Fly Fishing Forum banner

Best tip for a steelhead virgin...

3793 Views 35 Replies 15 Participants Last post by  Philster
If you could offer one piece of advice to a person who has never caught a steelhead on a fly, what would it be?
1 - 20 of 36 Posts
I am sure there will be many good fishing tips to come out of this thread but I think I will go in another direction. If I could impart one bit of "wisdom" it would be, don't go into this to catch fish. If you do, you will be much more often than not, disappointed.

Take up the sport with the goal of learning a process. As great as hooking a fish is, and believe me, there are times when few things in life equal it, the real reward comes in learning a river, mastering a presentation, becoming part of the family of steelheaders, soaking in the lore of those that went before us and finally becoming proficient enough to "do things right". I have hooked and landed fish on bad or lucky presentations and I have briefly hooked and quickly lost fish where I knew I did everything right. Believe me, the latter are much more rewarding than the former.

We often refer to steelheading as a sport but it is really a way of life. To adopt it, or more specifically have it adopt you, you need to learn to fish for the the incidental rewards it gives you: the pink of the sunrise, the murmur of the river, the knowledge of how rivers change constantly and the satisfaction of knowing how to fish a run the right way whether it be at low water and gin clear or high and turbid. Once you can drag yourself out of the rack at 0'dark-thirty knowing that the odds are against hooking a fish but you can't wait to get to the river anyway. Then you have found the true allure of steelheading. Catching fish is simply the frosting on the cake.

Of course, maybe I am just overly sentimental?

See less See more
Ok, one simple bit of advice is to go deep, stay deep, and mend like heck (to slow the drift). As a general statement I've found that as the water gets deeper the fish will hold in slower water. As it gets shallower, look to the faster boilly (is that a 'real word?') water for the fish to hold.

Only other real question may be, and this really varies from river to river, is do the fish 'hold in the water colum, or are they bottom huggers?' With a fly rod the answer to this is the question "de sure". Russian River in Northern Calif. they hold above the bottom in most areas; on the Rogue their noses are stuck behind a rock. Fish 'high' and forget it. Think your fly is heavy enough, your very very wrong.

All that means local knowledgeable guy/gal is worth his/her weight in gold.
Although no one ever caught less steelhead by going deep, I'd also add to Fred's truths that steelhead are far more focused on the upper column than most people give them credit to be. Particularly in the first hour or two of daylight and dusk, most consistently in fall, and most noticably when the fall sedge is emerging. This is not to say that the early stonefly hatch on Cascade rivers won't get those mint bright steelies to roll on a sofa pillow on the fourth of July, they will. Although a summer pink prawn pattern on a light tip may tease a few more to take over the course of a summer, the vigor by which they slam a muddler fished on top of the rapids at dawn is something to behold and surprisingly consistent.

Anyway, my advice would be:

Forget everything you've ever learned about every other fishery. Steelheading is about connecting with the psyche of a fish. Now that might sound silly, but allow me to claim that there is no more noble a fish and making this connection is not something to be taken for granted.

Other fish eat because they are hungry. Steelhead don't. Other fish are fooled by simply imitating food. Steelhead won't. Other fish are caught by average sizes and a trophy is sought through a season, sometimes for a lifetime. Every steelhead is a trophy in a trout fisher's wildest dreams.

My approach to steelhead is simply this: appeal to some hidden remnant of that jubilant parr leaping at mayflies on it's first summer in the stream; way back when the mere thought of stellar's sea lions ripping fangs and a purse seiners veil of death were as remote as Bin Laden to an infant. Yet when the babe returns as the stout and seasoned warrior of thousands of sea miles wearing it's hard-won chrome armor on it's broad flanks decorated with the brilliance of the north pacific streaking through every fin ray - there is still something of that smolt's joy left, to which I work incessantly to appeal to with a fly.

When I hook a steelhead, I've found that something in it's psyche that is still care-free and not at all different from the boyhood joy that remains in me, and will for life. In that sense I've connected with the most noble of fishes by the most honorable means - an honestly swung fly.

