What's your story?

Jim B

Active Member
After a winter of flailing an SA type 4 sink-tip line, my first steelhead came to the beach in late March, 1989....a beautiful wild hen, at Tiffany's Bar on the Sauk (no longer there, so no sense looking for it on Google Earth)...caught with a purple and pink marabou spey (remember those?), on the first steelhead fly rod that I put together (a 9'6" G Loomis IM6 8-wt) , with John Farrar as my guide. I can still see her laying on her side in the shallows, the fly in the corner of her jaw....nothing like it!


Be the guide...
I started fishing as a small child - bait and gear mainly. Was pretty deadly with spinners and spoons by the time I was in HS. But never tried for steelhead, as my dad always told me they were too hard to catch. At that time, i was given a cheapo fly rod combo from a friend of a friend who never used it. And that kicked off my fly fishing enthusiasm - though that took many years before I really started getting traction - before the internet and with nobody to teach me.

Fast forward several years. I had been doing some salmon fishing on the Green river one morning. I was a 'Big Brother' and had my little brother hooked up with a small spinning rod and spinner fishing for cutties. We were both getting skunked and I was tired of casting my fly rod, so I took his little trout rod and chucked the spinner to the other side of the river, inches from some tall grass under some branches - where nobody else was focusing since a huge popular pool was just downstream. The spinner hit the water and instantly I thought I must have snagged grass or a branch under the surface since I was pushing it getting that spinner so close to cover, as was my habit when hunting trout... I instinctively gave a quick hook set, and stopped with rod high to feel if I got an answer back, before commencing spinner retrieval from snag techniques... Nothing. Rod bent heavily, but nothing. Gave a couple quick yanks to see if I could free it. Suddenly is started pulling. The all heck breaks loose at a huge fish screams upstream. Then suddenly comes screaming back my way as fast as I could reel. It dives deep, then like a trained orca whale, comes exploding out of the water in front of us. Eyes bulging and jaws dropped, we could not believe the sight as this 15+lb chrome bright steelhead did an aerial display just yards from where we stood. It dove deep and cruised downstream further into the big pool and near the far end - gear guys were pulling in their lines and getting out of my way as I barreled through. Soon I had 15 guys standing on the shore watching this crazy battle between me, my tiny trout rod, and this amazing steelhead. This went on for a good half hour. I had that rod taco'd to the max and the 4lb line about ready to snap - and that fish would not budge from the bottom. Finally, the lure just came undone and it was over. I lost the battle, but the war had only just began. I had drawn blood on the mythical steelhead and was determined to actually land one.

Was only a year later when I finally did do just that. A buddy and I would hit a favorite run on the Snoqualmie before work a few times a week using float and jig. Caught a beauty of a 10lb native hen that year. Wasn't too much longer after that when I finally landed my first on my fly rod. Then on my fly rod using my own fly creation. They all start blurring together, but you remember your first...
My first was on the Deschutes 8 years ago in September. This fish hammered my fly and before I could to anything it was down river. I finally got the sense to try and slow this fish down which was bad timing timing in hind sight. It was at the next riffle when this fish went air born. At that point I lost the battle. It all happened so fast that I didn't really know how to react. Plus this was my first steelhead and I was by my self. At that point I had never seen a steelhead caught, just heard about them. I look back and laugh now. I must have reeled in 200 ft of line when it was all over.
Thanks to everyone for posting. I could read peoples stories of their first steelhead all day. I will be sure to give a report when I get back from the OP, hopefully with news of a first of my own!!
I caught mine on the Deschutes way back. I was fishing fro trout, using my 4 wt. LL. In those days, I used to go every June after school was out and spend four days relaxing. It was the last day, noon, and time to wrap it up. I made one last cast and up popped the prettiest hen steelhead. It was small, maybe 26" long and only 3 - 4 pounds but it was one of the coolest fish I've ever caught and I released it unharmed. That was the first and I have returned many times since. I l;ove that river.


Joe from PA
I was lucky. I caught my first "steelhead" on a nymph in the first run on my first trip on the Salmon River in NY 20 years ago. After I moved to WA 15 years ago, I got my first true steelhead in the first run on my first trip to an OP river. The challenges for me came more on the gear side. I stopped nymphing when I moved to WA, so I had to learn the art of the swing and throwing larger flies and heavier sink tips. I fished a ton the first few years I lived here and quickly started to wear out my shoulder overhand casting with a single hander, so I picked up a spey rod and never looked back. Learning all the spey casts was a lot of fun and has made the experience much more enjoyable for me. Learning to tie classic spey / dee flies was also a lot of fun and became a hobby for me.

Unfortunately, I find the newest, and greatest challenge is simply getting over the menal inertia that often prevents me from getting out. With the recent early closures of our PS rivers, and the resulting shift of fishing pressure we've seen on the OP, I've really had to lower my expectations when it comes to accessing unmolested water and fish, and that has not been easy for me as guy that moved here, in part, to get away from crowds.


