I have never fished steelhead before but am planning to fish the tributaries of lake erie in Erie Pennsylvania later this week. My biggest fly rod is a 9 foot long 5 weight Sage Vantage.
I know that is not the preferred rig and that a 6, 7 or 8 weight would be much better but my question is, can I make it work...or is it fly rod suicide? Anyone else ever fish steelhead on a 5 weight rod?...feedback please.
If you are not familiar with lake erie tributaries in this area, they are small/medium water with fish that average 4-8lbs but also regularly produce fish in the 10-12lb range. I expect to fish a 3x leader/tippet.
Fishing the Erie tribs in Pa., is known as combat fishing. Chances are you won't be able to take off running the bank after the fish, w/o really jerking someone's wires. Also, a 5 may hold up to the steelies, but chances are you will snap it. (seen it many times in the past) Fish from 8 to 12 lbs. are more common than one thinks. Go with a 7 weight IMO
Not enough rod. If conditions are low/clear, you will not get away with 3x either, you have to drop down tippet size quite often in Erie to get any strikes. Light tippet, large strong fish does not equal 5 wt.
Here's the thing. You cast with the rod tip and upper rod BUT you fight big fish with the rod butt. Because fly rods have a continuous taper, from thinner at the top to thicker at the bottom; the longer the fly rod, the stronger and thicker the butt.
Example - I took two 10 foot fly rods to fish the Copper River in Alaska for big rainbows. I took a 5 wt and a 7 wt, both GLoomis GLXs. I never used the 7 weight. The 5 wt easily handled the fish. So if the 5 wt you have was the same fly rod, I would say yes.
When I returned, I asked Gary Borger about how a 5 wt was able to handle the big rainbows. He was the one who told me about the relationship of the rod butt strength to rod length. He said my 10 ft 5 wt had a rod butt that was a powerful as a 9 ft 7 wt.
This is especially true with fast action rods that have a steeper taper so that the rod butt is thicker than a slower action fly rod of the same length and line rating.
Fly fishers confuse rod line rating with rod power. The line rating is the how the rod casts and is determined by the flex of the upper and middle third of the fly rod. The rod power is the lifting ability of the fly rod. It is determined by the strength and stiffness of the lower third or butt of the fly rod.
However, even if the fly rod is strong enough for steelhead, another question is whether a 5 wt line is appropriate for the flies you will be casting.
Now how about your 9 ft 5 wt Sage Vantage? It is a medium fast action rod and not a fast action. So it does not have the aggressive taper to give the thickest butt to rod length ratio. It is also too short to get a strong enough rod butt. I agree with the posters that say it is not enough fly rod for steelhead.
Can you fish for Steelhead with a 5 weight? Yes, you can, but there is a high chance to exhaust the fish toward a point that it cannot recover.
This is really the heart of the matter to me. Having fished primarily a 9'6" Sage Fli 5 wt for lighter steelies (4-12 lbs, mostly) for several years and being a C&R guy I've been torn. In fact, there have been times when I decided the right thing to do was point my rod tip at a fish I couldn't land quickly and break them off...
I've now gone to a sturdy 6 wt (9') that I can put more pressure on and am looking for a 10' 7 wt for the future. I enjoy the 5 wt immensely, but you have to remember the fish are really what the deal is all about eeven though, selfishly, I'd much rather fish the 5 wt.
I really appreciate the feedback. Not sure what I am going to do yet. I was tempted to give it a try but erie got lots of rain last night and and now the streams are higher and I am sure the fish will be even harder to control without a capable weapon. I am going to wait to see what the crowds are like, how fast it is running, etc.
I tend to lean heavily toward ultralight tackle. So I would like the challenge but I also know that sometimes your equipment is overmatched no matter how skilled you are.
I know this will not be a popular comment but I am not too concerned about exhausting fish. I can tell when fish are too spent to recover and if that is the case, I will keep em and switch to a more competent spinning rod if I reach my limit and still need entertainment. I was planning on keeping a couple anyway (gasp!). For the record, I don't usually keep fish but Erie steelhead are stocked regularly, don't breed in this water, and are managed very well... so save the lectures for people who keep native trout/salmon.
I have a Hardy Swift which is pretty fast action and have used it for steelhead, only because my 7wt snapped, it worked ok but I really prefer a 7wt, it was much easier to bring in bigger fish for me with a 7wt.
I did use a friends 10ft 5wt Greys and that one was better then my 9ft Hardy for Steelhead.