Sunday, October 21, 2012

Swinging For Chrome, For Love Of The Steelhead

I have never fished in the Pacific Northwest.  That's a sad statement for me as finding the time and resources to do so is high on my list of adventures.   I read and watch video of Steelhead in that pure and spectacular part of the world and can only imagine what western steel dreams are made from.  Cold and clear, crisp and powerful, those rivers of the North Western United States and South Western Canada, can only be associated to my favorite haunts when I am in pursuit of Salmo Salar.  To me anadromous silver has the deepest angling reward I have experienced.

At the end of October, when the Canadian Atlantic Salmon season draws closed, my attention shifts to Great Lake tributaries and the bright steelhead that start to run in big numbers.  The migration does start earlier but the crowds hitting massive runs of large King Salmon keeps me away until that season leaves but a few dark reminders lurking in the upper reaches.  These rivers, are at times, packed with fisherman. Because of the very diverse angling styles employed, feeling a bit cramped can be a big problem.   Difficult at times, yes, but well worth doing your best to overcome by being calm and not reactive.

I use a number of tactics, depending on conditions, to target these fish.  My first choice is always  to swing with a short two hand rod. Until the water temperature turns very cold I will continue this style.  Using heavier leaders with flowing hair tube flies stands out as the method most aesthetically pleasing and closest to what I believe will be implored when I travel out west.   I load my casts in cramped confines with a extra short Skagit heads and change the tips and poly leaders required to work the pool.  Having the room for this style requires locations that have the fewest number of other anglers.  The lower sections of rivers where the fish are bright and powerful as well as opposite banks from the easier accessed and cramped pools.  Walking longer distances is required and can be rewarded by having areas all to yourself while smiling at the line up on the other shore.

I also have shorter ten and a half to eleven foot switch rods that are through the butt flex style blanks with thin cork handles.  These rods give me the ability to change between light tippet nymphing and short head swinging.  In busy locations that are farther up river,  nymphing techniques works well and these rods become deadly tools.  I have no use for the fast and now today ultra fast action rods.  There is no reason to even have one on the steelhead rivers of New York State and Stealhead Ally in the mid west.  I realized this fact a few years back when I noticed that the center pin anglers were landing far more fish than any other method.  They are using the same tippet in size as well as composition, and only difference is the composite of the rod blank.  I think that if you are using light tippets for nymph or indicator fishing your old fiberglass rod from thirty years ago would be a far better choice.  Long casts are seldom required and your greatest weakness with a fast action rod is the fast action.

There are so many different flies that will attract steelhead.  These fish having the ability to see black and white in a total absence of light and blue with the least light can give us some inkling into fly choice.  Color and contrast seems to be the most important factor for the swing while the size and color with contrast seems to be key factors while nymphing.  Of course flies and colors are river and environment specific but a wide range in bunny leeches and a well stocked collection of stone fly imitations will get you started.  Eggs, Roe, all styles of nymphs, worms, leeches and bait imitations are all used with success. If I had to live with only one fly for swinging it would be a black leech with a chartreuse Eztaz head and one fly for nymphing would be a black stone fly with a chartreuse Eztaz thorax.  You can tie both these flies and just change the color of the Eztaz to blue, pink or red and have all you need on many days.  I also like the same leech fly with a white tail as well as a size 12 Pheasant Tail.

The key factor to Mid Western steal heading is to go.  By far the best and most rewarding fresh water angling found east of the Rockies.  Just go, don't listen to the talk about crowds and problems.  Just go, be a mild mannered angler and have a blast hooking some of the strongest, craziest and fastest fish alive.