Active Member
First Steelhead? It was an accident. I was installing a piece of equipment at a sawmill near Forks over the 4th of July weekend. I brought my fishing rod with hopes of sneaking in a little fishing. I had Kings on the Sol Duc in mind. On the afternoon of the 4th, the mill manager told everyone to go home early. One of the millwrights, wish I could remember his name, saw me rigging up my fly rod and stopped to ask what I was up to. When I told him of my plans he took me to one of his spots. It was a great gear hole that offered no back cast what so ever. I put on big heavily weighted fly, that is typically trolled behind a boat in the saltwater, and rolled cast it above the hole and fed line out while the fly bounced down the hole. When the line stopped at the bottom of the hole in the shallow riffle he laughed and said, I knew you were gonna snag bottom if you fished it down that far. I jerked the rod up and down in an attempt to free the fly. That shallow water exploded as a fish bolted out of there and headed into the deep hole. This fish was jumping and pulling me all around that pool. I said to my new friend, "I've never caught a King that fought like this before." The dude looked at me sideways and said, "that's a steelhead, man. You ever catch a steelhead before?" I said, "Nope, really? A steelhead?" Back then I only thought of the OP rivers as salmon rivers. We finally led that fish to the bank and I was surprised it was only about 6-7lbs. That was the most fun I'd ever had with a fly rod in 20 years of fishing. I asked him if there were a lot of steelhead around there. He looked at me like I was some kind of idiot.
I am ashamed to say how many years I have fished for these critters with sad results. I have landed and taken only one, but have had the pleasure of meeting several others. Once hooked you are doomed.

I believe the one that spanked me the hardest was on the Babine river on the last day at the camp. Bright fish, tailwalked like a ballerina and kissed me goodby when the leader parted. Broke right in the middle so it was not a knot giveaway. The beauty of it was that she did it all right in front of all the other ten guys in the hole.


Not to be confused with Freestone
American River, 1971, under the Watt Ave Bridge, caught on night-crawler and spin combo...my unsophisticated, early days :D. First on a fly, 1997, Cowlitz River, not 20 feet downstream of the Blue Creek boat launch, using a single hand 9 wt, an intermediate line and a Muddler Minnow. Some things one never forgets.

Welcome to the world of cold, lonely, wet days, searching for ghosts!

Good luck!


MA-9 Beach Stalker
I caught my first steelhead in early October fly fishing on the North Fork of the Stillaguamish. I was working the Hazel Hole next to the highway with my secret cutthroat fly when I saw something good sized roll softly on the surface. Next cast just upstream from that spot produced a soft strike. I set the hook and felt dead weight. The fish was moving around a bit, but no jumps and no reel sizzling runs. As it came in for a quick landing I kneeled down in the river, then my fishing buddy spotted it and yelled "it's a steelhead"! After he yelled "steelhead" the fish suddenly came to life and and surged straight into me, ramming my groin area (hard). I managed to compose myself and wrangle in my first steelhead, my friend snapped a photo to document the moment. It was a 9 pound summer run Skamania hatchery buck that was far from chrome and was probably the weakest steelhead I've ever hooked for its size. But you don't pick your first steelhead, it picks you.

The next weekend I returned to the NF Stilly and hooked my second steelhead at the Fortson Hole. This steelhead hit the fly hard, ran hard, jumped and fought me tooth and nail for nearly 15 minutes. Finally, just a foot from the beach it unhooked itself on a submerged branch and quietly swam off into the deep. That fish got me interested in steelhead.
Jon I read your earlier post, nicely done, what a beautiful fish.

Like TD posted earlier, my first was an accident. In my early 20's my brother and I took an arduous late summer hike up camp robber creek to the base of a waterfall he encountered with his girlfriend (hint: his thought was not on fishing at that time he told me) weeks prior to us going up. This time he was armed with his gear.
At the time I wasn't a fly addict yet. Instead I was tossing a small dick nite into pocket water at the base of these falls when all of a sudden from out of the depths a huge shadow darted towards the spoon and slammed it. Before making it to the falls the focus was into catching small 6" to 10" cutties and planted rainbows so it freaked me out to see this huge shadow come out of nowhere. The fight lasted briefly, as I recollect, maybe a couple of minutes as the fish really didn't have much room to run around and I wasn't going to let it leave the pool.
After finally landing it I knew why it didn't put up much of a fight being as it was in full post spawn colors and thin, nothing less it was still a beautiful specimen somewhere between 5 to 7 lbs. Even to this day when the conversation comes up my brother and I still can't believe that I caught that fish in such small water.

Ian Broadie

Flyfishing is so "Metal"
I have two tales one of the first steelhead I ever hooked and one for the first steelhead I ever caught.

