Low Water Year
By Barry Burt

Even though this year's steelhead season has been plagued with low water conditions doesn't mean you can't catch fish on the San Lorenzo. It's amazing to me just how many fish have been able to make it up river considering we've really only had two significant rain events all season. This being the end of the season, I'm finally starting to see spawning redds in some of the major tailouts on the lower stretches of the river. I haven't fished much up river this year because of the low water but I'm assuming that there had to be some fish that made it up there as well.
One of the things I like most about low water years is that the crowds seem to really thin out because most people either think there's no fish in the river or they just don't like fishing in that kind of condition. But as for me any time I have a chance at catching a 10 pound chrome bullet on my local stream, I'm going to be there.
Fishing low water conditions takes a completely different mindset to be successful. No more runnin' and gunnin'. The fish are only going to be in one particular type of habitat. They're not going to be moving. They'll be hunkered down in the deepest, darkest most protected spot they can find. This often times means that you'll have to be fishing in the jungle, so when you do hook a fish, you better have the cajones to get them out of the brush. On the other hand, the water being gin clear, necessitates using the lightest fluorocarbon you can get away with or you may not get bit at all.
If you can't deal with fishing frog water, you better stay home because some of the deeper pools on the San Lorenzo have very little or no current at low water. This usually means that suspension fishing is often the best technique for taking fish in low water and stealth is the critical element. If you've ever fished the San Lorenzo you're probably aware that in most of the prime spots there's little or no room for back casts.
So if you think you can roll cast your way into a fish, guess again. Nothing can put a pod of fish down quicker at low water than a guy ripping roll cast after roll cast off the water. This is why the San Lorenzo Special fly rod was developed by Powell and why you'll see the best steelheaders on the SL strip casting. But that's not fly fishing, you say. Tell that to Devin Olsen and the rest of the international fly fishing team. If you're landing a fish on a fly rod using a single action fly reel hooked on one of Rudzinski's marabou jigs, I'd say you're pretty darn close to fly fishing.
One thing you have to understand about low water fishing is that these fish are extremely spooky. Many times, they've been pounded by fishermen for days so you've got to find an opportunity to fish them when guys haven't been chucking hardware at them for hours. First light, last light, sometimes even in the middle of the day if nobody's been on them for an hour or two. Even when you have the hole to yourself, you've got to discipline yourself not to be casting the same offering over and over to the same spot. Half a dozen well placed casts and it's time to change it up and take a break.
Patience pays off in low water conditions. Smaller offerings, subtler colors. Sometimes only a clear indicator will work. Sometimes you have to lose the indicator all together. Sometimes you have to go to the dark side and pitch a pink worm. Whatever it takes. When that chrome bullet comes cartwheeling out of the water and tail dances across the pool, you'll be glad you gave it a shot.

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