Steelhead Question


tightlines said:
I don't know who IBN is, but MONK is off the grid sniffing paint fumes and guiding bald eagle floats up in Marblemount. His Web access is just every few weeks.
As for the scent on flies thing. I wouldn't do it, not because of ethics, I just don't like my hands and all my gear smelling like shit, plus, I don't have much problem catching fish w/out it, so why bother? I could see scent helping out a lot in low vis situations, call me a fool, but I'm not convinced it makes much difference under normal conditions. I've outfished bait slingers on the same stretch of river.

I don't care how people fish, just keep it legal, call it whatever you want, fly fishing, gear fishing, bait fishing, whatever, it's all fishing. The folks who argue about it probably get out and fish like twice a year and have nothing better to do but think about ethics all day.

o mykiss

Active Member
Hell, why even bother with a fly? If you have an extra window screen laying around, cut a 1" X 1" square from it and fold it lengthwise so you have a two-sided, 1" X 1/2" mesh rectangle (I call it the mini bait box). Use kevlar thread to securely sew up 2 of the 3 sides. Fill your mini bait box with your favorite bait - PowerBait, sand shrimp, cured salmon eggs, nite crawlers, ground turkey gizzards, etc. - sew the remaining side shut, and place it in the freezer to save for your next fishing outing. Out at the river's edge, all you have to do is attach a snap swivel to the end of your leader, open it up, attach one corner of the mesh bait holder to the snap swivel and close that, attach another snap swivel kitty corner to the first, a one inch piece of tippet to the second snap swivel and a size 2 or 4 Gamakatsu octopus hook to that short piece of tippet. If you don't have a sink tip line, crimp a few split shot on your leader about 12 inches above your mini bait box to make sure it gets down deep where the hogs hang out. Add a little smelly jelly for good measure and start fishing. Don't worry about whether this is fly fishing. Call it whatever you want - it casts pretty well on a fly rod, all things considered, and it protects your bait well enough that you only need one or two mini bait boxes for a whole day of magical fly fishing - er, whatever it is - for majestic steelhead. :rolleyes:
For the heck of it about 10 years ago I tried smelly jelly on flies a couple times when I was guiding for Kings and Chums in AK. Didn't seem to increase the catch rate and pretty much destroyed my flies - no way I was ever getting the smell out or putting the fly back in a box. The stuff really gummed up the action of the flies. Not to mention the stuff gets on your hands, waders etc. - really gross. Anyway I don't think it would really help that much or increase catch rates for steelhead, either, and if you're going to the trouble, why not just use bait? I'll never repeat that "experiment" again. It was a waste of time.

If you're fishing in "bait" water there is probably enough scent in the water from roe fishermen that the extra bit of smelly jelly will be a drop in the bucket anyway.

From my perspective, and from the perspective of most fish and game laws, fishing with scent isn't fly fishing, it's bait fishing. No grey in-between interpretation there. If you're gonna fish scent on flies you've turned your fly outfit into a bait fishing setup. If I were gonna fish bait, which I won't, I would rather just get a loomis and shimano and some spiderwire and be done with it.


PS incindentally using smelly jelly on plugs didn't seem to increase catch rates, either. The stuff is over-rated.

Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
Seriously though, try switching tactics to a more natural presentation if you are having trouble taking steelies. Also, location is way more inportant than how you fish imo. My local rivers that flow out into the columbia and snake each get escapements larger than the entire skykomish river.


Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
Try a slinkey about two feet above the fly, tag end it off a swivel, and you can use about twenty feet of Amnesia above that too. Makes a nice rig. They use them a lot on the Great Lakes Rivers. :rolleyes:


Degenerate Caster
The best way to catch steelies is to be there the day they're getting caught,the more days you fish the better the odds you have at being at the right place at the right time.The more you understand them ,results in less fishing time to fish ratio,if it was easy,and sometimes it can be,it would'nt be a special occasion.If you want results go nymph the yak,if you want a challenge,swing one of your creations thru the current on some poor depressed steelhead river,and there's plenty of those,and see what the river might reward your efforts with.This has been my best winter season yet and the best has yet to arrive,but then I've averaged 4 plus day's a week since mid November,I have a good base at reading water my casting is on fire and the most important thing-I now enjoy fishing for the ing as well as the fish-no stress= better results, no doubt about it-no secret scent but my stinky waders or maybe stinky waders is the secret scent?

Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
tightlines said:
Interesting point Jerry. Lately I noticed that most of the fisherman I talk to on the river are gear guys. I am a chatty kind of guy and usually break the ice with the statement: "I couldn't catch a steelhead if my life depended on it!" I usually get a laugh and then the repetitive response of "That's because you are fly fishing" Or something to the effect that catching a steelhead on a fly is WAY harder than with gear. I have had days where indeed I am not catching fish and gear guys are, but I have also seen them get skunked like me. IYHO as anadaptive gear fisherman, is it easier to catch steel on gear? I really am only a flyfisher--that is what I am and what I do. Are these gear guys just getting their bait/jig/scent--whatever in a better position/presentation than I am? I have a feeling that catching steelhead is just not easy--no matter how you fish for them.
You know, anyway you look at it, it's not always easy to catch fish, especially in rivers. Somedays you're in the "zone", somedays you're doing alot of practice casting. :rofl: I know alot of gear guys (since there are so many more of them then flyfisherman). Some guys just have the knack to know where to fish, and how to fish it. Funny that some of the best fisherman I know, can pick up about any type of rod and catch fish with it (from a mooching rod up to a fly rod and about everything in between). Then you have guys who can't catch a fish in a hatchery hole swinging three trebles in a row. Trust me, being a gear guy doesn't make you an instant "Fish on" guy. the 10/90 rule usually applies with them as well. I have met quite a few guys who have a couple years steelheading under their belt without a fish on (they won't count plug caught fish). I've heard it a million times from gear fisherman "What do I have to do to catch a steelhead?!?!?!". Most go through every book, article, website to get the answer. It's not a flyfishing only thing. Like I mentioned in this thread (may have been another), it's called fishing, not catching.
tightlines said:
IYHO as anadaptive gear fisherman, is it easier to catch steel on gear? I really am only a flyfisher--that is what I am and what I do. Are these gear guys just getting their bait/jig/scent--whatever in a better position/presentation than I am?
Gear can be fished EFFECTIVELY in more types of water. It can be run down a seam instead of swinging through one little part of it. Same thing for holding water against a bank. It gets down quicker and can be run all the way down a slot in one cast. A fly rod really limits the types of water that can be fished.


