Common Pitfalls for the Beginning Steelhead Fly Fisher

Matt holds a dandy steelhead from Oregon’s Deschutes River.

The draw to join the ranks of “steelheaders” is a call I couldn’t avoid in my younger years; like the sirens call it drew me in and changed my life forever.  I mean who wouldn’t want to catch a fish that averages 6-8 pounds but can get over 20lbs, it fights and runs and jumps with the most spectacular battle (bursts up to 35 mph!) and is a beautiful fish to look at.  Add in that they are hard to find, difficult to even land when you do hook one.  The allure is strong- almost irresistable.  However, to the new angler there are many pitfalls that slow, stall or even inhibit success.  Often new anglers start but don’t find success and end up dropping out of the sport.  There are so many small mistakes to make that the new guy doesn’t even know he’s doing them and can nearly destroy any real shot at success.  Here are some of the pitfalls to avoid.

  1. How you move through the run is an imperative part of success.  Not moving through a run properly is something I see all the time; it’s so common and so easy for the novice to goof on.  Sometimes it’s because the water is tough to wade. Sometimes the angler is making multiple casts in one spot.  Often it’s inconsistent casting; short cast followed by a long cast, anglers who reel in some line then add more all amounting to a very choppy and erratic way of covering the water.   Moving through the run with a consistent and efficient way will produce more fish.  It’s a small difference but an incredibly important one.
  2. Managing the Swing- is hard to describe and easy to mess up.  Think about each swing as if your presenting your fly to a fish that wants to eat it!  Think about how your fly is moving; fast, slow, erratically?  What is your fly doing.  Manage your swing for best results by adjusting your swing speed.  The goal here is to get an even swing speed from beginning towards the end.  This gives fish a target they can easily hit.  So many times anglers finish the swing too early- remember 90% of fish eat the fly in the last 30% of the swing.  Give the fly a tug at the end of the swing- a bump that moves it.  This adds to your success as you’ll find the occasional fish will take the fly in this situation.
  3. Manage your gear-fly fishing is a gadget sport.  It’s so easy for anglers to get caught up in the gear.  With the swung fly it’s simple; cast, swing, step move through the run.  You’ll need some flies, tippet, hook file and a couple sink tips to accomodate the water conditions.  That’s about it-pretty simple.  Don’t get caught up in all the gear and changing flies like your matching the hatch for trout.  Steelhead will eat- the key is to find them.
  4. Keep your hooks sharp!  Sharp hooks make for good photos ( in hand) dull hooks make for good stories (ie. the one that got away).
  5. Keep your line clear- it’s easy to do, when your casting some of the running line kicks up and loops around the butt of the rod, reel or reel handle.  When you do connect to a fish with this impediment it’s a short lived connection.
  6. Wear the proper gear- good waders, proper wading boots (I like Korkers) best traction keeps you fishing more comfortably and with more confidence.  If you need it a wading staff can be priceless.  Appropriate rain coat and layered clothing to keep you dry and warm during tough steelheading conditions can keep you in the game.
  7. Hire a guide- this one step can take years off your learning curve.  Go with someone who has done this for a lifetime that is a willing teacher.  Ask lots of questions and you’ll learn more than you could imagine!
  8. Dial in your casting- casting is huge.  If you can’t effectively and consistently deliver the fly your really not in the game.  Get some casting help from guru’s like Dec Hogan and Simon Gaesworth on Youtube, get help from a buddy or even better take a class.
  9. Don’t Give Up-it’s not going to be easy at first but what thing in life worth doing is?  Steelhead fly fishing is an incredibly rewarding sport, worth the troubles and trials you’ll go through as you get started.  Good Luck on the Water!

Keep these tips in mind, study them, learn them and increase your odds for success.  Once you connect you’ll know why many steeheaders refer to “The Tug is the Drug” when it comes to swinging a fly for steelhead!

Find Tug is the Drug decals, hats, hoodies and T-shirts HERE

Rob Crandall owns and operates Water Time Outfitters, Inc. What We Do:  We surpass anglers expectations with expert, fun-loving guides and exceptional hospitality, so our guests can focus on their love of fishing, maximize their success and take home memories that last a lifetime.

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