Hello everyone, do you guys have any general guide lines you go by when you fish for steelhead? Such as strictly nymphing small nymph in the winter, or swinging big streamers in the falls, or using certain flies at certains times of the year. I want to hear what many of you guys go by, so I wont stand in the river thinking of what to use. Thank you for any advice you have!!!
If I was fishing unfamiliar water my first choice would be 2 egg flies under an indicator. my second choice would be swinging a white streamer. Last choice would be a nymph under an indicator.
I guess if I had to suggest general guide lines I'd say Egg flies till Late November, I would work these at more "traditional" spots. Pocket water, runs, generally shallower faster moving water. Then streamers in December but worked in slow deep runs or corners. Swing them slow and be sure your running deep. Then in early spring I'd use eggs in the very high dirty water of early spring. As the water starts dropping and clears up I switch back to streamers in the deeper pockets again. This is what I have noticed in the Trib I fish. I'll start a day in the suggested pattern. If I don't get anything after hitting a few reliable spots, as reliable as anything can be in steelhead fishing, I may try something totally different or in different spots.
I have had minimal luck with nymphs so I rarely use them. I might try them on a slow day. On slow days I sometime try all sorts of stuff that has done very little for me and sometimes that pays off.
I have heard the opposite for Erie Tribs... Nymphs are something that many people over look and should try more. There are always nymphs available as a food source for the fish and they have been eating them since they were smolts. however eggs and streamers such as wolly buggers and white rabbit will work well too.
From what I gather through reading and first hand knowledge from people who fish various GL Tribs, there seems to be some degree of similarity as well as differences. I'll preface my advise with my first hand knowledge which comes from Lake Erie Tribs in PA.
Flys I think may have the greatest deal of similarity between the GL tribs in terms general patterns but I know that each GL has it's "go to regional" type patterns. Size recommendations will vary per stream which I think largely has to do with species/strain of fish inhabiting them as well as the size/depth of the stream. Know which species of fish are inhabiting your tribs and know the spawn. Eggs around the time of the spawn are deadly. I like to throw streamers in the winter as I've seen the bait guys land a good deal of fish using them. Really though, be open to anything and try a wide variety until something works. Heavily pressured fish can be very picky, so show them something they haven't seen before. Even a subtle tweak to a fly. Use different color combos and even materials on eggs, add a bead to them, add a hot spot to a nymph are just a few suggestions.
As for tactics: you can double nymph, egg & nymph with or without indy; bottom bouncing with short or long leaders; dead drift, or swing streamers. I really got turned on to bottom bouncing for steel this past season much like I've learned to do for trout--it has proven very effective. This seemed to work very well especially when the tribs I fish are low and clear. Consequently, this is a common theme for Lake Erie tribs-the most shallow of all GL's. Sometimes, just like flies, you need to try different tactics until you figure out one that works. It can differ from one hour to the next, literally.
In the tribs I fish (Lake Erie PA), I am often going down to 4x or even 5x (as crazy as it sounds) because of the notorious low and clear conditions. This doesn't seem to be as necessary if at all or ever on some of the other GL tribs.
The most universal piece of advise I can offer is learn to read the water you're fishing and learn to know where the fish are holding during the given point of the year. Winter fish are most often in tail outs, eddies and slower moving water. When they're running, they're towards the heads of pools and in fast water.
Then there's the X factor that seems to defy all logic of what we generally know about them--mother nature. She has created some bizarre weather conditions for us these past 15 or so years. As a result I've seen some strange things this season as far as where the fish were hanging out. Days when you'd expect steelhead to be in the fast water and on the move, they're in the middle or tails of pools. Fish stacked up like chord wood that it was actually a chore not to foul hook a fish by casting at them.
If you can share with the folks which lakes and tribs you intend on fishing, somebody I'm sure will chime in with more regional advise.
I fish the Lake Erie Tributaries in Ohio - I'm from Willoughby and live 5 miles from the lower Chagrin River.
In spring, when we get a small amount of steelhead coming into the rivers, I always fish the faster waters with copper john nymphs and wooly buggers. The most common misconception around here is that you should use white in muddied water and dark in clear water. In many cases, its really the opposite. A dark brown, black, or olive bugger can cast a nice big dark outline in some muddy water and I've had great experience catching many steelhead like this.
