Steelhead river getting too crowded? Target these secret fish-holding spots that most anglers overlook


Fall steelhead will often hold in spots they also used during the spring migration


If your home waters take an arse-kicking during the fall migrations, one of the best things you can do is explore the rivers well before the migration even begins. How early? I generally start in late July or early August, when the water is at its lowest. If you’re stuck in a heatwave and the tributaries are dry, there’s no better time to go scouting for steelhead hideouts. Also keep in mind that a particularly wet spring, with high runoff, can drastically reshape a river’s characteristics. So for that reason alone, I walk my favourite rivers at least once a year during summer, in case the spring floods created new hiding spots.

What exactly should you search for? For starters, take a walk both upstream and downstream of the popular fishing spots that are lined with anglers during the weekends. As you’re walking, look for nooks and crannies that seem like they could hold a handful of steelhead when the water gets much higher. One common spot is where a couple of boulders create a tongue, just big enough to fit two or three steelhead underneath. Shallow logjams or broken retaining walls can also be good.


Another one of my favourite places is where erosion has exposed the clay on the river bottom. Steelhead will often position themselves where the rocky bottom meets the clay, usually on a bend in the river, making them practically invisible. Add a tree hanging over the water to provide shade and protection from predators above, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

To really get the lowdown on spots such as these, I often peer into them using a GoPro camera mounted on a broom handle. You wouldn’t believe how many boulders on my favourite stream have spaces under them just big enough to hide a steelhead. But without seeing them for yourself during low-water scouting missions, you’d never know these spots were even there.

Sometimes when the camera doesn’t give me a good overall sense of an area, I’ll go snorkelling instead to get the full scoop. Some years ago while doing this, I discovered a crack in the foundation of a bridge support, directly beneath a major highway. I had already suspected something was going on beneath the surface there—the previous autumn, I watched a large, fresh steelhead approach the support then literally disappear. As it turned out, the crack was large enough to hide a half-dozen fish during the fall run. That was in 2014, and since then I’ve watched plenty of folks walk right past it, not once stopping to fish.


As a bonus, these same spots where steelhead hide during the fall, also act as fantastic holding areas during the peak of the spring migration, when the fish are bent on getting as far upstream as possible in the shortest amount of time.