new to steelhead

I have been an avid fisherman for about 3 years now but my experience is limited to trout fishing and would like to try my hand at steelhead. I was wondering about gear (rod wt, action, type of fly line) I also only wade fish and was wondering about rivers that have good wade access for steelhead. Thanks for any help you can give


Active Member
My first advice is to pick a river close to home that you would like to learn. Then find out everything you can about the river and fish--for example hatchery and wild returns, summer, winter steelhead or both, return timing, the number of hatchery plants, find out land ownership adjacent to the river etc. A call to the local WDFW office can be a big help. Then plan on fishing the river at different times, water levels, and conditions. Keep a journal and write down your experiences. The most important thing is don't chase fishing reports from other rivers and realize that it will take commitment. Catching steelhead consistently on the fly requires time, effort, and dedication. Put your expectations in check; you will have many fishless days while learning your river. Take into account the whole river experience and not just the number of fish landed. If you want to take a shortcut to this process, hire a guide and take good notes.
BDD offers great advice, IMO.

As far as gear, a 6 wt with a floating line is generally sufficient for summer runs and an 8 wt for winter fish, with varying sinks/intermediates (multi-tip lines can be good for this).

Also, many prefer longer rods for steelheading -- both spey and single handers. I don't fish with spey rods, so can't weigh in on that, but as for single handers I use a 9.5' & a 10' for steelhead fishing and like the added length for mending.


Active Member
9'5 or 10 ft are the way to go. However, regardless of summers or winters, it's more beneficial for yourself and the fish to use a 8wt IMO. Don't use this opinion as an oportunity to start a BS highjack.
I would say go with the 8 weight simply because you can target both summer-runs and winter-runs without going out a buying another rod. The river I learned to fish on was the Deschutes River in Oregon. I realize this is a WASHINGTON forum, but it is right across from the Dalles and has amazing access in the lower miles for wading fisherman. You can head up the west side or the east side on well-worn footpaths and parking is free at the mouth (at the park) There is a nice park where you can camp on grass etc. if you want to do that. They have running water and bathrooms. Evenn in the peak of the run I have been able to find holes to fish all by myself. If someone is in the hole you were planning on fishing, simply hike up a few more minutes and find one to yourself. The D gets a huge return of wild fish and hatchery fish. I have caught fish on the fly as early as July 1st on this river and there are always fish nosing into the lower 5 miles well into the fall. Bring green-butted skunks and freight trains. Or whatever fly you have the most confidence in. Get there early and fish the water before the sun gets directly on it. After the sun is on the water go to a sinking tip, or nymph. Good luck. It took me most of a season before I landed my first steelhead. I had several on that I lost and I had a monster of one that ran straight out into the middle of the river, and my backing failed and I lost my entire fly-line. That sucked. When you finally land one though, it is all worth it.
Type 3 or type 4 sink tips are critical. Lines are what catch fish, not rods or reels.

Rods: 7/8wt, reels: anything with a Strong drag.

Good luck!

Persistance, persistance,persistance... :ray1:

PS, dude you are only less than an hour away from the most productive Steelhead river in the state! Go to the Cowlitz trout hatchery.
If you want an all around rod that you could use on medium to large rivers in both the winter and summer, I would go for a 8wt that is at least 9'6". If you are going to fish smaller trout size rivers then a 9" rod would suffice. I personally like a single hand steelhead rod that is at least 9'6" for large rivers like the Deschutes and Cowlitz. If you enjoy that challence them you may move on to the spey which is now what I primarily use on said large rivers.

The only time I would use a 6 or 7 weight is if I was fishing a river like the Rogue or Klamath where the fish are generally smaller and the half pound variety. The fish seldom get above the 30 inch mark and you can still play them easily.

In regards to lines, a variety works regardless of time of year. A floater is the standard, but tips in sizes 3, 6, and even 8 can be used year round. For instance if you are fishing during the day this time of year, sink sips can allow you to swing through runs that are deeper and hold fish when the sun is keeping the fish away from the surface.

Reels are not as important as how you play the fish when you are hooked up. Pflueger Medalist Reels have been around for years and have seen lots of steelhead and salmon. They do not have the fancy disk drag, but experienced angers can use them effectively. I would just recommend a reel that has enough capacity to hold enough line for those hot fish that take you into your backing. Earlier in the month I saw Monkey Fly go into his backing twice on the same fish. Because he applied appropriate pressure, he was able to land the fish regardless of a failed drag on his reel.

The most important thing is to learn where, when and what kind of water you are fishing. When you start to learn how to fish and read water, you will become more successful. I once thought that I was a poor steelheader because of technique, however in time I learned how to fish different water and feel I have a a good chance each time I go out. You will also learn where steelhead hold and when they are there (time of day, time of year, etc). This is when it gets fun :)

Sorry, that was long winded. Good luck.
One of the best things I ever did was to hire a guide. No matter how much you read or how many videos you watch there is no experience like time on the water with someone who knows. There are several highly regarded steelhead guides that are sponsors of this site. Also, there are a couple of guides that offer "steelhead schools" that should be considered as well. It may seem like a lot of money to spend for a couple of days on the water, but it is money well spent.
Take care,


Well-Known Member

I've been fly fishing for steelhead for about 35 years. The advice above is right on the mark. Read it again and again. And then buy a couple books on the subject, and if you can hire a guide or take a class, you will steepen your learning curve by 2 or 3 years.


Salmo g.

I hope you catch fish your first time out, for me it has been a long hard slog. I fished for trout exclusively until last year, when I decided I had to catch a steelhead. I've spent about a dozen cold days standing in a river so far with no fish. I'm told that you have to fish hard and fish often, and keep notes. So far all of my notes say, "no fish".

As for everyone else, someone mentioned that you should use a sinking line. I have a 7wt floating line, but I use loop-connection sink tips on it to get the fly down. Do sinking tips offer a disadvantage over a sinking line, or is there a difference?

Noah- when attaching tips via loop to loop, there is a possibility of the line hinging; I've not had that problem that I'm aware of.

You might consider the Rio Versi-tip. In the 8 weight and above it comes w/ 5 tips. It's spendy, but a lot cheaper than buying separate lines and spools. The versi-tip allows you to fish most any kind of water w/ the different tips.


Active Member
Noah, with the tip, only the length of the tip sinks at the rate of its density, allowing for mending and subsurface line control. The full sinks, well, are full line sinking lines, that don't have a belly to allow for line control- I can't think of very many scenerios where I full sinking line would be aplicable to swinging. Versa-tip it.