Steelhead for the Beginner and Veteran

Have you been wanting to Steelhead fish but not sure when and where to go?  How about what gear you may need flies, rod, reel?  The most important question is, what do you do when you actually hook a big chromer?  If you are looking for answers to these questions, well this post is for you!  Although, if you are a veteran of Steelhead fishing take the time to read this post and maybe B.C.I might be able to share a new think or two for you.

When do you Steelhead Fish?  This is one of the 1st questions that you need to answer.  A good day to remember during the year is Columbus Day.  This is always the beginning of when you want to start investigating whats going on in Steelhead country.  Find out the stream flows, talk to the locals and guides, check out fishing reports, etc.  From year to year the runs vary in size along with when they begin.  Sometimes you might get a report or even see fish before Columbus Day but keep in mind they will be very few and located towards the mouth at that time.  That’s why we recommend Columbus Day to begin your recon work.

Ok now you know when you to expect fish but, where do you go?  What streams? Is their public access?  This is what many fisherman want to know.  Well B.C.I is proud to say, we got the answers for you.  If you have been on our website lately you should have seen our new page.  It is a page titled Steelhead and it is all about location.  If you click on that tab it will give you several links to Steelhead streams that B.C.I likes to fish.

If you are fishing in Steelhead country during times of low stream flows/early season than venture to the mouths of the tribs and spend some time fishing in the lake.  Scott, a good friend of B.C.I, took our advice a few years ago and had one of the best steelhead fights ever.  Something we know he will never forget and all it took was a little time and thinking.  If you ask what type of thinking we are talking about, well that’s simple.  Scott knew there should have been fish in the streams at that time of year but since the stream water levels were so low they had to be in the lake near the mouth.  Scott was rewarded as you see below.

Gear Time! When fishing for Steelhead please understand that your trout rod may not be the right choice for Steelhead fishing.  Ideally, you want to be using a 7 or 8 wt. 9′ rod.  This is what most people in the industry will suggest but you could get away with some 6 weights and obviously 9 weights.  Using rods longer than 9′ are fine and many Steelhead fisherman prefer longer rods.  Using a more stiffer rod with a fighting butt is recommended for Steelhead fishing.

Knowing the weight and length of the fly rod makes picking your reel a lot simpler.  This is because you want to match the reel with the size of rod for balancing issues along with backing and fly line capacity.  Any tackle or Fly Shop should be able to help you out, or answer any questions about what rods and reels would be good for Steelhead fishing.  The most important thing to look for in picking reels is, having an adjustable, sealed,  and dependable drag system.

When picking your fly line you want to look for several things.  The most important thing is to match the fly line you choose with the weight of your rod.  Fly fishermen sometimes bump up one line for different applications.  Majority of Steelhead fishermen use a weight forward fly line especially in the Lake Erie tributaries of Pennsylvania.  Other lines can be used if fishing in waters that call for it.  Picking a line that is designed to throw big bugs and has a taper for good nymph fishing as well would be a good line to go with.  Once again most fly shops will be able to help you out on choosing a good line.

This next part of this post is going to be filled with flies, flies, flies.  Once you establish yourself with all the gear you begin the collection of flies.  No matter if you buy or tie flies, this is one item that you will keep on acquiring more of.  These next few pictures are of individual flies that B.C.I has had luck with.  This is a small Alvin pattern, top picture.  Fish this by swinging across the run and then stripping it back,  vary your speeds of stripping as well.  San Juan Worm combined with and with a Salmon Egg, bottom picture.  Fish like a nymph on bottom or dead drift sub-surface if water levels are low.

On any given Steelhead outing be expected to have different types of streamers in size and color.  These black streamers below are all different in one way or another.  Using a hot orange or salmon pink cyclops head has been productive for B.C.I when no other head has.

Two of the most common Steelhead patterns are the Salmon Eggs and Sucker Spawn.  These patterns are very easy to tie and can be very productive.In the left side of the picture are two Diamond core braid San Juan Worms.  Bottom left and top right are a blue and pink crystal meth pattern.  In the center are 6 different colors of sucker spawn.

Lets look at some stonefly nymphs.  B.C.I has found that using nymphs with rubber legs has worked well.  Along with the rubber legs, having the body of the nymph wrapped with wire or v-rib has been a key to a great stone pattern.  These 4 below are our to go to patterns when chucking stones.

Going with odd color streamer pattern can catch the fishes eye at times as well.  Flies like these above especially the green estaz bugger are not in many fly fisherman’s boxes.  This could be the only fly that the fish are taking and when they do flies like this can be sold or traded for a lot when on the water.  Getting back to traditional color flies like these white streamers below are some more great patterns to have.

Hope these pictures of different Steelhead patterns has helped you with ideas of what flies you may want to have in your box when you hit the Steelhead waters.

Now you have your rod, reel, line, location, flies, technique, and a FISH ON.  What do you do?  Make sure your drag is set before you have a hook up, you paid good money for a reel that has a dependable drag system, so let it do the work and not your palm.  Keep your rod tip in the upward position at all times.  If the fish makes any runs up or down stream be aware of any slack line.  Sometimes when you hook into a fish you have line at your feet and not on the reel.  Try to get all the line on your reel and begin fighting the fish with the rod and reel.  One of the most important things is line control.  If you have line control your success rate of landing the fish will be higher.  Steelhead can make runs up to 30 plus feet in seconds so if you are fishing near any other fisherman let them know Fish On.  It’s not fun when you fish all day and finally get a hook up only to have your line get tangled up into another line.  Play your fish, you will know when it is time to get it to the boat or rivers edge for a release.  Try to keep the fish in the water at all times and remember to handle the fish with wet hands.  If you can do all this than you will realize what all the Steelhead hype is about.

A Steelhead post could go on and on but we hope that the rod, reel, line, maps, and flies has helped.  A few other things to keep in mind is that when you do get to the Steelhead waters remember you probably won’t be alone.  Expect to share the water, be courteous to other fisherman and land owners.  Handle the fish with care and try to practice catch and release.  If you have any questions about this post or about Steelhead fishing leave us a comment and will help you out the best we can.

On Veterans Day B.C.I thought it was only fitting to write this post in honor of Gene.  Gene was not only a American Veteran but worked in the fly fishing industry teaching and outfitting fly fisherman on the “how to” of Steelhead fishing.  Bug Chuckers Inc. would like to thank Gene and all of our veterans for their service.

Bug Chuckers Inc.


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