steelhead: the confidence factor

After the tenth time out fishless, I ran into this in a old flyfishing magazine. Enjoy.

We steelhead anglers are a decidedly twisted lot because we spend far more time fishing than actually catching. We operate on faith-on the assumption that if we just keep fishing we will, sooner or later, hook a steelhead.

Here in the Northwest, most of us fish big rivers: the Decutes, Skykomish, North Umpqua, Rogue, Clearwater, Skagit, and many more. On some of these rivers, you can watch the fish counts at the dams and at least guess as to how many steelhead have migrated to your favorite reaches. And then you simply assume that each pool holds fish, since you are rarely able to spot them in the water.

Your faith must never falter: you must always believe that the fish are in the river, in your favorite pools, and in the mood to chase your flies. In fact, confidence may be the single most important attribute to the successful steelhead angler.

Confidence trancends technique and strategy. More than that, confidence elevates your angling skills because it instills the belief that you will hook a steelhead. Not burdened by doubt, you decide to master the necessary steelheading skills-casting, wading, and reading water.

As you deliver a cast, you feel not a shred of doubt that a steelhead will grab the fly on that presentation. If this fails to happen, your confidence doubles on the ensuing cast; after all, if the last cast failed to tempt a fish, there is simply no question that the next one is sure to score. When this next presentation goes unanswered, you're quite flabergasted, and when you fish out the pool without touching a fish, your astounded.

Your astonishment only redoubles your confidence. No question about it: you will certainly hook a fish in the next pool. Should the day pass without a hookup, you will find yourself brimming with confidence about your chances the following day.

The confident steelheader appreciates the fact that reading and covering water rank as the two most significant factors in hooking a fish, so he never worries about pattern choice. The confident angler believes in every pool and fishes each one from top to bottom, knowing full well that giving up even one cast short of the lip current might make the difference.

Unburdened by worries, the steelhead angler now begins to appreciate the fact that few angling persuits place him in more intimate quarters with a favorite river. As the seasons mount and the wading and casting miles add up, as those ever-cherished hookups become more frequent, as lifelong angling friendships are forged, and as new rivers become old stomping grounds, the steelheader learns that he persists in this game simply because he loves to fish and because these noble gamefish and the rivers in which they live deserve a special reverence.
-John Shewey

Good luck to all the steelheaders out on the rivers!!



Well-Known Member
To each his own. Confidence probably helps. So does shithouse luck. Some days if it weren't for shithouse luck, I'd have no luck at all.

You can't be an angler without optimism. That can substitute for confidence, or is maybe a form of confidence.

If confidence transcends technique and strategy, it's only because technique and strategy are key elements in catching a steelhead - if you fish a fly properly (technique) and at the right time and place (strategy), your odds of a hookup increase astronomically. That sure as shit boosts my confidence.

I seldom waste time feeling that a steelhead will surely grab my fly on this cast, or the next. Since most of the good steelhead water we fish, and it's especially true these days, is devoid of fish, it isn't logical for me to believe that a fish will surely grab. However I sometimes do have such feelings and am momentarily let down if it doesn't happen. That feeling tho is based on prior experience on that exact piece of water, or the comparison of it to other water I have known, where the grab was a definitely happenin' thing.

While I agree with Mr. Shewey that fly pattern isn't terribly important, I disagree about fishing every pool from top to bottom. Part of learning to read water is to develop that sense of high percentage and low percentage water, and focusing the limited time available to me on high percentage water. I can think of several nice pools that I deeply revere that I fish only part of, and rarely or never anymore fish in their entirety. Experience has taught me that steelhead, if they live there at all, live only in certain parts of the pool, and rarely or never inhabit the rest of it. I fish enough water that is empty of steelhead as it is. Is doesn't make sense to me to fish more low percentage water just because it "might" hold a steelhead at this time when it seldom or never does otherwise.

I would include fishing as much high percentage water in a day as is reasonably possible as a sound part of good steelheading strategy.



Oregon Member
It's all good: confidence, luck, and skill. And, on those rare days when it all comes together, it makes all the empty casting worthwhile.


Active Member
As an 'old timer' told me (probably more years than you've been around):
"You fish, or you hunt."

It's a mental thing, but he was dead on.:ray1:
s.h. luck + confidence= karma

I find talking to yourself or the fish through the swing helps, which leads to a lot of talking to myself.

The way I have always approached it is this: The fishing is always good and knowing there are fish in the river and you have an honest chance even better. One good take is a fair day, one fish a good day, two fish an excellent day, any thing beyond that exceptional. What makes steelhead so special is they were never intended to be a numbers fish and that in itself should increase enjoyment in hooking one and becoming an advocate for there plight.


Proud to Be Alaskan
hehe I usually hook up with fish as I'm leaving the hole in discust with my back turned... :) or just fishing aimlessly with feeling that nothing is about to hit, those fish are pretty fun.

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
Without confidence, you might not even get out the driveway!

Lost mine at 4:30 this morning looking at the river gages on the West end OP rivers. The Queets was going over the nine foot level and still rising, having risen a foot since yesterday at the same time. I could visualize the visibility shrinking to less than 18" with the river higher than i like it. No thanks.
So I called my angling partner for the day and cancelled. He's up there with his wife, so he should be ok. He called me back and told me he was standing in the Queets, water still below his knees, and he could not see his boot laces. Visibility was about 1 foot, he said.

His confidence level is much higher than mine, that's for sure. Here's wishing him some good luck!:thumb: