Spring means one thing - it’s prime time for catching steelhead trout. Currently, you can find the popular game fish in rivers, lakes, and creeks across the country as the spawning season gets underway. Steelhead are rainbow trout that have ventured out to a larger body of water. And compared to their summer cousins, winter steelhead tend to be larger.
Fly fishing steelhead is a significant aspect of freshwater sport fishing. Known for their strength and size, as well as excellent vision, catching steelhead won’t be easy. If you’re itching to get in on the action, these tips on selecting the right destination and steelhead flies and determining your approach, will assist you in planning a fun and successful trip out in the wild.
Research Destination’s Habitats
These remarkable anadromous fish live in the Northern Pacific Ocean as well as the Great Lakes before migrating to freshwater rivers and smaller lakes. Anglers can enjoy casting steelhead flies around the country from Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho all the way to Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.
Whichever destination you choose, you must do your due diligence. Learn about the right spots and times, as well as the steelhead’s natural food source in that area, to have the best chance to catch this amazing creature. You may also want to learn more about the water conditions
and the surrounding environment including the amounts and kinds of foliage.
That’s crucial info because fish from different waters are attracted to different types of steelhead flies depending on season and local food sources. Even the proximity of spawning grounds impacts the population of steelhead in a specific area. That means there’s no one perfect steelhead fly pattern, since the “right” one changes depending on factors like water level, water clarity, current weather, time of year, and even the water temperature.
Check the fishing regulations for your chosen destination. Regulations can include license requirements, information on using certain steelhead flies and other types of lures, and specifications on catch-and-release options.
Determine Your Approach
Do you plan on locating the steelhead yourself, or would having a guide along for your excursion be ideal? If you’re an experienced angler or are traveling to a familiar destination, you may prefer to go it alone. However, a guided tour is definitely worthwhile if you have never fished in the area or if you’re a beginner, or even simply like getting insider tips from a local expert. A guide knows the lay of the land and the natural rhythms of the local ecosystems. They know where the hotspots are, increasing your chances of landing more fish. An experienced fly fisher knows if you don’t hit the right spots, the only thing you’ll catch is a snag, no matter what patterns of steelhead flies you use. Most fishing charters even include fishing rods, reels, steelhead flies, coolers with ice, and licenses in their pricing to make things easier.
If you’re bringing your own boat, ensure that the fishing destination has ramps for easy access to the water. When renting a fishing boat, ensure you select one that’s large enough for you and your travel companions, all your fly fishing gear, and a cooler for snacks and drinks.
Whether you're fishing from the banks or a boat, remember you're likely in unfamiliar territory. So first off, you should fill up your fly box with a wide variety of steelhead flies patterns to be ready for whatever the day brings. Secondly, you should map out multiple key fishing spots with some flexible options!
Ready to Gear Up
In addition to your travel needs for the length of your trip and all your fly fishing gear, anglers should also pack snacks for their trip as hunger can creep up on you and dampen the fun after just a few hours. Popular options to bring on the water include granola bars, jerky, trail mix, dried or fresh fruit and veggies.
Ultimately you must have the right gear if you want to enjoy more success (and fun!) in catching steelhead on the fly. Whether you’re heading to river systems in Northern California or to any of the Great Lakes almost 5,000 tributaries, using the right fly rod, line and steelhead fly patterns will help ensure your fishing trip is worthwhile. You also want to have gear to that keeps you out on the water longer, from a good set of waders and boots to a cooler for the fish (if catch and keep is allowed).
As explained above, it’s essential to know factors like the water level, clarity and temperature when planning the best steelhead flies to bring. There are different categories of steelhead fly patterns such as imitation eggs and invertebrates, and knowing what bugs are native to the area at that time of year is also very helpful.
There you have it - a few pointers to come up with a plan and still enjoy an amazing steelhead fishing experience this season. Of course, you can always start planning for the start of next season. Whether you’re planning a day trip, weekend getaway, or a week-long excursion, these tips will make the process easier to accomplish and help you get out on the water.