Steelhead Fly Fishing For Dummies....

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by Jason Decker, Oct 14, 2005.

  1. SpeyRodBeBop

    SpeyRodBeBop Member

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    Read all the material that you can get your hands on. I have done that for the last thirty years, and I never tire of it. However, it all amounts to nothing if you don't put in the hours on the river. Watch where others are catching fish ask them questions, note their methods. It's all part of the dues paying process. Use established methods until you start catching fish--then, when you are good enough you can experiment with different stuff. Remember above all, Steeheaders thrive on rejection.
     
  2. Steelie Mike

    Steelie Mike Active Member

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    Porter is right about the 3M Lani Waller videos. If you can find one, you are in for a treat. He is a master at catching steelies. Unfortunetly they are out of print and only come in VHS. Also Tom is right about catching your first steelie nymphing. My first couple came while nymphing for trout on a local river. It is defenitely worth a try now that it is time for the omelet hatch. :thumb:
     
  3. Salmo_g

    Salmo_g Active Member

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    I shoulda' saved that essay I wrote . . .

    Jason,

    Take comfort in that you're not the first. This question used to come up fairly often on the old Virtual Fly Shop BB that expired a few years back. (Is it OK to mention a former website that isn't competing cuz it no longer exists?) I wrote a long winded response to aspiring steelheaders there, and like a fool didn't save it.

    I began fly fishing for steelhead before there were any how to books, but I've bought and read most of them subsequently. And there were no fly fishing steelhead guides then, either, and I'd highly recommend that approach to steepening your learning curve.

    In response to one poster, I mentioned that probably the number one variable in making a difference in learning how to catch a steelhead is to find a mentor who already knows his stuff. The guy actually emailed me and asked when we were going. So on a lark, I told him to meet me on the Skagit one day, and we took a short float, and he caught a steelhead, which thankfully made me appear smarter than I am.

    Along with others, I recommend Deke Meyer's book. Another pretty good basic reference is Bill McMillan's Dry Line Steelhead. Also the Lani Waller videos mentioned.

    Now, here's the dirt that most authorities either don't mention, or don't stress enough:

    Steelhead are easy to catch. The basics are dead simple, the wet fly swing, skating a dry, or nymphing (with indicator, altho I've never caught one that way). As an angler who is trying to become a competent trout angler, let me say that steelhead are dead simple, compared to trout fishing.

    If you want to fish for steelhead, fish where steelhead are. That's one of the biggest secrets. Most steelhead fishing is done where there are no steelhead at the time they are being angled for, which is why they seem so darn hard to catch.

    How do you know where the steelhead are? Tain't that hard in this day and age of the internet. It's October. There are summer steelhead in every river that supports summer runs. OK, where are they? On west side rivers, they are mostly hatcher fish that are returning to their respective blood holes. Get out and find where these are by talking to the other fishermen that are on those rivers. As mentioned in this thread, Snoq fish will be staging near Tokul Creek. I've never fished the Snoq, but if I did, with no other information sources, I'd probably be in that vicinity within 2 or 3 hours of arrival. How? Why? Refer to above paragraph: fish where the steelhead are. Somebody already knows. Ask them. Or figure out where the blood holes are. They're called blood holes for a reason, and they are excellent places for beginners.

    How do you find the "good" steelhead holes? I wouldn't spill this bean, except it's been spilt before, so here goes: a majority of the angler vehicles will be parked within 1/4 mile of the majority of the best steelhead hole on any river. Learn to recognize angler rigs, altho that salmon fisherman driving a Jag coulda' fooled me, except for the giant cooler in his back seat. Drive around, and turn in to every side road, dead end, driveway, whatever, expecting 90% of them to be false leads, but do it anyway.

    Cover lots of water. Floating rivers is a good approach. Here is a good way to cover lots of water in a day that is fundamentally different from trout fishing: Never, and I mean never make two casts to the same spot unless you have risen a steelhead or know for an absolute fact that your cast is covering a steelhead. Your next cast should be 5' to 15' downstream of your last cast. Books instruct you to cover each pool thoroughly, but differ as to what thorough means. Some of the best anglers I know fish so darn fast, it almost seems like they are running through the pool. They aren't. And they mostly leave the non-aggressive, non-taking steelhead that aren't the best candidates for a beginning angler anyway. Plan on wearing the felts right off your boots. Soon.

