I've been doing my usual combination of quasi-scientific research and shady, steelheader voodoo to figure out this year's run and when I should go steelhead fishing.
I've been doing this for years, and this much I can confirm from hours staring at data and also standing on the side of a river casting like a metronome - I have no idea how to predict good steelhead fishing.
That's as honest as I can be because I've fished during big runs and modest runs (bigger is better) and had good and bad days. Even on the same trip when I've fished consecutive days when conditions appeared identical, I've caught fish one day and gotten skunked the next.
I've also had steelhead trips where I caught several fish while others got skunked, and vice versa. Neither of us did anything different or unusual, it just worked out that way.
So here are the hard numbers: The run size at Lower Granite Dam on Oct. 1 was 47,000, compared with 52,000 last year and 93,500 for the 10-year average.
Not exactly heartwarming, but if you talk to serious steelheaders, they will almost all tell you the same thing. They've had some great fishing during small runs.
I've had similar experiences, not often, but enough that I won't stop fishing because the number of fish crossing the dam is less than before.
When to go? I still love October and November. The weather is usually decent, and enough fish have arrived that I am confident I am not casting into empty waters.
I also embrace steelheading's unpredictable nature. Not that I would complain if I unlocked the mystery and could guarantee fish every trip, but I know it's not going to happen. I will just fish because I enjoy it, and if the steelhead cooperate, all the better.