Top 10 Tips to Increase Your Great Lakes Steelhead Success!

Yes yes yes…. I know all of you Pacific Northwester’s are jumping out of your skin screaming that the great lakes fishery is not really steelhead and that if you don’t swing then you’re not really fishing and blah blah blah blah…..   I am sure there is a thread on The Drake forum to debate this and make fun of everyone that doesn’t fish like you so have fun doing that.

The beauty of the Great Lakes Fishery is that our rivers and tribs are typically small enough that you can nymph or swing depending on where you go and what gets you all hot and bothered.  I myself am a huge switch rod fan for that exact reason.  I can nymph some pocket water, hike to the next run, swing through, and then nymph the next stretch of riffles.   Best of both worlds!

Anyhow, Steelhead fishing seems to polarize people in so many ways with our loves, frustrations, and addictions that surround the pursuit.   Today I took some of the top tips that will not only up your landing percentages, but also increase your smile as you do it.  So here we go:

  • 10. These Boots Are Made For Walking
    • One of the most common mistakes I see is someone parking themselves in one spot and they stand there all day.  If the fish are not there or not on the feed, something tells me you are decreasing your odds of catching them.  Go find fish!  Fish move throughout the day and so should you.
  • 9. Be a Stud
    • After nearly breaking my tailbone two weeks ago I checked the bottom of my boots to see that my studded boots had been worn smooth.  New studs will make all the difference in the world when it comes to wading into some more difficult spots.  Don’t skimp here!
  • 8. Ditch the  Old Mono
    • With Shale bottoms, sharp ledges, and hot fish, the last thing you need is tippet that is past its prime.  I know this is a tough one but take last years mono and throw it away.  Nylon mono will break down over time and one season is just about all it is good for.   Throwing away money is rough but the last thing you want is to break off the  fish of the trip (or a lifetime) because you were trying to save a few dollars.
  • 7. Rain Rain Rain
    • So much of our success depends upon rain… especially early in the season as fish are just starting to make their way out of the lake.  The rule of thumb is that a good rain will bring a push of fish.   The catch is though that if a creek is blown out fishing is not at its peak.   Every stream clears differently but on average one to two days after a good rain things are really hopping.
  • 6. Conflicting Currents …. Foam is Home!
    • Get out of the slow moving pools!  Steelhead are trout at heart.  Look for current seams and foam lines and you will often not only find fish but you will also likely find feeding fish.  Steelhead like their food to come to them on the  conveyer belt while they don’t expend much energy and remain in a safe spot.
  • 5. You Can’t Catch Fish if Your Fly is Not in the Water!
    • I know this sounds elementary but if you spend half of your day re-rigging and changing flies you will catch fewer fish.  (Pay close attention to the next few tips!)  Think and prepare ahead to make sure you maximize the amount of time that your fly stays in the water.
  • 4. Micro-swivels and Split Shot Tags
    • Part of nymphing for chrome is knowing that you will lose plenty of flies.  Sometimes we get hung up not on our fly but our split shot wedges between rocks.  Put a micro-swivel at the end of your leader.  Tie your tippet to it but also tie a small tag of slightly lighter tippet with a knot at the end of the tag (just an inch or so)  By crimping your shot to the tag you not only will only break off your shot (rather than the whole rig) but you also avoid weakening your tippet by creating a crimp point for the shot.  You can even pre prep the tags at home and keep them in your bag so all you have to do is tie them onto your rig when you lose one.
  • 3. Simplify Your Fly Box
    • Steelhead are opportunistic feeders and in most cases there is not a ton of “matching the hatch”.  Your success has much more to do with a drag free presentation at the right depth than it does the right fly pattern.  My bag typically has 3 fly boxes.   One box if egg type flies and nymphs.  My second box is small streamers and buggers that can be drifted or swung.  My last box is streamers typically for the times when conditions are right to swing some larger  flies.  If all you are doing is nymphing, two fly boxes is really all you need.
  • 2. Change Weight and Depth Before You Change Flies
    • More often than not, the reason you are not hooking up is not that you had the wrong fly.  Typically you are not getting down to the fish and your fly is cruising above the feed zone.  In most cases if you are not hooking up or bouncing bottom you are not deep enough.
  • 1. Make This a Sustainable Resource
    • Talk to anyone who has done this for a while and they will tell you that there are fewer returning fish and more returning fisherman…. Not a good trend.  I know what the laws are but ask yourself this.   How important is it to you to eat that fish?   There are pounds of dead fish at the local grocery store that are delicious.  Is that second year fish more valuable on your stringer or returning next year as a big healthy third year fish?  Yes this is a stocked fishery but part of managing its health is up to us.  So what can you do?
      • Practice catch and release… the more fish we put back, the more we can get to return
      • Fish barbless hooks (no you won’t lose more fish!)
      • Don’t beach your fish when you land them (bring a quality rubber or rubber coated net)
      • Keep your fish in the water when you photograph them or just lift them out quickly for the shot
      • Use appropriate tackle that allows you to land the fish quickly without stressing them to exhaustion

This discussion could go on for pages but if you just remember these 10 items, you will absolutely increase not only your success but you will also have a much better experience!  So get ready to go chase some chrome and remember, be courteous.  We are all out there to have a good time.


Tight Lines and Loose Pants