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.
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.