Steelhead. Sea-run trout. Call them what you want, these silver beasts are among the best fighters you'll ever tussle with in a freshwater stream -- if you can find them. Steelhead are an elusive species because of the harsh winter conditions they thrive in along with the unpredictable cycle of the spawn. Here's a list of five classic steelhead tips that will help you be more successful when it comes to fishing for these silver bullets:
If you're fishing for big steelhead, a two-handed rod might be your best bet. But most anglers typically use single-handed rods, going with something that's 9 feet or longer with a line weight of 7-9. Two-handed models can go as long as 12-15 feet. Sinking line is a good option if you're thinking of swinging a streamer, while floating lines can be used for nymphing.
2. Fly PatternsTraditional salmon streamers will usually work for steelhead, since the fish are closely related to the salmon. Egg patterns and nymphs will also work. Some of the most popular steelhead flies include the woolly bugger, egg-sucking leech and Kaufmanns Stone. The best option, however, is to stop by a local fly shop for an update on patterns, stream conditions and where the fish might be holding. Nobody knows a stream better than a local guide, and you're bound to get some good tips if you pick up a handful of flies at the shop in the process.
3. Fish UpstreamIn rivers that run to the ocean, these anadramous fish will begin to enter the streams after the first few major storms of the season. Once the sandbars break free and the fish can access freshwater runs that lead to spawning grounds, they'll begin to make their journey upstream. The smart move is to follow the path of the fish, from the river mouth upstream toward the spawning grounds and back down toward the ocean once the spawn has passed. Fish typically face upstream, so if you're fishing upstream you're less likely to spook fish.
4. Keep MovingIf at first you don't succeed, keep moving. Steelhead typically stick to a certain area in a pool, so if you don't get a hit on your first couple casts, and don't see any signs of fish in a pool or run, keep moving upstream until you find some. Steelhead usually stack up in nearby pools, so once you find one steelie, another could be on the horizon.
5. Catch and ReleaseUnlike salmon, steelhead often return to the ocean after spawning. Salmon typically die after the spawn, so while it may be OK to harvest salmon in some instances, it's best to release a steelhead immediately and unharmed so they can carry out the spawning cycle and return next season. If you do that, you could help ensure solid steelhead runs for years to come.