Trip Report Washington Threes - 3wt and 3 Steelhead

As I collate data and watch our numbers every Thursday (as I am sure many of you do too), the returning runs for steelhead have been pennies on the otherwise shrinking dollar. Having only caught a few heads this summer and the previous weeks trends close to zero, I wanted to spend my two days fishing for quantity. Originally the plan was to spend most of my time targeting easy access mountain lakes along the cascades, but boy did that all fall through.

It was about 9am, having slept in and dropped the dog off with the gf that I stopped to eat my breakfast along the banks of a large western WA river. I was shocked, although I had another hour and half to the lakes, the normally popular pullout was desolate of cars. A couple coho boils into my world class McDonald's breakfast and I was certain that a walk down the run would reward some chasing cutts.

I quickly unpacked my 3wt rod, squeezed into my waders, and tied on my go-to size 9 orange wetfly for cutthroat. The water was low and clear, begging for small presentations. It was my first outing with a new 3wt Echo Carbon XL Euro, paired with my favorite line combination to date: 20lb amnesia running line, Scientific Anglers Intermediate 150gr Skagit Head, and a 3ips 7' Polyleader.


Shooting noodle in hand I proceeded into the run with my 3rd cast getting nibbled, tugged and then let free. Odd take for a cuttie I thought, w/o stepping any further I sent another cast to the same run.


This time as the fly swung out towards its hang the rod halted, as if hung up and immediately followed by an eruption of water. The fish flailed for a second on the surface, then burst into the air and sent my little Martin 67ss screaming. Into the backing she sang, rod keeled over finally winding what seemed like the smallest amount of line back with every turn. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz, all that work gone as the fish took another run this time into the second color of backing. Again I worked it back, backpedaling as it moved towards me, desperately trying to make up line on the small arbor.

At last, the nice chrome 6-7lb hen was landed safely, marveled over and sent on her way still strong as ever.


Nobody around, bursting with joy I flexed like a body builder arms bent below letting out a cheer just loud enough bank-side homes could hear.

At this point I was content on the day by 10am with a decision ripping at me of whether to keep driving to the original destinations or stay put. A decision to camp away from civilization for the night led me into the mountains, where out of the three lakes I only fished two, and out of the two one was productive. The versatility of this euro rod size is endless, switching my reel out for a 4wt Sink 6, the rod handled the line perfectly and even more-so the intended size of 6-12in browns.


Nothing to complain about up here, solitude and views.


But that first fish stamped something into my brain that morning before bed, and all I could think about was getting my 3wt bent over again...
I set an alarm, a foreign affair for my weekends, packed up camp in a brisk and set off back down the mountain. Stopping for ice, I started the day with the mindset I WOULD be catching another, following the adage I've heard again and again from repeated watches of Todd Moen's films. This time I started high on the river and worked down to one of my favorite runs. Others were out fishing, and from short talk nobody was catching anything big.

Halfway through the run, and one cutthroat lost my line thumped hard again. This time the weight didn't move, the fish was hooked but barely knew it as if my rod provided no pressure. I started backing up as I reeled, it was the calm before the storm. I was allowed almost all my shooting line in before he burst into the air every 5 seconds with 150ft of line out. I was cheered on by a group floating by, and awoke a small crowd from the banks. Pressure was on. My second steelhead landed, a male just larger than the previous days.


Lunch was taken, small talk continued with the other fisherman and I gave away one of the flies to a couple out of Wenatchee. It was only just after noon and I still had ample of time to continue, so continue I did. After lunch, walking the run and resetting, I fished the top again. Within 20 yards of my last fish, my swung fly took a nibble followed by a long pause and then the weight of the 3rd fish held to work my rod over again. Another multiple run fighting fish, one of the other fisherman thankfully asked if I wanted help as he saw me backing up into the bushes. With my off hand I threw him the net and another beautiful fish landed.


To anybody with a 3wt/4wt Euro Nymph rod, it greatly behooves you to try a shooting head setup. Since moving from Montana, I barely have used my euro rods but after this years skagit line setup I cannot put them down. I pair these rods with 3 reels a: wf4 SA Floating, wf4 S6 SA full sink and a 150gr Skagit Intermediate and Floating shooting setup.

