Not all steelhead fishing tips have to be technical in nature, and all successful TRIPS don’t need to include landing a fish. This article is designed to help put the odds of both having a great trip and catching a steelhead in your favor. In the years that we have been guiding, outfitting, and mentoring anglers we have found that setting somebody up with the right intel such as where to go, what sink tip to use, swing or nymph, and of course what flies might work is pretty straight forward. We are willing to share all we know which should solve any tactical questions. Every single day our friendly shop shares this type of info with the masses. The info that we can’t seem to relay are the “X Factors” that come into play with steelhead fishing. These are the ones that you can’t usually read about and we want to share some advice based on the mistakes we see anglers make all the time and aren’t as fun to to talk about as new fly rods!
These tips should help you this fall whether you are a D.I.Y. angler or on a guided adventure somewhere.
#1 – Wet Your Line - Time for a reality check. We hear it all the time, “I have always wanted to catch a steelhead on a fly…” We are better at fishing than math, but we ran a poll recently and were not surprised to find that 100% of the anglers that caught steelhead last year also went steelhead fishing. Fascinating stuff. Anglers that did not go steelhead fishing had a depressing success rate of 0%! This is overwhelming evidence that you can’t catch fish if you don’t go. Get out your calendar and make some time for steelhead fishing. There are too many 8 weight rods collecting dust!
#2 – Be Comfortable – It is tough to have a fun day of steelhead fishing and focus on your fly when you have leaky waders, chilly hands, and damp base layers. Take some time to prepare your clothing and layering system. Trusty waders, good gloves, stocking caps, fleece pants that wick moisture, and a synthetic down insulating layer are must have items. Do a trial run, put your layers on at home before you go and figure out what system is the most effective and comfortable. A good wading jacket is invaluable and may save your trip… or life for that matter! If you wonder why we pay over $400 for a good wading jacket just watch this video.
#3 – Control the Outcome – A wise man, one of our dads actually, use to plan on taking his son fishing with a controllable fun factor mixed in. Maybe this helped him love the sport so much and it also proves that dads are the ultimate fishing guides. No matter whether the fishing was bad, good, cold, or downright miserable it always ended or included a fun component that the fish and weather couldn’t mess with. On a steelhead trip this might be a great dinners at night, fine wines, spirits, good cigars, or a traditional stop at your favorite diner for chicken fried steak on the way home. Whatever it is, plan a fun component that is certain to keep morale high. We have found that groups who keep the “mojo” high tend to catch more fish!
#4 – Luck is an Attitude - The difference between not catching fish and a good day might be a single cast, mend, or hookset. The difference between a good day and an epic day might be just a few more simple casts, mends, or sets. Stay focused but not militant in your approach and create your own luck. Be confident and believe in every cast. If you don’t fish your cast with focus and intent, what was the point in throwing it?
#5 – Good Rods – We’ll be honest, most of the time in Steelhead fishing there is a lot more casting than catching and it is usually with weighted flies. The cast should be enjoyable, fluid, fun, and hopefully it doesn’t wear you down and take your focus off the drift or swing. Plus, use of your elbow the next day shouldn’t require a glass of scotch and a half bottle of Ibuprofen! Good rods with the right fly lines take the fatigue and frustration out of fly casting. Get the right gear and you will have a much fresher mind and body which results in more fish and more fun.
#6 – Keep Your Eye on the Prize – You drove a long ways, you are sleep deprived, you spent more money than you should of, and you haven’t caught a fish yet! Yep, this is the bitter sweet reality of steelhead fishing. Would you have done all this for a 6″ Brook Trout?! Nope, keep your focus and fish every cast as though it might entice a 15 pound native steelhead. Be ready, check your drag often, and don’t forget that it takes one cast to generate success… and it only takes one lazy effort to miss a golden opportunity.
#7 – Fish Hard, Rest Easy – Our friends at Deneki Outdoorscoined this phrase and we happen to live by it. As guides, we want to see you fish hard but you are also on vacation. Take a long lunch during the sunny part of the day and let your mind and body relax a bit. You will fish the mornings and evenings better when you aren’t exhausted and frustrated, plus this is a chance to chat with your buddies, learn a new cast from the guide, and soak in the surroundings. Fish hard, rest easy.