How to Read Steelhead Water

ghostrider408

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Thanks for putting this one up! I haven't seen this one yet. Now, I see it's only 3 days old. Excellent information in this video. Finding the fish is definitely the key and finding the water where they will most likely be (if they're there at all) provides a chance for an interaction with the marvelous steelhead. I have read and experienced that the difference between trout fishing and steelhead fishing is like playing checkers compared to counting cards. Steelhead fishing is incredible because it takes you to gorgeous places in difficult conditions and can be mentally challenging to fish for days on end without a fish or sometimes even a grab. But, it is in my blood and continues to bring me back. The big water, spey rods and Skagit heads with heavy sink tips in the winter, and big flies are a lot of fun to fish.

It should be noted that steelhead will disperse from the classic water or known water where we think they will be, if there is a lot of pressure on them. Sometimes they can be found in unlikely water because steelhead will do what steelhead do, lol. It is sometimes a good plan to let all the boats go through and fish that likely water later in the day, once the fish settle back in. One can also hope for a nice push of fish to arrive in ideal water conditions following a storm. Fresh fish are aggressive, but the timing has to be right.
 

Meuniere

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I am very new to this and had a basic question. In the video, it looks like Scott doesn't impart any action whatsoever to his streamer- once he has it where he wants it, it drifts and swings and he is maybe subtly controlling that drift/swing, but he is essentially on the alert for a strike, rather than working the fly. Other footage I've seen sometimes includes putting some consistent, moderate action on the streamer, whether quickly stripping, or using the rod tip to cause the streamer to undulate, or whatever. How does one decide which to do? I'm sure if nymphing for steelhead one would always just let it drift, but with streamers I would have thought you'd want a little action. I'll be doing this first time fairly soon in southern Oregon, and would love more experienced perspective. Thanks for your responses.
 

flytie09

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The wet fly swing for steelhead does not require any additional action to the fly. You cast it out at 45 deg angle and swing it to the dangle (directly below you). That's it. Stripping streamers is a completely different ballgame.
 

dillon

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That was beautiful water! It made me want to go fishing. Maybe I’ll take a drive today...

Meuniere, what do you mean by what course to take? If you mean, letting the fly swing, as Mike describes vs imparting action to the fly or stripping, it’s the former. Simply cast down and across make one mend and let it swing until it stops swinging and let it hang for a few seconds, then strip it in. BTW, I’ve hooked fish when the fly is hanging at the end of the swing, but never after I start stripping. I hear others do, but I’ve never had the pleasure...

A lot of guys, especially beginners, worry too much about getting the fly deep, into the fishes face, imo. Since I’m primarily a floating line surface fishing guy, who has fished mostly in the summer I know fish move to the fly. They will move in the winter too, just not as much. In the winter I only use two tips And a lightly weighted tube fly.I Primarily use a T10 For all water types. But when the water is high I might use a T 7. Fish may travel and hold close to the bank and if I’m hanging up too much with the 10 I will switch to the 7.

Although, dead drifting, as shown for demonstration purposes in the video, can be very effective. Especially to present to fish that are holding in places you can’t swing a fly to, I prefer not to do it, with a fly rod. For one, I love to cast and over water with a Spey rod, and I don’t want to carry two rods. I’ve thought about it when floating a river ina boat, but haven’t. It would be interesting to swing through a run first, then go back through with a jig under a float, to see if you missed anything. I know guys that do and they often find a fish in water that they couldn’t fish right on a swing. But they use drift, or center pins, not fly rods.

I liked this guy, because, like me he doesn’t hold a loop. I like to feel the take, then wait til it turns, signaled by line pulling off the reel, before lifting to put pressure on the fish. I try to refrain from yelling anything, but sometimes, I just can’t help it. Tight lines...
 

duker

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Great video. Unlike him, I do fish with a loop of about 2', following the advice of a lot of older more experienced steelheaders. I like that if they take the hook, they can turn and run without feeling the reel immediately and going crazy. Just gives you a few seconds more to let it hook itself, or at least that's the theory. As with most articles of faith in this crazy religion we call steelheading, I think it just depends.

I agree with Dillon about not having to stuff the fly in the fish's face, at least for summer steelhead and assuming water levels aren't crazy high. Again, it depends.

I actually saw Scott Baker McGarva in Oscar's Sports in Smithers a couple years ago. Had no idea who he was until a whole bunch of customers gathered around him and started pestering him with questions--had to ask one of the guys in the shop who he was. Never got past exchanging a "hi, how are you?", but if I ever run into him again I'm probably to going to pester him with a bunch of questions.
 
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