    Did I mention that most steelhead fishing casts are made over water that doesn't hold any steelhead? That's why you don't want to waste too much time making too many casts over that empty water. Move your butt, and move it faster. It will get you fishing where the steelhead are that much sooner.

    Naturally there's more to steelheading than this. But not much. The fly pattern you use almost matters, but not much. I caught the largest steelhead of my lifetime on a red fly I'd picked up on a gravel bar the year before and stuck in my fly book. Although dry fly fishing can be very productive, the wet fly swing will produce more hookups day in and day out. Use a sink tip. If you're always hanging up, use a shorter one or a slower sinking one. If you never hang up, well . . . think about it! The dirtier the water, the bigger and more visible your target oughta' be. Small flies often work better in clear water, etc. But change ups are a good idea, too.

    The single most important article for a steelheader is his waders. Cheap rods and cheap reels and cheap lines catch steelhead just fine. But if you cannot wade into position to decently present your fly to a steelhead, you might as well stay home and out of my way in case I go fishing that day.

    I probably left out something useful. If it comes to me later, I'll add it.

    Sincerely,

    Salmo g.
     
  4. KerryS

    KerryS Ignored Member

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    Don't do it! Don't fish for steelhead! They are a myth perpetuated by fishing guides and tackle salesmen! They do not exist! Repeat; steelhead do not exist! Say to yourself at least a hundred times; steelhead are a myth, there are no steelhead.

    Now with the warning out of the way. Salmo's suggestions are right on. There is nothing mysterious about fishing for steelhead. It is all about the water. Reading water. If you know where to fish for steelhead you will catch steelhead. How to learn to read water is all about spending time on the water. The more time spent the better your chances are of hooking up. When you finally hook one make sure you note everything there is to know about the water you hooked it in. Speed, depth, structure, water temp, position of the sun, river flow, time of year, day, month, everything. If the river is running high come back to that spot when the river is low to see what the bottom makeup is. The more information you have about where you are fishing the better. Are flies important? Sure. Is presentation important? Yes. But, the coolest fly with the best presentation will get you nothing in water that holds no fish.

    To shorted your learning curve on the water find some folks that fish for steelhead and have had some success. Hang with them. Bug them to take you fishing. Ask questions. Buy them breakfast, lunch, dinner, gas, beer, cigars, scotch, whatever it takes to get them to let you tag along. Watch where they fish and ask questions. After a time you will start to learn the water and I am confident that at some point you will find that first steelhead. After you land that first fish I want you to think back to my first paragraph here because after that first steelhead you will be forever lost to trying to repeat the thrill of the first.
     
  5. Steelie Mike

    Steelie Mike Active Member

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    Great post Salmo. I also would like to add good boots to your most important peace of gear. Studs are not a bad idea either.
     
  6. rainbow

    rainbow My name is Mark Oberg

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    look for walking speed water and cast to other side were the curent changes speed. Look for large rock beds and walls. They will hold up there.
     
  7. FT

    FT Active Member

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    I've caught steelhead in tailouts, where on first glance it appeared there was not structure to break the current. I've caught them in the middle of a hole in water that was barely moving. I've caught them in riffles. I've caught them in boulder studded runs with a considerably faster than walking speed current. I've caught them in the throat of a hole where the water is rather fast. I've caught them in smooth glides. I've caught them in water barely able to cover their backs. I've caught them in deep water. I've caught them in ledge rock slots. I've caught them in walking speed water. I'e caught them tight against log jams.

    In short, there is no magic water that steelhead will always be found. As Salmo mentioned, you catch steelhead where they are located, and the only way to really find out where they are is to get out and spend a lot of time walking a river. And cover a lot of water. After a few years, you will start walking right past water that many would wonder why you are not wetting a line in because you have learned some of the subtleties of water reading.

    A good friend of mine was very surpirised and a bit miffed 12 years ago when I took him summer steelheading with me on an OP river in October because I kept walking past many runs and holes. He was getting miffed because to him I was passing up prime water of the type that he had caught trout in many times, and I kept telling him it was worthless for steelhead at that time of year. Three years later when we were fishing a different OP river in March, he mentioned that he understood why I had walked by all that water which seemed to be prime holding water to him because he had found not all runs or holes in a river hold steelhead.

