Steelhead vs Atlantic salmon [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Steelhead vs Atlantic salmon

07-21-2004, 05:48 PM
I have never fished for steelhead but have fished for Atlantics for over 40 years. I was wondering if anyone who has considerable experience at fishing for both species could rate the two experiences. Pound for pound, which fish gives the most excitement...rating both small(grilse) 3-4 pounds and larger fish. Are there rivers where steelhead can be fished the same as Atlantics... pools on small to medium sized rivers which can be fished the traditional way of wading...cast,take a step, cast,etc.
In September or early October, where (in both Canada and the US) would be the very best place to visit for the ultimate steelhead experience?

07-21-2004, 08:11 PM
In the last 20 years, I've caught a fair number of atlantic salmon from 4 to 25 lbs. I daydream all year long about the next one I will catch, and have nightmares about the possibility that I will never catch another.

This spring marked the first time I fished for steelhead. On May 7th -- my birthday -- I hooked one of about 10 pounds and played it for about 5 minutes (the guide said 10) before executing a perfect long line release. I was impressed, very impressed. I swung flies to the fish while wading in the same way I do to atlantics, except that I was using a sinking tip, rather than a full floating line. I saw the fish take and make a classic turn downstream on the fly. On its first run my knuckles banged against my reel handle. The fish never jumped, but came up at least three times shaking its head on the surface. Then the fight was over.

The water I hooked that steelhead in (the Muskegon) was a bit deeper and faster than the water I usually fish for summer and autumn atlantics (the Miramichi and the Matapedia). The fights were equally impressive. I can't fairly say more than that until I catch five or ten more steelhead -- which I intend to try to do before I get too old to cast the fly rod.

While I did wade to present the fly to the steelhead, we spotted the fish from a floating boat, anchored, and got out to get in position for casting. On the Miramichi I have never fished from a boat for summer or fall atlantics. On the Matapedia, however, fishing is done from a 26-foot canoe most of the time, infrequently leaving the canoe to wade.

I hope to be on one or both of those rivers starting on Monday, July 26th. I can't wait. I expect to be on a number of Michigan rivers in the fall in pursuit of steelhead as well.

My $0.02.

07-22-2004, 12:37 AM

Although I've never fished for Atlantic Salmon, I use the same tactics for steelhead that I've read about in many books for steelhead. During the summer and fall, I use a floating line almost exclusively, most of my steelhead fishing friends use floating lines during this time too.

Whether fishing the floating line in summer/fall (late June-early July through early November) or sink tips during winter/spring (mid-November through mid-June every good steelhead fisherman I know fishes by making a cast and fishing it, then taking from 1 to 3 steps downstream and making another cast until the run or hole is covered, just like you do for Atlantic Salmon. All the good steelheaders also fish their flies on the swing, just like you are doing for Atlantics. And we wade fish using a boat for transportation to the next run, or get to the run on foot and then wade.

September and October are prime times for steelhead throughout the PNW from Northern California all the way up through B.C. and Southeast Alaska. We get steelhead during that time of year on waked dries, hitched wets, and floating line, sunk fly wets. It is a great time to be out for steelhead. Some well-known rivers for fishing then are the Grande Ronde in WA/OR, the Clearwater in ID, the Deschutes in OR, the Rogue in OR, the Klamath in CA, the Cowlitz in WA, the Stamp in B.C., and the Skeena system rivers in B.C.

Summer steelhead run from the small 1/2 pounders of the Klamath to the monster 30 lb fish of the Skeena country. Most of the summer steelhead I see caught here in WA state are between 4 and 16 lbs. with an average of about 7 lbs. Winter steelhead are a little larger and run between 6 and 25 lbs with an average of about 7 lbs for hatchery fish and 12 lbs for wild fish.

I'm sure if you decide to come out to the left coast, more than one member would be happy to take you fishing with him or point you in the right direction.

07-22-2004, 06:48 AM
we spotted the fish from a floating boat, anchored, and got out to get in position for casting.

Smolt, you were fishing to steelhead in, or close to, the act of spawning. They are tired, dark fish. Try to schedule your next trip for November when you can hook bright chrome steelhead and your opinion WILL change!

07-22-2004, 12:16 PM
I would have to agree with flyfishmich about what time to year you go after the steelhead. I fish the Erie tribs and the Salmon in NY for them. The tribs are small streams with very little wading, but the Salmon is very large and treacherous wading even with corkers. The fish I have caught have given me great memories but I would have to say the Atlantic Salmon required longer time to land. Maybe that is because when the steelhead are in you can hook into many in a day.

Rob Estlund
07-22-2004, 04:40 PM
Smolt, Who was your guide?

07-22-2004, 07:01 PM
Smolt, Who was your guide?

Good point, Rob...really only ONE guide to hire on the Muskegon if you want to swing flies!

07-22-2004, 07:31 PM
Good point, Rob...really only ONE guide to hire on the Muskegon if you want to swing flies!

Herb Jacobsen from BBT. A very pleasant, hard working guy.

07-22-2004, 10:07 PM
Hire Kevin Feenstra next time you are out here...he spends probably 300 days+ exclusively on the Muskegon. From what I have heard, Herb is an excellent guide but spends most of his time on the PM. Kevin has nearly perfected the streamer presentation on the Muskegon with the spey rod. I highly recommend him!

07-23-2004, 07:49 AM
Kevin was guiding one of the other guys that day. If I remember correctly they hooked up with one or two fish as well.

I'm off to the Matapedia tomorrow. Will fish on Monday and Tuesday. I'm told the water is a little high right now, but should be perfect by then. Fish are in the river and they are willing. Be still my beating heart!!

07-23-2004, 11:27 PM
flytyer (and others): you mentioned the Rogue. Is mid to late August too early to have any kind of chance with half-pounders or full grown steelhead in the middle section? I know the guides and others say September and October are prime time, but how early do the runs make it up as far as Grants Pass?