By Andy Martin
When you can sit on anchor all day in high water and still boat three to five steelhead, you know the winter steelhead run on the Smith River is shaping up to be a big one.
With high water for the past couple of weeks, steelheaders have been forced to plunk from shore or anchor their drift boats in the slower water between Ruby and the county ramp off Fred Haight Drive and wait for fish to come to them.
Some of the guides plunking from their drift boats landed five or more steelhead each of the past few days.
Those who ventured up to the Forks to side-drift battled high water with marginal results.
The Smith has been unexpectedly high because of melting snow.
But as the river drops this week, expect side-drifting to produce multiple-fish days as peak season arrive on the Smith.
Plunking from drift boats
The Smith River is a side-drifter's dream, but during high water, plunking is the way to go. Anyone who has tried to side-drift in high water knows it's tough to get fish when the river is flowing fast and the fish are holding right next to shore.
But anchoring in the slower water created by bends in the river can be very productive during high flows.
If the gauge reads over 17 feet, your best bet will be launching at Ruby and finding a good place to anchor.
Steelhead will take the easiest path upriver. They aren't going to swim in the heavy current, but will instead follow the current seams and slip upstream in those pockets close to shore.
When plunking from a boat, you have an advantage over plunking from shore, especially when there are three anglers on board.
By spreading the baits out, with one on each side and another straight off the bow, you are creating a wall of lures that steelhead will run into. Steelhead will often hit a bait in front of them instead of slipping around.
The most popular Smith River plunking set-up is a half-and-half, also known as a 50-50 or stop-and-go Spin-N-Glo fished with small cluster of roe. The half-and-half Spin-N-Glo is yellow and red.
Early in the morning or during low visibility, the Spin-N-Glos with white wings, or wings painted black with a permanent marker, seem to work well. As the sun hits the water, shiny mylar wings are the way to go.
You want to use enough weight, either on a slider or a dropper from a three-way swivel, to keep the bait from being pushed up to the surface when the rod is in the holder.
You can also runs small plugs, like FatFish, Wee Warts or K11x Kwikfish when anchor fishing.
When the river first begins to fall after a heavy rain, there will be a lot of debris in the water. It's vital to remove any grass or leaves that catch on the line.
Now that the Wild River's Coast is getting some rain-free weather, side-drifting will become more effective.
While the river is still relatively high, it's important to make sure you are using enough weight to get down. You want to feel your weight tap bottom at least every 5 to 7 seconds.
Slightly larger clusters of roe also may work better during high flows.
Fish will also be found in different areas, often right next to shore, when the water is up. Just because you hammered steelhead in certain spots when the water was in prime conditions doesn't mean they'll be there when it's up several feet.
Outdoors writer Andy Martin, a former editor of Fishing & Hunting News, runs a halibut charter boat in the Gulf of Alaska during the summer and guides on America's Wild Rivers Coast during the winter. His Web site is www.wildriversfishing.com.