So forget everything you know about every other fishery, including steelheading with gear. There is a whole 'nuther dimension to steelhead that you can only discover with a fly, and it will only become apparent after you work it out. Some give up before they do, but it's there for those who persevere, you can be sure of that. It's there hidden in the mystery of the river. You can sense that a steelheader has found it by talking to him, watching him work a stream, and see it in the flies he ties.

I think Duggan said it best, it's a way of life.
See less See more
Juro, that was one of the most eloquent things I've ever read about the sport.
Whoa there!!! You feed a steelhead virgin that line and he'll think he/she is signing up for the piscatorial equivalent of Jedi Knight-hood. <g>

While I agree with both ST and Juro, that's a feeling for steelheading I developed only after much time on the water. You have to become confortable, and confident, in the techniques you employ (IMNSHO) before you can experience this in your own fishing.

My advice is much simpler - either learn on your own or -ideally-from a tutor the wet fly swing (and variations) until you can fish with confidence. And, especially important, learn to recognise good fly water.

When I first started steelhead fly fishing, there were many times when I quit early because I wasn't sure I was "doing it right". It can be a long time till you hit your first steelhead on a fly, so as a beginner you especially need to have confidence in the water you're fishing and your techniques and flies because you don't have past memories of success to draw upon for support.

When the rain's pounding down on you and you're standing out in the middle of a river feeling a bit lost, that (and a flask filled with your favorite Scotch) are sometimes all you have.
See less See more
I am sorry I cannot limit myself to one tip..

1. fish rivers that actually still has fish!!
2. start off in the summer.
3. start off with very few flies. Skunk,muddler,brads brat. 3 flies thats it.
4. fish hard and cover lots of water.
Another thing: go with a good guide. You can learn more in a day, gain more confidence in your technique, and know pretty much for sure where the fish are and what they're responding to, than you can in a whole season of stumbling around by yourself. A patient and expert friend can be as good as a guide, but, when you're fishing with said patient and expert friend, you're distracting that person from his or her fishing. Guides -- good ones, that is-- are often a shortcut to success and the the acquisition of skill. At least consider the proposition.

For the most part, I learned on my own and made a mess of it. Reading all the books on steelheading can be rewarding, but, in terms of really learning what to do and how to do it, nothing beats an expert teacher working with you on the water.
See less See more
I agree with Eric. A good guide can teach, in one day, more than you would learn on your own in a year. One more thing. Hang with steelheaders. Ask them questions and listen, listen, listen.
Doublespey (10-31-2001 11:04 a.m.):
Whoa there!!! You feed a steelhead virgin that line and he'll think he/she is signing up for the piscatorial equivalent of Jedi Knight-hood. <g>
Although the words may have gotten a bit carried away, the arrival of winter always does this to me - but the message is really simple:

To unlock the stubborn resolve of a steelhead, and we all agree (regardless of any degree of wordsmithing) that they are stubborn... relate to the memories and instincts (i.e.: behavioral traits) that haven't faded out completely regardless of how bent on reaching the spawn they are. There's always that little bit left in them. In fact, IMNSHO - that's all we've got to work with anyway!

If anyone has a pet theory on why they take the fly, I'd love to hear them.
Don't make big plans. Steelhead hate to be caught on your schedual,and the weather gods are on the fishes side. A steelhead trip planed a month in advance will surely be blown out. The best way to get around this law of the steelhead is to either stage a seige ,or use the cut and run aproach. The siege is an audatious show of determination. A two week window should yeild a few good days. Or you can cut and run. Blast up to the river whenever you can, and you might get lucky. In either case persistance is the key.
Why do they take a fly?

The steelhead, being the noblest of creatures takes pity upon the poor fisherman and decides to reward him with a brief contact with nirvana.

