Steelhead Fly Fishing in the Fall- Top Tips for Wherever you Fish!

Fall Steelhead fishing in Oregon on the Deschutes River

Steelhead fly fishing tips for Fall…From Oregon to BC Steelhead fly fishing opportunities abound in the fall. Making the most of your precious time on the water is a priority for today’s busy anglers. Fall is such a precious time of year- it’s a bummer it’s so short! If your planning a fall steelhead trip and want to up your game a careful assessment of your approach might be helpful. After 27 years guiding fall steelhead here are some observations I’ve found that can help you be more successful on your next fall trip.

Steelhead Fly Fishing Tips for Fall-Fish prime time:
Steelhead responsiveness to a fly is highest in the shadows of morning and evening-save your energy for prime time. Most successful steelheaders agree that when shade hits the run it is like flipping a switch for steelhead to “the bite is on!” Time your fishing to be on shaded water as much as possible, start early and fish late. Leave some gas in the “tank” for fishing right up to dark. Remember your fly silhouetted against the sky is much more visible than you think.

Steelhead Fly Fishing Tips for Fall-Fish Efficiently:
I’ve fished with many different anglers over the years each has their own take on how to approach a steelhead run. The most successful anglers seem to have a common trait, efficiency. They fish like machines carefully covering each piece of water they move methodically through a steelhead run. Smooth casts and concise movements are common with top anglers. Do you want to be a more productive angler? Study a really good anglers movements; efficiency is what you will see.

Move through the run:
Progressing through a steelhead run with a consistent cast, swing, step approach is the standard approach to catching steelhead on the swung fly. It is better to move quickly through a run twice than once slowly. Moving aggressively through the run stepping down 3-5’ between each cast will yield the best results. Part of the effectiveness of your presentation is that your quick progression through the run triggers the aggressive response. If you cast 5 times in each spot fish can become dour to your presentation and lose interest. Trigger the aggressive, territorial response from steelhead by moving through the run quickly.

Recast to Trouty Taps:
So many times steelhead take a fly out of mere curiosity. This take is not the rod wrenching aggressive grab of the territorial strike. It can simply be a small tap, tap which feels just like a small trout. Never pass this up. It may be a trout or it may be your next steelhead! Recast to the same spot and you might be surprised how big that “trout” was.

Watch the end of Your Line:
It’s easy to get lost in the mesmerizing trance of the cast, swing, step approach. The angler can truly soak in the glow of the canyon and absorb the beauty of nature around you in this setting. An old timer once told me, if you want to catch more steelhead do this: “watch your line!” Often steelhead will slash at a fly and miss. You might just see an aggressive boil near your fly. Keep swinging, they might hit again but don’t move down. You have just found a fish that is aggressive. Recast and hang on! Carefully watching the end of your line can help you see those near misses and turn them into connections.

Fish the right water:
Another great steelhead fly fishing tip especially applicable in fall is to remember steelhead are anadromous, meaning that they migrate up freshwater rivers from the ocean to spawn. This means that they are not in each spot you fish. You’ve got to cover a lot of water to find fish. Fishing the best holding water is the key. Holding water is water that steelhead rest in and will be consistently found in as they migrate upriver. Look for specific water types and don’t waste your time in water that is too fast, too slow or not fish holding water. Ideal water is 4-6’ deep and moving at walking speed. Structure in this speed of water can act like fish magnets. Types of structure can be varied. Look for boulders, seams and riffles. Especially look for spots that have natural funnels such as heavy fast water on one side with a softer seam of walking speed water on the other side. As fish migrate they will gravitate towards the transition water (between the very fast rapids and the slow water). Find and identify good steelhead water and spend your time there.

Oregon Fall Steelhead:
We fly fish Oregon’s best waters- the scenic Deschutes River canyon in the fall is one of the best places in the lower 48. The entire summer and fall runs of steelhead from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho often combine in the cool waters of the Deschutes. These upper river migrating fish often find safety in the cool waters of the Deschutes and sometimes wander 100 miles up the Deschutes from the lethally warm waters of the Columbia River. In addition most years the Deschutes gets a robust run of hatchery and wild steelhead of it’s own in addition to all the out of basin visitors. These components combine to give us amazing fishing opportunities in an epic river canyon.


Steelhead Camp
Steelhead Camp in the Fall is a favorite time of year.

Fall is prime time for the most pissed off, aggressive steelhead of the season. If you want a chance to see your backing, this is the time. Our jet boat trips offer you the best flexibility and access to the river. This allows us to stay in shaded water longer and fish specific runs and light angles at the right time of day. You’ll have very little downtime between the amazing riffles, pools, and runs of the Deschutes.

These trips focus on the most remote part of the canyon to optimize our fishing success and will be downstream from the Mack’s Canyon Boat ramp. We use jet boats for transportation only as regulations do not allow fishing from a boat -all fishing is done while wading.

How to Book a Trip for Steelhead in Oregon? Come join us for our favorite fishing of the year.  We can help you dial in your trip whether; our spey water jet boat camp, our upper river multi-day drift boat camp, steelhead day trip or just a spey casting class.  We can help.

Water Time Outfitters, Inc. is owned and operated by Rob Crandall and his team of hard working long time pros. Rob has been a fly fishing guide for over 26 years and the past editor of Fly Fishing & Tying Journal magazine, featured speaker in Oloughlin’s Portland Sportman’s show, seen on Flyfish TV, Columbia Country TV, and Frontier Unlimited TV as well as featured in the DVD- Winter Spey Strategies; the NW magazine Salmon Trout Steelheader, the Flyfisher, Flyfishing & Tying Journal and Salmon Steelhead Journal Travel Issue. Rob grew up on the Clackamas River and loves to share his passion of fly fishing with others. To find out more information on our guided winter Steelhead trips see us at: or email:

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