Fly Fishing for Steelhead (Getting Started)

Trinity River Fly Fishing

It helps to appreciate the beauty of steelhead and their surrounds while enjoying the opportunity.

Trinity Steelhead Fishing

Never too young, or old, to begin fly fishing for steelhead—Tristian Mihan share’n the stoke.

I realize we are in the heat of the summer, however spring-summer chinook and steelhead runs are in full swing and it won’t be long before the fall runs begin entering the lower system. No time is better or more practical than now, for those desiring steelhead on the fly, to get with the program and accept the challenge. Tuning in early and learning the necessary equipment needed, fly casting fundamentals, effective techniques and flies, steelhead strategies and understanding and recognizing preferred steelhead waters will advance you that much further to fall steelheading success. Anglers getting a jump on the fall runs will be better prepared and also have a shot at a summer steelhead, which is great way to sweeten the learning curve. Do It!

Common folklore that steelhead are too difficult to catch, come too far and few between and best left for the most advanced or callused anglers is simply not true. Fly fishing for steelhead consists of basic fundamentals easy to learn by individuals with the proper attitude and willingness to accept the challenge. While many methods of fly fishing can be applied, a basic approach is enough to get started and most importantly offers the opportunity to learn, enjoy and catch fish.

River Fly Fishing

Tiger by the tail, Mark Noble on the receiving end, who’s got who. Sound advice: be good to yourself and purchase quality equipment.

Tools of the trade – Beginning steelhead fly fishers will need: Fly Rod (9’-6-7wt.), Reel (dependable disc drag backed with 100 yds. Of backing) Fly Line (Wt. Forward floating line), chest waders/wading boots (felt bottoms), Vest/Chest Pac/Satchel (containing: fly boxes/selections, leaders/tippit material, nail-knot tool, nippers, hook-hone, mini-pliers-line dressing), raingear and clothing to compliment fall-winter conditions (undergarments-wool hat/gloves etc.).
Keep in mind you are accepting what many refer to as the ultimate challenge, in other words there is little room for error or equipment malfunction. No mercy or sympathy for those trying to save a buck, purchasing subpar equipment, stepping into a lineup and getting their ass handed to them. Be good to yourself. Invest in quality equipment that will perform for you and stand up to rigorous use and abuse and help to keep the odds for success in your favor.

A 9’-6-7 wt. fly rod supports enough backbone (turn over larger, heavier flies and compliment conditions) and should handle most late- summer-fall Trinity steelhead. Reels should have a dependable quality drag system and loaded with a minimum 100 yds. of backing. A floating line will compliment most conditions throughout the late summer- fall. Leaders should be 9-10 ft. ft., progressive tapers (60% butt section-40%mid-tippit), Maxima quality (stiff mono for larger fly turnover and positive knot strength) and tapering down to 6-8-10-12 lb. tippits. Fly selections should include a variety of sizes (2-4-6-8-10-12’s—tied on 2X quality irons), styles (wet, dry, articulated, traditional and buggy) and color tones (light-dark-bright). It has been well over 40 yrs., I haven’t forgotten the late Jim Freeman’s statement, “Go tie on a fly and catch a steelhead.” I never fully understood the depth and simplicity of his statement until I experienced a ravaged steelhead grab. I experienced the rare, reckless and eager side of a steelhead’s Jekyll-Hyde personality; a multiple hookup frenzy, any fly, any color got crushed by the fresh arrivals. Hiltons, Chappies, Burlaps, Golden stones, attractor nymphs, egg patterns, and man’s best friend, the Muddler, would be a solid inventory that covers a variety of waters and sweeten the temptation.

Traditional Fly Fishing

Traditional Wet Fly Swing

A traditional approach – Stepping into a lineup, an angler should always start at the top end of desired waters and work his/her way downstream, often referred to as a “pass.” Looking directly across river will register as 12 o’clock; slightly downstream is 1 o’clock, etc.. The traditional “Down and across” presentation is casting downstream, 1 o’clock, allowing the currents to engage the fly to swing across primary waters ending up directly below you (refer to Diagram). Mending or paying out line is determined by water composition, depth, speed and how the angler desires to present and fish the fly. While the down and across presentation is relatively easy and, at first thought seems artless, it represents a very tantalizing, lifelike, fourfold presentation; the drop of the fly, dead-drift, lifting-swing and hang-down. Steelhead can intercept the fly at any point of presentation. Takes are often powerful and explosive, yet, can also be surprisingly subtle; a pluck or series of plucks (like the pulling of a rubber band). Be prepared, the tug is the drug and generally occurs when least expected, often catching many off guard. Complete two presentations and, when your fly is directly below you, proceed to take 1-2 steps downstream and continue working waters in this fashion and pace. If you hook-up, see active signs of steelhead or are just plain feel’n it, make another pass with a different fly; don’t leave fish to find fish.

As with any sport, you get out of it what you put into it. Fly fishing for steelhead is no different. It helps to understand and appreciate the beauty of steelhead and their surrounds while enjoying the opportunity. Cultivate an open mind by never under estimate or second guess steelhead; there are no boundaries. It’s all about timing and feel’n good; maintain confidence and step into lineups with a smile and positive attitude. Steelhead success is sure to happen to those who are well prepared and hang in there; firmly believing it isn’t if, but rather when. Now get out there!!!

Trinity River Steelhead

Each and everyone are admired and become deeply embedded; Timing-Confidence and Persistence are key ingredients to steelhead success.

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2 thoughts on “Fly Fishing for Steelhead (Getting Started)

  1. Just wanted to say I visited your fly shop and have been reading your blog and both were a big help. Anyone in the trinity river (Lewiston) would do well by talking to these guys and their merchandise is great as well. I am still camping out here and will visit the shop today (Im out of pale morning Duns after some monster snapped my hook last night)

  2. Your website ROCKS even though I’m a bit bias with the players. Tristan nice job, great pic, Herb’s pic – good thing you did not have the tail a bit higher and squeeze too hard, you’d have a mess. Miss all of you,Gretchen and I are working on the headwaters of Coeur d’Alene River, ID inventorying oldgrowth…..nothing but gold miners and ………bull trout…….1/8 inchers. Best Wishes – TFS….Uncle.

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