Steelhead question


Active Member
>Insert fishing- vs -snagging debate here.

Troutman, if you are referring to my post, I can see where you got me wrong as I left out the words "floating fly line" I would never fish, or advocate a 12 foot leader on a sinktip.:eek
I much prefer to fish with a floating line and a fly on or close to the surface, but I think most rivers are now too cold for that to be effective. The Deschutes might be an exception.

Once the water cools down I think that you have to get the fly down. One way to do this is to use a sink tip with a short leader, but I find it much more fun to use a long leader and a weighted fly.

Depending on the type of water, you can use an indicator or not.

In order not to miss subtle takes, I use very sharp #8 light wire hooks. In most cases the fish will hook themselves.

Boy this is a touchy one.

I moved to Washington a year and a half ago, and up until that point had never steelhead fished. I went fishing about four times for summer runs, swinging, and didn't see any sign of a fish. I was then fortunate enough to meet a few anglers that fish indicators for steelhead and regularly catch 50 fish a season, so naturally I picked there brains and learned there techniques.

There is no question that fishing under an indicator is a more effective way to fish for steelhead (most of the time), at least from what I've seen. The only reason for this is that when you're indicator fishing, you're fishing for holding fish in a run, whereas when you're swinging, you're usually fishing the tail-out of the pool, and the only steelhead likely to be holding there are either moving, or fresh fish that have just come into the hole. It's a numbers game. The more steelhead that see your fly, the better your odds.

I chose to learn to intricacies of indicator fishing because, plain and simple, I wanted to catch fish. I can count the number of times I've been steelhead fishing this year on both hands, yet I've landed around 16 of them, all under an indicator, although some using pheasant tails, prince nymphs, and kaufmann's stones. Not bragging, just numbers, I don't do anything that anyone else can't do, and I'd be happy to show you everything I know. I honestly don't believe that the pattern matters as much as putting your fly in front of the fish. If you want to see the statistics for yourself, feel free to go to my web page and read through the last years worth of fishing logs on there.

Now that I have a general idea of how steelhead work and where they lie, I'm slowly trying to learn the art of swinging. Watch Leland Miyawaki fish a double hander for steelhead on the Snoqualmie, a man who catches twenty something steelies a year, and you'll quickly learn that there is an art to swinging. The guys who go years without catching there first steelhead generally are swinging wrong, they walk down to the river, cast across the pool, swing, and step. Watch some of the spey masters and swinging masters, and you'll learn that in order to catch steelhead on the swing, you have to do more than just step and swing.

I personally don't perscribe to anything traditional just because it's traditional, I fish for carp and throw indicators on a spey rod. Personally, it's just not my gig, not to say there is anything wrong with it, quite a few of the guys that I hang out with and fish are very traditional. Swinging is like the graduation school of steelhead fishing, to me it's the next level. If you have the persistance to learn how to catch steelhead CONSISTENTLY without ever having caught a steelhead in your life, you're a better man than I. Frankly, I just like to catch fish.


"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined."

- Henry David Thoreau


Active Member
Fishing vs, snagging is for people that can't catch steelhead. Everyone I know who can catch the steelhead, isn't so uptight about percieved technique differences. Nobody wants to snag/floss a fish. The question is- can you convince a steelhead to bite? If not, shut up and keep trying. Or just go gear and eggs and quit crying.

Edit: My bad- I missed the point. Sorry for the thread drift. Was responding to snagging not the topic.


Active Member

edit: the subject line header was not meant to be in response to Nailknot specifically as it appears, but the whole snagging issue in general.

enough with the snagging questions/comments!! All I was after was a simple answer of wether or not an indicator would assist my old man in catching his first steelhead. I personally took two solid years of chasing these beasts with the swing or drift technique before I finally figured it out. I have never once snagged a steelhead not have I ever used a strike indicator?? So everyone back off and leave this snagging issue somewhere else.

If you can contribute to the indicator thought, please do so. Thanks to all the thoughts above :thumb

~Patrick ><>


After a long and frustrating period of time trying to catch steelhead on a swinging fly with any consistency I have come to the conclusion that for me at least an indicator is going to be the ticket for more success. Perhaps I am tainted from my days of high lining with a drift rod and caught my share of fish using corkies and yarn. At the least I can put a weighted fly down where it needs to be and fish the water I know where the fish are holding. Snagging is not an issue as I see it. I have caught enough fish with corkies and I don't remember any of them being foul hooked! I see no reason why a weighted fly and indicator would be any different.



Winter takes are softer as a rule but you will still occasionally get the yank that tries to seperate your rod from your hand. If you are fishing a tight swing though, you should be able to feel most of your takes without problem.

Summer fish are a whole diff. story and while undoubtedly there are some fish that softly pluck the fly, most hit it with a fervor. It makes no difference if they are east or west side fish. I just returned from the Snake and every fish we touched hit aggressively. That included one big boy that snapped the fly off on the hit.

Indicator fishing is easier as it allows you to compensate for lack of technique and it does work. Steelhead deserve better in my book though so I refuse to use it.


Idiot Savant

I have to admire Pat and his Dad for two reasons, first to see a son care about his Dad enough to look for answers to help him catch steelhead. Second for Randy's dogged determination to catch one. Yup, I like the Oens's!


Good things come to those who wade...


I would not be so quick to change over to a sinktip on the eastside. The Ronde is cold and a tip is wise. The Clearwater cooled down with the cold spell but might be worth a floater if it warms a bit. The Snake is still at 47-48 degrees and at least as of last weekned, floaters were outfishing tips. The D is still floater temp. Smaller tribs, if below 45 degrees are best fished with a tip.
A skilled steelhead fisherman will have the same numbers in catch rate but his method causes the fish to chase the fly. Swinging a fly either under or on the surface in my opinion, the ultimate challenge for all of you flyfishermen. Nymphing for steelhead is more productive. This is especially the case for spawning steelhead or fish holding on the bottom.

I brought the snagging vs fishing only because this was the major topic at the party last weekend. Many of you were reluctant to hear the possibilities of beginners that would not know the difference between snagging and a steelhead moving a foot or two to take a dead drifting fly. The fact is, many of you guys have only fished for steelhead for a couple of years sucessfully.

I can only help out with the thought that maybe it is best to adopt the skill of having a steelhead take your fly on the swing where you know for sure that it was because it chased it. Not to say that I do not dead drift a fly. I will if I can see the fish and watch the fly. No indicator present. My sucess rate is still fine, by my standards. It isn't a numbers game, more of the experience and the thought that you really are doing it right. I don't care what YOU do either way because it is all about ME anyways.


Ignored Member
After reading a lot of the posts here I am incline to say the softness or hardness of a steelhead's take is subjective to each fisherman. Not sure what we are comparing steelhead to. I have never had a problem with knowing when a steelhead has taken my fly. And I have had more winter fish absolutely demolish a fly than summer fish. This is my experience and may not be the same experience others have had. I have more summer fish hit then winter fish. I believe this is because of warmer water and more active fish. Once or twice I have had 2 different summer fish hit during the same swing. At least that is what seemed to have happened. Again. I think this whole thing about subtle takes and not so subtle takes is subjective.



I would agree with you. I wonder if some of it is people new to swinging a fly not keeping the fly under tension? If the tension is not there than you are eseentially dead drifting all be it for a shorter period. I see a lot of new steelheaders over mending and with each mend, there is a short period of no tension. If the fly is always under tension, you are going to feel the take even if it is the classic slow cold water "is that a rock or a fish" take.