This article is intended to be the
first in a series of Steelhead Fly Fishing. Entire volumes have been written on
the subject, so this article will not go into much specific detail. For those
searching the most detailed information we encourage you to read one of many
great books written on the subject. Or find an experienced steelhead fly fisher
to go out with. If worse comes to worse going out alone in true pioneering
spirit will teach you. Those of you wanting the hottest tip will be better off
calling your buddy, local guide or fly shop. However, if you are a beginner or
thinking of beginning, or a seasoned veteran looking to catch perhaps a new
idea or remember a lost one, we hope this series will be of value.
Steelies are a noble evolution of
the Rainbow Trout. They are born in fresh water streams (at least the wild
steelies are) where they imprint everything from water chemistry to natural occurring
food sources. The Steelhead life cycle is about as varied and complicated as
fish can get. They can spend anywhere from 1 to 4 years in freshwater before
going to sea and 1 to 4 years at sea. Steelies are native to the Pacific once
occurring from the Asiatic coast to Southern Alaska and originally down to the
Tijuana River. Now they only reach as far south as Central California.
To say Steelhead have been
successfully planted in the Great Lakes, is like saying Microsoft is a success
story. Great Lakes steelhead fly fishing can be incredible, and not more
passionate fly fishers can be found anywhere in the world. Great Lakes
steelhead live entirely in freshwater, and migrate up the tributaries to
duplicate the spawning behavior of the Pacific Steelhead.
Steelhead are imprinted to return in
the summer or winter runs. And in those two basic runs there can be 'A' runs or
'B' runs or even more. While summer runs see the steelhead entering the river
in the summer and the run continues through fall, usually spawning in early to
mid-winter. Precise dates are very hard to gauge with steelhead preferring to
enter rivers when the water is clean and cold, sometimes they can hole up for
weeks at the mouths waiting for a summer rain.
Then there is a winter run where the
fish enter the river in early winter to early spring and spawning sometime in
that time frame. The Great Lakes Steelhead generally enter the river in early
fall, especially in Pennsylvania, and fishing can be done in fall, winter and
spring. Rivers can have both runs in fact most rivers close to the ocean do. Pacific
winter steelhead generally do not travel as far inland as summer runs.
Steelhead fly fishing is
becoming more and more popular and with good reason. When conditions are ideal
a ‘chromer’ will smash a fly and treat the fly angler to a treat that is hard
to duplicate. When steelhead enter the river we are getting them at their
biological prime. Loaded with survival instincts that include territorial and
sexual aggression, they can rip into your fly and go off on a terror of a run,
which will often leave the uninitiated limp lined and open mouthed. But the
angler will be hooked. If you live in an area that is lucky enough to feature
this great fish, do yourself a favor and go give them a try.
In upcoming articles we will delve
more deeply into techniques of inducing strikes from this terrific game fish.