    There is a lot of info on catching steelhead and steelhead techniques in Trey's book STEELHEAD FLYFISHING (in fact, a lot more than Deke Meyer's ADVCANCED FLY FISHING FOR STEELHEAD); but he doesn't make it obvious by saying something like, "this is how to get a fly on a greased line fly", or "this is how to skate up a steelhead on a dry", etc. Even within the chapters on specific rivers or steelhead fly fishers, there is a lot of info on how to fly fish for them; but like I said, it is not obvious and you have to look for it because Trey just intersperses it within his prose.
     
  8. Matt Burke

    Matt Burke Active Member

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    I have every book you can buy on steelheading and some you can’t. All they are for is passing the time when you can’t fish. Salmo G, Kerry and a few others have narrowed it down for you pretty good. Three plus years I’ve been stuck in steelhead heaven. 120 times a year, I’m out on the river. Two fish to hand and 10 LDR’d (Long Distance Released). And by LDR’d, I don’t mean bumps, hits or thwacks. LDR’s for me are hard takes with swirls of water, they come out of the water or the familiar tug, tug, tug of fish on and then they come unbuttoned. Once they are off, you’re standing there with warm pee running down the inside of you waders, knowing full well that was a damn steelhead.

    Those are good numbers for anyone who has fished for steelhead. If you don’t wear out your 150 dollar felt soled boots in a year, you are not covering enough ground. Float your rivers at least once to actually see what is in the water. Bowling ball rocks with fast paced water will hold steelhead. On the Sky, That is only about 5% of the water between Everett and Deception falls. Blow off the rest of it. Fish only water that holds fish. Presentation, presentation, presentation. No slack or large bellies of line between you and the fly on the swing. I’m just as ready to set a hook an hour after I’ve had one on or a thousand hours after I’ve had one on. Find holding water (2 years), learn to get hits, learn to keep them on (another two years) and then learn to tail them at your feet (ongoing). Right place, right time will take on a whole new meaning in your life.
     
  9. Matt Burke

    Matt Burke Active Member

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  10. Old Man

    Old Man Just an Old Man

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    Also if you really want to get into fish. Don't fish with the Old Man!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Jim
     
  11. SpeyRodBeBop

    SpeyRodBeBop Member

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    I think there is an extra, really big challenge learning to fish steelhead on the fly if you have never gear fished them. With gear fishing you learn fairly quickly which parts of the river hold fish and which parts don't. That skill can be carried over to fly fishing. If, however, you are starting out with a fly rod, you are probably being much less effective in determining where the fish lay up because you can fish through holding water and your chances of getting a hit on fly are much less. Most of the really good steelhead fly fishers that I know, started out on gear.
     
  12. nick m

    nick m New Member

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    Don't give up hope. After three skunks, (not counting foul hooked salmon and a whitefish), many lost flies and tangles, and a $224 speeding ticket driving back from one of the aforementrioned fruitless outings, I finally got my first, and second steelhead today. And man it was so sweet. If only that cop had been a fisherman...
     
  13. Smalma

    Smalma Active Member

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    Salmo G hit it pretty much spot on - one needs to fish where there are fish. The unfortuante reality is that recent steelhead returns in the Puget Sound streams (including the Snoqualmie) have been at the lowest levels in decades. That makes fishing a lot more difficult.

    Yes steelhead are easy to catch just difficult to find - it can as much as a hunting game as fishing. How to shorten the learning curve in finding steelhead without a mentor? A couple suggestions.

    1) Look at the month catches of the steelhead catch summaries available at WDFW's web site. That will give you some insight in the best times to be on water you are interested in.

    2) Remember that while steelhead are the same species as our resident rainbows they are in the river for different reasons as such behave differently. Basically the steelhead are hear to spawn. To do so they must migrate up the stream to get to the spawning area and then hold safely until spawning time. Therefore rather than fishing water where one expect the trout to be feeding we need to fish either the traveling lanes or the holding spots. One would be advise to decided based on reports and experience whether to focus a particular day on traveling lanes or holding areas.

    Travel lanes- the easiest path up stream which varies with the current and visibility. They like to move along current seams and the clearer the water the deep they travel and the more likley they are to travel only during low light periods.

    Holding areas - bascially two types. Short term holding areas where the fish pause for a few minutes to a day or two while traveling to "catch their breath" - often tailouts above a difficult riffle/cascade or areas that provide short term cover. The longer term holding areas typically are near the spawning reaches and here look for areas that provide consistent and long term cover (security).