Since this theory means it makes little difference what fly you use, it can only be inferred that these noble fish also decide on occasion to reward creativity. How else can you explain the Popsicle. That or maybe the fish have a silent business relationship with the fly shops ;)
Boy Eddie your right about planing too far ahead. Had a guy out in Wyoming this week ask if he could come out and go steelhead fishing with me this winter. I hesitated for a second and he mistook it that maybe I didn't want him to come out to fish. But how do you plan a weekend of steelhead fishing for a guy driving winter roads from Wyoming to Washington four months ahead. To winter steelhead fish one must be in a job that you can get off when the river is right. Or just except the fact that if you can't get the time when it's right your just gonna luck it out from time to time.

As for a tip for a new winter steelhead fisherperson. I'd say fish a short line through the run. I see too many folks making long casts and not being able to mend their line properly and get a good slow drift near the bottom where steelhead hold.
See less See more
Why do they take a fly??? I think in the case of Summers they regain their trouty tendencies and ~do~ actively feed while in the rivers waiting to spawn. There's also a case to be made for their defending their territory (as in the case where a rabbit matuka or other large pattern gets too close to a resting steelie).

And finally, I think that many steelhead just grab flies just for the hell of it!! Not having hands, the only way they can 'touch' something is to grab it in their mouths. I think this also accounts for many of the false rises and "playing" i've seen steelhead do with surface flies.

Just my .02

I don't think any of the philosophical stuff is necessary for a beginner. Although I feel the same way as has been described above (quite well I'll add), I think that either comes or it doesn't, and if it doesn't they'll probably not be an avid steelheader. Seems that there is something about steelhead and steelheading that triggers something (character deficiency?) that is already in us -and it's not just fly fisherman.

I have to agree with whoever it is that said to fish where there are still good numbers of fish. And I'd add to that to have them be native fish. Their aggressive nature will get the newcomer a grab much sooner than if they pursue those dour hatchery mutants.

Confidence is all so important to steelheading and nothing will get a beginners confidence up like getting a grab or two. All the accolades from a guide or experienced angler about how well their technique is,etc. pale to the confidence boost that comes from that first grab!
See less See more
"Pesa" nailed it. Looong time ago a mentor in Steelhead fishing told me the 'reason why' 90% of the fish are hooked by 10% of the fishermen/women. It's attitude. If you go 'fishing' you're basicly looking for a fish to commit hari kari. If you go "catching" you're a hunter.

Sounds simplistic, but I'll guarantee you'll double the number of hook-ups. I come home surprised when I blank; and I do have fishless days. But looking back at them coldly in most cases my mind just wasn't in it; I'm on the river in body, but not in spirit. When I hit that 'mental nerve' I reel in and go home .... all be it I may come back later in the day when the 'hunter' is back in control. Zip days, you bet, but I'm very surprised when it happens. (But that's why they call it 'fishing' not 'catching') Still all in all it's a mind set.
See less See more
Well if you were a steelhead and a big glob of juicy salmon eggs came rolling downstream into your face, you would much them would'nt 'ya???...oops wrong forum. ;)

But I will agree that confidence is a major factor in getting hookups with the elusive steelhead. To be honest with you, if I do not think I have a chance at a fish with a certain fly, I will change it. If I dont have confidence with a piece of water and if for some reason, I do not have confidence in just hooking a steelhead that day, I will head off to go scout out new water for future adventures, go grab a bite to eat or just sit down on a rock and enjoy the river.
Ah Ryan, Ryan, Ryan
I see we have a long way to go with you yet (yes, I've seen you on the "other Board"). With a fly rod is mono-o-mono with Mr. Fish. With lead and eggs it's ... it's ...
Words fail me.

Ah yes . . . our Ryan is a bit of a Cross-Dresser.

He's got a nice fly vest, but every so often you see the stained Bait Towel creeping out from beneath it. <g>

Hey, now there's a thread! I'm Serious - how many Forum members are Switch-Hitters (still fish spinning and or bait-casting gear as conditions warrant)??

This isn't a rant about the supposed "purity" of flyfishing as I count myself among those who will fish with other techniques when conditions demand.

I must admit this year I dusted off the bait caster and harvested a few silvers from the Skagit. It was almost laughable. I hadn't cast my old bait caster for a number of years and had a difficult time of it at first.
1 - 20 of 36 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.