**The last two fish were kept = pictures taken as such. I also hate social media and have no need for my face to be out there = blurring.**
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Active Member
when i was fishing for BIG salmon at 'pig pen' on the Trask, i was using my 10wt and 10# leaders. i also switched my flies to stainless hooks because they are mailable. after about 5 minutes with a fish i could not move, i would point the rod at the fish and straighten out the hook. you are not going to be able to do this until you start matching your tackle to the fish you are targeting. even with a rod bent to the reel seat, that 10# tippet was not going to break.


Active Member
A rod that is undersized for the job will bottom out trying to lift a fish up to gain line. There's minimal lifting force that can be applied. With a larger rod, one can lift, then reel down rapidly, then repeat to gain line quickly to expedite the fight after the (usual) initial run. Try that with a three weight on a bright wild fish. Or try to move a big sulking buck in big stream in with lots of current.

If you're successful in landing the fish, it will take much much longer with a light lineweight rod and the fish will be needlessly spent.

It's simply not the right tool for the job and their use ought to be discouraged. Some in this thread seem to be doing the opposite of that.


Active Member
in thinking about broken tippets, i can't remember a single time in fresh water when a tippet broke from too much pressure. salt water is another story. i have lost several big bill fish when the leader wrapped the bill and one HUGE tarpon which ripped off over 200 yds of backing, so a huge dragging loop, and yes i had released the drag to virtually nothing, the fish came out of the water sort of on the horizon and fell on the leader, goodbye.


Active Member
in thinking about broken tippets, i can't remember a single time in fresh water when a tippet broke from too much pressure. salt water is another story. i have lost several big bill fish when the leader wrapped the bill and one HUGE tarpon which ripped off over 200 yds of backing, so a huge dragging loop, and yes i had released the drag to virtually nothing, the fish came out of the water sort of on the horizon and fell on the leader, goodbye.
From my experience a knot usually fails before a tippet breaks.

Charles Sullivan

Active Member
I've landed bright 20+ lb GL kings on a 5wt. I have done the same with low teen GL steelhead (Lake Ontario) and 8-10 lb browns (slugs). When I moved here, I started fishing with 2-handers mostly but the few west coast steelhead fish I've caught with an 8wt single, I thought I was way overgunned for.
Honestly, the rod does not matter. Learn how to land a fish or you are wasting your time worrying about anything else. It's not too hard to land big fish with small rods. Hell, the fish in question are like 5-6 lbs tops. Let 'em make their two runs, yard 'em in and your done. Then go have a safety meeting and feel content regardless of rod.
I always fished a 5wt glass noodle for landlocked atlantics that were 3-5 lbs on average. Much better fighters than any steelhead that I've hooked. It was not hard and they go back fine after a short fight. I do miss those fish. Rod just doesn't matter. If you need a big thick rod, you just have no skill. Double entendre intended.

Go Sox,


Active Member
If you're blowing up rods it means you don't understand how to use them to fight a fish. As Salmo said, you can handline a fish with 10lb tippet but it takes a lot of work. Don't flex the lighter rods till they're bend into pretzels, keep them at a less than 90 degree bend and use spool pressure (or drag) to keep the pressure on the fish. Keep a low rod position and don't allow the fish to rest - keep changing the angle to turn the fish's head and keep it off balance. And with summer fish, let . . . them . . . run!! They'll often tire themselves out and then come in like puppies on a leash. I've landed summer steelhead on a 4wt stitch rod and Chum on a 3wt Euronymph rod. Both were incidental catches and not what I was fishing for, but I was able to land both in about the same time it would have taken me with a heavier rod. IMO the rod isn't the weak link in this chain, it's the tiny reel that's about to blow up every time the fish takes a run. ;)

You will blow up a 5wt before the 10# or maybe even 8# breaks. I define blowing up a rod as exploding it just above the handle. You're breaking the strongest part of the rod. The rod explodes.. The rod is the weak link. If you fought fish hard you would know what I'm talking about. The rod doesn't look like a pretzel before it explodes.

When you fight any fish you should get the butt of the rod in play. This is basic.


Active Member
if your rod angle exceeds 45 degrees, you have lost the power of the butt. keep that in mind as you play fish. and again, i have never popped a tippet in fresh water fishing, ever!!!!

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