What to do on a missed take from a steelhead?


Meat chucker
Just wondering what the best strategy to go with when you have a missed take on any type of fly. Do you stay with the current pattern? Change colors? Switch from small to big, vice versa? What are your experiences that have seemed to work best.

If you nicked 'em hard, I would come back at the end of the day.

Otherwise, I would keep the same amount of line out and not reel in, change up to a smaller pattern, drab or dark color, wait 20 minutes, and cast from the same spot but about 9 ft short of where the take was, and each subsequent cast putting an additional 3 ft of line out.

Hal Eckert

Active Member
Wait ten minutes have a smoke or something eat, then try again with a different pattern contrasting to the first one they took.

Never had any luck going back the end of the day and trying unless I knew it was a holding or running lie where multiple fish would be moving thru out the day.



Well-Known Member

When I have a take and and the fish isn't hooked, I repeat the cast without changing anything else. If I think the fish definitely felt the hook, I'll usually continue fishing my way down the pool - but not always. If I think the fish didn't feel the hook, I back upstream about 6 steps and repeat the cast, and continue fishing to about 20' downstream of where the fish hit. Then I go back upstream as before and change flies, usually smaller and or switching from bright to dark. Then I repeat the casting sequence to about 20' downstream of where the fish hit. If none of the above induced a second strike, I return to the original fly pattern and continue fishing. I may return to the spot later in the day if that fits my fishing schedule and I'm not floating the river for example.


Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
Keep in mind that a place where you get a take is also worth additional attention because steelhead usaully do not hold alone, especailly in big water.


Well-Known Member
Zen, you clearly are unfamiliar with rivers that receive small steelhead runs then. There's plenty of water, big and small, that hold solitary steelhead due to the paucity of steelhead. Run size and fish density within a run in a particular river system are critical factors to consider.


Active Member
Let's face it the most difficult part of being successful in steelheading is the finding a fish that is not only "fishable" but one that is willing to at least potentially "play". Thus when one finds such a fish (misses it) the ability to convert a significant % of those fish to hook fish is a important step in one's improvement as a steelhead angler.

To be successful we need to consider how the fish has behaved prior to the take/miss and afterwords. Important skills in converting those fish to a hooked fish while fishing a swung fly is a constant awareness of where your fly is at all times (where it was when the "miss" occurred) and being able to make the same cast repeatly. Several general situations should serve illustrate the range of potential strategies.

1) At times an agressive fish will rush forward from its lie to intercept the fly. If such a fish doesn't take solidly it is often because it has rejected the fly at the last minute. Often the best strategy for such fish is to rest it briefly and then show it a completely different fly (think different profile). With such fish I mark the local and continue with the presentations below hoping to return later a second go with that different fly.

2) Often the fish will follow the fly on its swing before committing. Such a fish may return to; a) its original holding location (typcially some sort of flow cushion), b) hold in the area of the miss strike, c) after "missing" move back out towards deeper water (at about the some countour as before) but downstream of its orignial position, or d) spooking itself where it will move to better "cover" to hide.

Often with steelhead getting a fish to take is less about the fly and more about the presentation. With that in mind my best strategy with a missed fish is to mark where I'm in relation to the fish and the bank and procede as follows.

Repeat the exact same cast with the same fly paying careful attention to assuring that my presentation is as good as possible. That will give fish #1, 2a, and 2b a second chance to take the fly and it is surprising often that take will happen. Next while standing in the same local repeat the same cast though stopping a little short of a full cast. Then mend the full line. The result is that the fly will drift natural for a short distance and will tend to swing deep and slower. This can be especially effective on fish # 2b but occassional #1 and 2a will also respond. I then continue to fish carefully down the bar and hopefuylly fish #2c will respond as it is reached.

Failing with the above I continue to fish on down through the run planning to return to the "rested" fsih with a fly change. However I first will stop to look at the best "cover" at or above the location of the missed fish planning to fish that water with the new fly. Once that #2d fish has settled down they are often good "takers"; just need to know where they are likely to be and be able to shown a fly properly at that location.

Next I step in a litlle above the marked location and fish down with the new fly. I try to make exactly the same cast as I fish through the marked water. I focus on mending the line at the end of the cast to achieve a short section of drag free drift prior to the onset of the swing fishing on through the water I think potentially might hold the "marked" fish. It is my feeling that if I'm the only rod on that run I can conver that missed fish to a hooked fish about 1/2 of the time (who knows for sure whether it is always the same fish).

One final "trick"; if I'm fishing a skated dry and have a missed fish (often one that misses several times) changing to a smaller wet fly fished "greased line" wil convert an amazing number of those missed fish. However I often get so addicted to that surface presentation that I don't bother with change to sub-surface fly.

Finally one final trick is to fish the same water after the light changes - the holding area becomes covered by shadows or the setting sun place the waters in shadows. Soemtimes the reduced lighting seems to give the fish more confidence to take (again a fly change is probably wise).

Don't know if any of the above makes sense but that has become my "standard" approach to that "missed" fish.

If one is willing to go complete to the dark side pounding the marked holding water with an indicator/nymph combo can be effective as well.

Tight lines


Active Member
Serious answer...

Some people size down in profile, some size up, some change to a darker profile, some lighten up, some wake....... who knows as usual??

The one thing I can say is good advice though: make a note of where the pull was. Don't change flys, Back up about 10-15 ft from where you were standing when you got the pull, and swing back through again with the same presentation. if you don't get the fish to come back, start making adjustments and repeat process. If that doesn'twork, as stated above, let the fish rest and come back later... it should come back to its original lie.

Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
Great response, thank you.

Honestly throwing rocks in a run to move fish in a riffle is probably the best, easist and most consistent way to turn fish into takers. Just don't do it though, its too mean.