Fly fishing for steelhead is exciting and challenging. Steelhead are considered difficult to catch, but are also recognized as great game fish. The fish migrate through coastal river systems to spawn every year and, unlike salmon, steelhead return to the ocean to live and grow large. Fly fishing for steelhead requires time and patience, but the rewards can be great.
Fly fishing for steelhead can be done on foot or from a boat. Successful fly fishing for steelhead requires anglers to be mobile, because the fish are always on the move. Traditional steelhead etiquette requires the angler to begin fishing at the head of a run and work downstream to the end of the run. This allows you to cover all of the water in the run and prevents anglers from cutting you off on the river. Steelhead can be caught in any part of a run, but the slow water at the tail of a run or upstream of a run are their prime holding areas. They use the slack water as a resting point before or after they navigate rapids and heavy currents.
Equipment and Techniques
Steelhead can be caught on a variety of fly fishing equipment. Small rivers are ideal for 7 or 8 weight, single-hand rods. Small rivers can be fished with methods similar to trout fishing. Drifting nymphs and egg patterns under strike indicators and retrieving streamers are effective ways to attract small-river steelhead. Large rivers, such as those on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, are best fished with a spey rod. Spey rods allow the angler to cover large stretches of water with a single cast. The casting style also prevents anglers from hooking foliage on the bank. Spey casting can be done with a sinking or floating line.
Steelhead can be found feeding on insects while migrating downstream, but are most likely to strike aggressively on streamers and wet flies. Steelhead are not picky feeders and will strike a number of patterns. Popular steelhead wet flies include the Green Butt Skunk, Silver Hilton, Babine Special, Bosses and Comets; nymphs and drifting flies include the Jumbo John and Yarn Egg.
Article Written By Zach Lazzari
Zach Lazzari is an outdoor writing specialist. He has experience in website writing as well as standard newspaper writing. He wrote an outdoor column for the Silver World in Lake City, Colo., and articles for Colorado-mountain-adventure.com. Lazzari is currently completing his bachelor's degree online through Arizona State University and lives in southwest Montana.