To that point, steelheading is an endeavor that is obviously not numbers or results driven. In that regard, the quest can be frustrating and as a result it is not for everybody. There are plenty of very accomplished fly fishermen in this region who choose to focus on trout, despite the prevalence of rivers with steelhead in them.
Jason don't fret. I too am a beginner in the realm of Steelies. I also believe fully in knowing thy enemy. Info Info Info. Then practice practice practice. I have read these posts with baited breath hoping to glean that silver bullet, find that holy grail of books the Necranomicon if you will. I will be checking out the above mentioned books and reading them from cover to cover. I am also going to be taking a guided trip with Bob Trigg and one with Steve this winter. Again thanks guys for the insights.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.