In the winter months when the water is cold and the fish are lethargic, I stick to egg and suckerspawn patters. Typically a double egg, double sucker, or a mixture of two using a tandem rig under an indicator in deeper slower pools and slower tailouts. Many guys I know toss big streamers from switch rods and use a slow swing, but in my experience you'll get better numbers from eggs/suckers.
In spring when our fish come up in huge numbers, they are aggressive and will attack almost anything. In fast deep pools and big tailouts, I always swing big streamers. In shallower and quicker runs, I stick with big wooly buggers in size 4 or 6 - red, purple, white, black, olive, brown...pretty much anything will agitate them when they are feisty.
Since our waters are generally deeper and muddier than the PA tributaries, I always use a 0x or 1x leader with 1x and 2x tippet. Fluoro is good and practically invisible, or so they say, but with our water you do not need light tippet.
(Since you asked...)
My personal guidelines state that a Steelhead should be caught on the tight line swing regardless of time of year. Look at your surroundings, be aware of the water temps and visibility. Try to stay aware of if the river is rising or dropping. Fly size and color can be affected by all of these things.
Nymphing is just a dirty way to catch a steelhead.
I have fish mostly Lake Michigan Tribs on the Wisconsin shore but I have fished a couple Lake Superior Tribs on the Wis. and U.P. shores. I only have 2 years of doing this under my belt but I fish typical about 60-80 days a year for Steelhead.
If I had to use only one fly it would be a egg pattern. Without doubt I would bet more Steelhead are caught on egg patterns than any other type. I also use beads at times. I am not convinced yet that beads are drastically more effective than yarn eggs. I use both during a season. I have been told by various guides that they definitely out fish yarns eggs by up to 5 times. This would make beads the most effect fly out there. I know all the snobs on their high horses will now comment on beads and that's fine. I don't have a problem with it neither should any other fly fisherman that's interested in learning and increasing his skills.
I have tried sucker spawn, various nymphs, estaz eggs all with very poor results. I am sure some of it is one tends to fish with what has worked in the past the most. I know I do.
If someone wants to narrow their focus when fishing for steelhead to one method or fly that's great. Nothing wrong with that. One time I followed a spawn fisherman with a center pin down a run. He didn't catch a thing. I caught 2 steelhead and a brown after he fished the same spot minutes before me. It was great to watch him just shake his head as I landed each fish. I have watched the centerpinners just nail the fish in early spring in high dirty water while I fished the same water and caught one fish all morning. It was great to get the upper hand for once. It's not that I am a better fisherman, its that I was using a more effective method under the current conditions. The point is every dog has its day. We all set personal limitations on our fishing methods. Even the centerpinners. I will be the first to admit I don't know alot about steelhead and I'm not a very talented fly fisherman. But I do want to learn more and I want to get better. One of the best ways to learn more and improve your skills is to try different methods and flies.
Don't be afraid to try something new or different. Start with what has worked for you in the past. Talk to other fisherman, even the centerpinners, sometimes they use artificial lures under their bobbers. If you can't learn from others than your not listening. Most fisherman I have talked to are very open with what they are using and with thier experiences. Also talk to the guys in the local fly shops. I personally have learned a ton from these guys. They were great in getting me started.
This doesn't seem to be as necessary if at all or ever on some of the other GL tribs.
Its a big necessity for us too. When the water's low and clear and the fish get really "trouty" I like a small 10 and under black softhackle slightly weighted as the black stones are moving around. Fall I like to swing emerald shiner patterns, higher water periods like early fall and spring I'll swing bigger classic style flies. After that I usually shift focus to dry flies and resident trout.
It all depends on how you fancy different types of fishing, for me, nymphing is the black sheep in my arsenal.
Although it is my most productive way of catching steelhead here in eastern canada it is my least preferred and the same goes for trout.
Ideally I would be swinging a spey or dee fly on a cool morning in a pool and getting that tug that I wait so patiently for, now often times when swinging a fly its them taking a shrimp pattern which is fine by me.
Even getting them to take a dry is preferred although it happens even less (I have had some hammer some stimulators though)
But if your one of those guys that are patient and stubborn like me you fish certain patterns on the swing, but if your looking to catch more fish, using an indicator rig is often much more productive