Lyre is small, but fast moving. The best way to fish here is with a drift fishing setup, corky and yarn with a short leader.

Fish anywhere up or down from the County Park. Any “pocket” that has two feet or more of water, fish it, and when you hook one here be ready to chase it down river.

The next river to try is the Snoqualmie River.

The best place to fish is near Carnation, where the Tukul Creek Hatchery dumps into the Snoqualmie. The most effective technique is float fishing. Use a dink float and pink jigs as hatchery steelhead are suckers for anything pink.

Finally, head down I-5 to the Cowlitz River, fishing below the Blue Creek Hatchery is the best spot here.

The best method is to use corkies and yarn with lots of lead and a long leader (5 to 8 feet). For those of you who claim you’re working too much or have family in town, this is the place to go after everyone is asleep.

We call it “glow balling” – use glow in the dark corkies and fish in the middle of the night.

I’ve had some fantastic nights at Blue Creek, hooking a dozen or more steelhead before midnight, then getting home in time for at least a few hours of sleep before work the next day.

Derek Mills owns and operates bay Street Outfitters in downtown Port Orchard and leads fishing expeditions throughout Western Washington.

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