The first steelhead I ever hooked was in Juanita Beach in Kirkland sometime around 1980/81 while I was fishing for trout in March during conferences at school (way back when a 9 year old kid could just walk to the beach). I was fishing with a lady who was retired and spending her days fishing on the dock when she set her hook on a bite, broke the fish off instantly, and said "That was big!". About 10 seconds after that statement my rod starts doing the little tip bounce that says I'm getting a bite and when I set the hook what seemed like a whale (actually about a 6-8 lb steelhead) came shooting straight out of the water and proceeded to move at what felt like Mach 2 across Juanita Bay. At this point I panicked and tried to reel to slow the fish down which pretty well immediately broke the fish off but it is a memory that will stay with me as long as I can remember anything.

The first steelhead I ever caught was ironically on the fly about two years after I hooked my first steelhead. My family was invited to go on a steelheading trip on Skagit (by one of "guru's" of steelheading) where one day we would float from Marblemount to Concrete and the next we would just bank fish. The first day was fruitless but fun because floating a river was a totally new experience and it was the first time I ever got to see large amounts of Bald Eagles. On the second day my dad decided he wanted to sleep and the guy running the trip was nice enough to take me along to fish The Mixer (which at that time you could just drive to) since it was only about 10 minutes from where we were camping.

While I was there I actually sort of learned how to cast a sink tip on a fly rod (single hand of course two-handed rods were more of a myth at that time) and was able to make a cast to a spot that might hold a fish. Low and behold I got a bite on this nifty "new" type of fly called a marabou streamer which my dads friend had been working on and off to the races I went. After about a 5 minute battle which involved some pretty fearsome runs and some pretty stellar jumps I brought a 6-8 lb hen to hand and just feeling a sense of disbelief and wonder that an animal could be that strong.

I went 20 years in between steelhead for various reasons but now I can't imagine not fishing for them every chance I get and being more than a little sad about what was and what has become of it. Oh and I forgot to mention the rod I was using was a 1st generation graphite 8wt Fenwick with a Pfluger Medalist.


Oregon Member
I landed my first steelhead on a...a phfluger reel with several of the little screws missing...
Oh, brother, can I relate to that. My U.S. made 1495½ had to be missing three screws when I landed my first flyrod steelhead back in the '80's. But, he wasn't the first steelhead I ever caught. That fish was on a spinner on a section of a river that now is 15 years into a "temporary" closure to let fish populations recover.

I remember, almost like I was still standing there on the left bank of the river, the fog lying heavy on the tops of the trees on the far side of the canyon. It was late December and the temps were in the low 30's so there was ice shimmering in the cobwebs that knitted together the dried stalks of grass along the shore. Everything--tree branches, grass, and rocks--was crusted in white frost crystals, and it was so cold I could see my breath as clearly as if I'd been puffing a Pall Mall.

The cast wasn't really any different than the 42,000 I'd taken over the previous four years but, for some reason, this time a fish grabbed and hung on (unlike the two before that had merely taunted by shaking once, jumping, and then tossing the hook before they departed).

The water was probably 38 degrees, so after the fish hit, he didn't fight much. He was average, about 8 pounds and sporting that crimson cheek-to-tail trademark that earned his cousins the title: rainbow. To me, he was a thing of beauty.

I was able to slide him up on the bank and, with a little effort, work loose the hook from his jaw. However, without my being aware at the time, that steelhead had set a barb deep in me as well. And, as it turns out, I was hooked to the very soul, a place where it's nigh impossible to dislodge a well-set fly from its purchase. So, I fish on to this day.

Darn fish.



Proud to Be Alaskan
I always heard/read about them as a kid, but the steelhead run was 5 hours away, and during the school year so I got approximately 1 hour fishing for them growing up, if you discount the 2 hours I spend on the duwamish when I was 14. Then when I was 15 some dude my parents knew took me down to go king fishing. Opening day the river was clear (strange) and the kings were in. I hooked two steelhead the opening night, fall fish in may, but hey I was 15 and had no clue. The next day I landed my first ever steelhead probably a 27 inch fish, then a 32 inch fish that looked and fought like it had spent the fall in the estuary or something (coulda been a random spring fish too I suppose). Finally caught a king too, a nice 25-20 pound fish a mile and a half above tide water.

The next steelhead I would catch was in 2005 while fishing for silvers, one of 20 half pounders that overwinter in the lake on my campus it was 16 inches and pulled me around in a float tube.

Then I went to Yakutat, which in 2007 was unreal 1000 fish per mile...
since then I have spent every spring chasing steelhead, its cost me a (maybe several) relationship(s), tens of thousands of dollars, that one fish after five seasons looking at this one stream and hiking its length twenty or thirty times was soo worth it.

Pumped for may.

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