My favorite time of the year to fish for steelhead is through the winter time when you get a mix of silver, dark, & ready to spawn steelhead. The fishing sections may be smaller (year round open-season sections only), but the crowds are smaller too.
In many cases when there are winter thaws and freeze-ups water can be low and clear and the fish somewhat temperamental. My strategy is always to cover as much water as I can and fish many of the shallower/shorter runs and drifts that are often missed by steelheaders that are in a hurry to get to the bigger runs/pools. In those situations I find that using “stealth” approaches help much before you even drift. This means staying back from the smaller runs/pools so the fish don’t know you are approaching. If you have to wade, wade slow without making too much commotion. This is where a 13′ rod definitely is an asset to get close to the run, without personally getting close to the run. Then comes the set-up. I go with the lightest fluorocarbon leader possible for at least 24″, I use the smallest hook, often going down to a #16. I use the smallest in-line swivel. I keep my shot above my swivel. And I use the most sensitive float set-up. I start with roe bags tied in white, natural pink, and natural yellow netting, and if the roe doesn’t produce I follow-up with beads, small plastic worms, or jig-flies. When conditions are tough, even small steelhead are appreciated!