Traditional Fly Fishing for Steelhead (Nothing like the Grab)

Spey Casting

Get’n with it and go’n for the GRAB

Andy Hoodenpyle, an energetic talented young-blood dropped by the shop and expressed his desire to catch a steelhead on the swing. Andy mentioned he has primarily indicator fly fished and has experienced some success catching steelhead, nymphing with indicators, yet would love to feel the grab while fishing traditional steelhead fly fishing methods. The tone of Andy’s voice and wide eyed expressions revealed he was stoked and eager to step out of the box and try something new; a natural progression that ultimately captivates the majority accepting the steelhead challenge.

How do I catch a steelhead on the swing and learn traditional steelhead fly fishing methods is a question we hear often, especially each and every steelhead season.

Reels & Fly Line

-Fly lines (floaters, sinking, shooting, versa-tips) play a major role in traditional fly fishing and is critical to know how, when and where to fish them

The answer is easy, totally commit and leave your indicators/nymphing tackle at home. Say what? Remember when you first started fly fishing and also brought your spinning gear, using the excuse, “it’s just for backup”. More times than not, when fishing was slow, you lost faith fly fishing and ended up using the spinning gear. No big whoop, it was all good, yet your stutter step and unwillingness to totally commit simply prolonged your fly fishing introduction and learning process. Same drill with learning traditional steelhead fly fishing methods. Bring your indicators/nymphing rigs, most anglers searching for their first grab generally lose faith and confidence if success doesn’t occur right off the get- go and resort to what they already know and has proven successful. That’s cool, but keep in mind you are accepting the ultimate challenge, give yourself a chance. If you want to learn and be successful fishing traditional steelhead fly fishing methods don’t go half-ass, totally commit.

Trinity River Steelhead

Nikki Blum loves the grab–first on a skater

Traditional fly fishing equipment is closely related to indicator/ nymphing gear. Single and double hand rods (6-7-8 wts.) cover most west coast and interior steelhead waters while (8-9-10wts.) compliment larger waters and coastal systems. Like the old saying’ “steelhead are a fish of a thousand casts.” It is to your best advantage to inventory rods that are enjoyable to cast, compliment line manipulation and management, preform under a variety of conditions and, in many situations, able to cast a variety of lines. Fly lines play a major role in traditional fly fishing and it is critical to know what lines are available and how, when and where to fish them. Weight forward floating lines are ideal for waking/skating, greased lining, wet fly fishing most summer-fall-early winter conditions; covering surface, subsurface and midlevel waters. Full sink lines are designed to help sustain presentations in various water depths for extended durations. They come in a variety of sink rates and most popular when targeting estuaries, broad rivers, non-descript deep waters and during cold water periods, fall-winter-spring, when presentations need to get-down, get- down. Versa-tip or Multi-tip lines are interchangeable sink-tip systems designed to cover varied water columns. A loop-to-loop running line and selection of weighted tips allows for quick and convenient tip changes (eliminating extra spools) to compliment water depths and velocities. Shooting lines/heads are designed for distance and varied water depths, especially popular in estuaries and large broad rivers. Starting out , keep it simple, traditional fly fishers can do no wrong targeting late summer- fall runs with just a weight forward floating line. Leaders should be tapered, supporting stiff butt sections, (Maxima quality) for proper turnover and withstand the rigors of casting and larger flies.

Fly Fishing Reading Material

Although most out of print, these classics are great reads and sure to enhance your traditional fly fishing experiences

Reading water is vital to success and in many cases anglers are fishing non-productive waters. The better knowledge and understanding the anatomy of a river advances you that much closer to success. Equally important, coordinate appropriate flies with appropriate waters; Riffles-(surface-mid-depths) fish well with muddlers/damp skaters, attractor wet flies, articulated patterns, stone nymphs, egg patterns. Pools-Glides-(deep water depths) fish well with articulated-marabou breathing action attractor wet flies, nymphs, egg patterns. Pocketwaters-(surface-mid-depths) fish well with attractor wet flies, nymphs, muddlers, skaters, Tailouts-(surface waters) fish well with skaters/damp skaters, smaller attractor wet flies.

Steelhead migrations, environments, and conditions are so varied and unpredictable at best. Keep an open mind, remain flexible and follow gut instincts. Attempt to cultivate a feel for fish behavior and movements based upon current weather and water conditions. If flows are up and fish on the move, try fishing less water (tailouts-riffles) and target specific compositions you know fish have a solid visual of your patterns. Dial in, find the sweet spot, and let the rotation come to you. If river flows are low and fish are held up/staging, try deep water (pools-glides) and cover more water with hopes to locate receptive fish. If heavy angling pressure exists and favorite or popular productive waters are getting pounded, try fishing waters receiving less pressure. Some of my favorite and most productive waters are non-descript, unsuspecting, least appealing and took years to discover.

Fly fishing for Shad, Stripers, Salmon and Trout are other great options to help enhance your abilities to read and approach waters, better understand fish behavior, migrations, and food chains and ultimately broaden your traditional fly fishing horizons. Experiencing a Steelhead’s arm-wrenching grab, on a down and across swing, is an addictive sensation that is as good as it can get. The addiction festers and only gets worse as the burning desire for more can only be fulfilled by the real deal; another yank from chrome steel. Regardless how you fish, anytime on a steelhead river is time well spent. It’s all about feel’n good and what turns you on. Are you ready for the Grab???

Traditional Fly Fishing

“I find it hard to express in cold print the strange fascination which the Greased Line method exerts over its devotees. Further, to watch an expert fishing is to wish to follow in his footsteps.
Very, very rarely have I known an angler who refused to succumb to the temptations of the Greased Line!”–Jock Scott “Greased Line fishing”