    3) In the summer get a good pair of polariod glasses and scan the river for holding fish. Best from the high banks, bridges, or floating the river. It takes some experience to be able to spot fish - looking for the whole fish does not usually work - typically one sees a fish's shadow, a fin, a mouth open prior to seeing the whole fish. Learn to look through the water (focus on or near the bottom) rather than the surface. Go to some of the noted hatchery holes (Fortson on the North Fork Stillaguamish) and practice looking for fish.

    4) Pay attention to where other folks are fishing, especially those that are successful. The unfortunate reality is that on most of our streams you will have company so learn from the them. Pay attention to areas, methods, but don't worry much about fly patterns.

    5) Learn line control - the best tip I can give some one about methods in know what your fly/lines are doing at all times. How does the fly react with various mends etc.

    One last piece of advice - remember that these fish are not here to commit suicide on our hooks but rather to spawn as safely as possible.

    Tight lines
    Curt
     
  14. papafsh

    papafsh Piscatorial predilection

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    Jason, there is such a book with that exact title in Half Price Books, across from the Red Robin on Everett Mall Way. About $9 I think, saw it there last weekend.


    LB
     
  15. flyfis4fun

    flyfis4fun New Member

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    I started steelheading 4 years ago and have been extremely fortunate to catch 40 of them in that time and hook a bunch more which greatly condensed my learning curve. I don't claim to be good at this, just very lucky to have put time in during some historically high steelhead runs. However, there a few things I have found that make a big difference in an anglers success.

    1.) You have to know how to read the water. I will admit, this is an area where I am still learning. I can find the tradtional holding water but it is the unusual spots that I often overlook. My brother is great at finding fish were logic says they wouldn't be holding so he has taught me a lot. In general, find the waist deep water or deeper moving at a walking to fast walking pace and you are on target. Like I said, lots of exceptions but this is where to begin.

    2.) Keep it simple when it comes to your fly patterns. I know that certain rivers have their hot patterns but find a fly that you have confidence in and fish it. Personally, I use a black, bead head bugger. I can honestly say I have never caught a steelhead on anything else. I know it works so why change? Sure there is the hot pattern of the season on my favorite river but I am not going to go away from what has proven itself to me.

    3.) Have patience! You can't go blazing through the holes and expect to do well. Make 3-5 casts with the same amount of line and then take one step down the hole and do it again. This was so hard for me to learn because I had the patience of a 5 year old but time and time again I have taken fish on the 3rd, 4th, 5th cast that I would have missed had I cast only twice and then moved. Make sure you only take one step when you move. This assures that you are covering the hole as efficiently as you can. The drawback to this method is it is time consuming but if you are fishing water that has produced fish in the past then it is worth putting your time in.

    Don't give up. It can be a maddening process getting that first fish. Also be preprared to lose a lot of them before you get one in. Steelhead make you pay for mistakes and you will find that you have to relearn some fighting techniques before you will be successful.

    Good Luck!
     
  16. Bradly640

    Bradly640 New Member

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    Don't worry man. I was Steelhead fishing this weekend and all I got was a bad dunk and a smashed up knee, but that's fishing I guess.
     
  17. Flyfishsteel

    Flyfishsteel New Member

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    ...even better, fish glassy tail outs with #4/6 dry flies and don't mend, let the current make a belly and it will create a huge wake with your fly and WAMMMMO! Steelhead on a dry!

    This time of year increases your chances 3 to 1 !
     
  18. Big Tuna

    Big Tuna Member

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    I would echo what most everyone else is saying. It is time on the water. The weird thing about steelheading is that once you catch one, it seems like the hex is broken and you get into them with a little more regularity. Basic swinging and nymphing isn't real complicated, but time on the water will teach you to find holding water and fish structure. I think a lot of people find a system and a few patterns and that's their recipe. I use the same fly about 90% of the time. Stick with it and your time will come.
     
  19. otter

    otter Banned or Parked

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    Find the best book you can on the art of Zen archery, and apply principles contained therein. Or the Seven or Ten Oxherding Pictures. Aligning the river, the moment, and perfect focus is a discipline that continues for a lifetime (mechanical knowledge is an illusion, go for the intuitive).

    You will find that at the instant that your previous goal of catching fish no longer applies............. you will have a fish on.

    And if you meet the Buddha on the river, kill him, because he is an imposter.
     
  20. chadk

    chadk Be the guide...

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    :confused:

    Uh, ok, whaterver. but thanks for bringing up this post.... Jason - when are you going to buy me that burger and beer???:beer2: (refering to the deal you mentioned in the first post on this thread...)
     

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