Geriatric Skagit Swinger
Sheesh! The guy just asked a reason to call it garbage.

If like me you get a lot of your materials from other sources than a store such as hunting friends, farmers with livestock etc. then your flies have a scent already...maybe more than one.

Do you spit on your knots? There's some scent. Ever touch your fly after polishing off that jelly donut? There's some more scent. Do you touch your fly, (the one on your leader) after relieving yourself bankside? Ack! More scent! you think those tubers coming down the river have pissed in the water? Grr...another scent. Where was I the last time I wore these waders and boots? Did I step on a dead Chum? Wonder what that smell's like.

All this nonsense about scent is just that, and like most gimmicks the stuff probably catches more fisherman than fish.

But since we are on the subject I like to scent my first fly of the day with glazed donut and 3-hour-old-coffee-from-the-Shell-Station.

Have fun, or else...


Be the guide...
Don't confuse scent with 'attractant'. Most scents - like from your boots, inner-tubers peeing in the water, etc get diluted rather quickly and I'm sure the fish learn to get used to strange scents (like commuters passing through Tacoma, or the guy that farts in the elevator).

But on a fly, the scents used are meant to entice the fish to strike it. With many lures\baits, fish will bite out of curiosity. "It 'looks' like food, so I'll chew on it for a second and see if it feels and tastes like food." (*not an actual quote from a fish)
Other times it may not look or act like food, but it does smell interesting (think 'powerbait' for example)

When a fly\lure\bait passes the look, smell, feel, taste test - it is quickly swallowed. Then you have issues with deep hooking the fish (if C&R is the goal).

Adult salmon and steelhead heading upstream in the river don't often get as far as swallowing the 'food'. They generally bite out of territorial aggression or just out of instinct when they see a food source passing by. But even with scent on the fly\bait, a deeply swallowed hook is rare (some steelhead in some rivers under certain conditions will readily swallow scented flies \ bait, but most don't).

I think protein based scents are most effective on salmon\steelhead because not only does it often resemble a food source scent, it also can resemble then scent from a live intruder who may be an egg\fry eater, a competitor for the spawning gravel, a competitor for a mate, or it could be eggs from another competitor that the fish wants to crush\kill, etc. But scent can often be a trigger point beyond just the visual. Fortunately for fly fisherman (or any fisherman really) - visual is often enough. A decent pattern presented properly is usually enough to trigger that strike (scent may entice the fish to hold on a second or 2 longer to help you if you are slow in noticing a soft biter though).

On the flip side, I think most would agree that getting gas on our hands before fishing can actually repel fish who may have otherwise bit your fly. Negative scents are more important to consider in still water situations or any time a fish has time to carefully inspect \ smell your fly before committing (you could soak your Royal Wolff in gasoline and fish in through a fast riffle with about the same results - by try that with a chirominid in a lake...).


Jason Decker said:
you know it all??:rolleyes: it maybe a nonsenes post. i'd ask the same question at the local fly shop:confused: . but if it(the post) were a fly, it would be a money fly with 42 posts or "takes"! :p true nonsense posts die quick and end up on page 2-x fast.

Jason, take notice of the wink icon in my previous post.

No scent on my fly.

Zen has it right when he speaks of fishing a more natural presentation. Meaning, the fly bouncing downstream with the current as in the nymphing method. I've watched more times than you could imagine as someone swings a fly across a steelheads nose and the steelhead does nothing but when dead drifted straight into the fish's feeding lane it'll grab it first time.

Put shrimp oil on your glo bug if that's what turns you on. Me, I'll just keep swinging away with some patterns that have proven themselves over the years. All scent does is ruin the action of these flies.:thumb:
I've been keeping up with this post for a while, not really saying much because I've never tried for steelies.
I think I view it in a sort of minimalist way. Adding scent would just be something extra. If I had caught a steelhead with no scent, and then caught one with, I think I would feel better about the one caught without scent. to me, at least, that would just seem more "pure." To use a baseball analogy--I think most people would appreciate more the athlete who achieved greatness without the use of preformance enhancing drugs. Put Hank Aaron and then some guy who has always used steroids side by side. That's how it makes sense to me. Hopefully that analogy is not too much of a reach.


Active Member
To those who said I mostly see gear guys on the rivers lately......I might be wrong :clown: but the river conditions have been so sh*tty why would you see any fly fisherpeople? Theres no bars to access, all the rocks are under water...and personally I dont like getting hit by floating debri.

Jason conduct your own little experiment where it is legal (if you want to).

And ChadK made a good point on what not to do the morning of your fishing trip...have your tank full, if boat have your engine gassed and oiled up so you just start it in the playing around .....As for all other lubricants, scents, phermones, take care of all them the night before :clown: :beer1: :beer1: :beer1: