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808steelheader 12-17-2019 08:40 PM

Dry Fly Steelhead In Cold Water
 
As some may know, I am unusually driven when it comes to raising steelhead to the surface. My journey has taken me to a place where I fish surface flies every month of the year, even through the colder seasons of late fall through early spring. I do, on occasion, fish wet flies on a dry line during harsh winter conditions, but otherwise the use of surface flies is a constant.

November is a month when water temps typically reach the mid 40's and by then, faith in surface methods can be hard to muster. Fishing on top through winter has got to be a total craziness....

In the course of my wacky experiment, what I have learned is that steelhead will sometimes rise to surface flies in conditions when most every other normal person has brought out their Skagits and tips.

Getting into surface steelhead in November and December is no longer an impossibility as personal experiences have shown and I continually push the surface steelhead limits through winter. Thus far, January is the only month when I have not risen Steelhead to the surface.

Of course, I am hoping that this is the year when a January dry fly steelhead becomes a reality!

So are there any others out there dabbling in this type of insanity? If so, tell me about your thoughts and experiences with your cold water dry fly steelhead journey.

Todd

fisshman26 12-17-2019 09:33 PM

It can be done....Iíve seen it be done by Zack Williams middle of January.......keep the faith and have some bubblegum handy ;)

eriefisher 12-17-2019 09:43 PM

I would love to try it here. The rivers have been a bit high and somewhat clear. Don't forget cold. I think these conditions keep the fish moving and create a good case for a skated fly. What sizes/colours would be your choice?

Dan

808steelheader 12-18-2019 01:35 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by fisshman26 (Post 2485742)
It can be done....I’ve seen it be done by Zack Williams middle of January.......keep the faith and have some bubblegum handy

Hey Bruce,
Will definitely keep bubble gum handy! Zack's the man, will follow his example.

Todd

808steelheader 12-18-2019 01:42 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by eriefisher (Post 2485748)
I would love to try it here. The rivers have been a bit high and somewhat clear. Don't forget cold. I think these conditions keep the fish moving and create a good case for a skated fly. What sizes/colours would be your choice?

Dan

I fish mostly 2s, never know until you try. I have had success on yellow/orange, purple/black, now trying pink.

Good luck,
Todd

GR8LAKES FLYER 12-18-2019 07:18 AM

Well, if the rivers aren't solid in January in my area, I would give it a try :D
I'm not as far gone with the surface grab as you are Todd, but there is an itch there :hihi:
Success on my home river has been during the months of September and October, with one crazy fish smashing the surface in early December last year.
Everybody knows that GL's steelhead don't take surface flies ..... :chuckle::chuckle:


Mike

eriefisher 12-18-2019 11:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by GR8LAKES FLYER (Post 2485782)
Everybody knows that GL's steelhead don't take surface flies ..... :chuckle::chuckle:


Mike

I keep hearing that but have seen evidence otherwise.

Dan

808steelheader 12-18-2019 12:03 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by GR8LAKES FLYER (Post 2485782)
Well, if the rivers aren't solid in January in my area, I would give it a try
I'm not as far gone with the surface grab as you are Todd, but there is an itch there
Success on my home river has been during the months of September and October, with one crazy fish smashing the surface in early December last year.
Everybody knows that GL's steelhead don't take surface flies .....


Mike

So sorry Mike. I forgot that your rivers freeze over in winter! Us west coasters are spoiled with open, flowing rivers all year. Might need an ice auger waker for your area!

Quote:

Originally Posted by eriefisher (Post 2485808)
Quote:

Originally Posted by GR8LAKES FLYER (Post 2485782)
Everybody knows that GL's steelhead don't take surface flies .....


Mike

I keep hearing that but have seen evidence otherwise.

Dan

I know Mike and others have shown that GL steelhead do take surface flies. Sometimes 99% of finding successes with surface flies is showing up to the river and fishing them. Traditions. and regional/local beliefs can prevent folks from believing that alternative methods can work.

On my local ditch, the common mentality is these are mostly hatchery steelhead, they won't move to a fly, so sink tips or indicator fishing is where it's at. As a result, I have been among the few who bother fishing surface flies here. Guess what? I have gotten more dry fly steelhead on my homewater than all othe rivers combined. So.... don't be afraid to challenge those local customs and traditions. Don't worry about the strange looks from the center pinners, right Mike, Larry?

Todd

Read1t48 12-18-2019 12:55 PM

Todd -

I was planning to fish a wet this afternoon until this post. Dang you! However, I ALWAYS have the dries in my box and ready to go. Interestingly, my home waters are not very cold -- high 40's. The flows are low -- at least for one more day -- and when fishing last weekend, I saw a number of large trout rise to the surface to feed. When looking for a player, it's hard to think of a better search tool than a skater. And we all know that steelhead don't play by the 'rules'. So thanks for putting a stick in my spokes for my planned outing.

808steelheader 12-18-2019 01:35 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Read1t48 (Post 2485816)
Todd -

I was planning to fish a wet this afternoon until this post. Dang you! However, I ALWAYS have the dries in my box and ready to go. Interestingly, my home waters are not very cold -- high 40's. The flows are low -- at least for one more day -- and when fishing last weekend, I saw a number of large trout rise to the surface to feed. When looking for a player, it's hard to think of a better search tool than a skater. And we all know that steelhead don't play by the 'rules'. So thanks for putting a stick in my spokes for my planned outing.

Sorry for the stick! Don't let this post ruin your enjoyment of wet fly fishing as that is not my intention, it's just that the reality I choose can be a lonely place and it's my own fault!

I agree the surface fly can be a good locator for players. Utilizing a method during what can seem like near impossible conditions is insanity for most. Sometimes I am not sure how I arrived in this place of accepting such low odds in an already difficult game where few steelhead are encountered to begin with. I have a strange tolerance for not catching many steelhead, maybe not a healthy state of mind...
Todd

velocity 12-18-2019 02:22 PM

Over my past few seasons on the Rogue and NU I have moved into a fairly standard procedure when swinging flies for steelhead. Time of year or water conditions don't influence my procedure other than fly color (brighter flies for dirtier water). I may be a bit OCD as I hate wasting time relining so I have a different rod for each situation. I have four rods I use for either skating or swinging a wet on a tip in either big water or small water.

Bigger PNW river:
Surface rig - 13'3" Winston BIIX 7wt w/ Airflo Rage, 10ft Airflo steelhead floating leader, and then usually another 3-4 ft of Maxima for tippet.
Subsurface rig - 12'7" Beulah Classic Spey 7/8wt w/ Airflo Skagit Compact G2, 12.5' of T8/T11, , 6" cheater of ~30lb Maxima (save your tips loop to loop), and then 2'-3' OPST 18lb fluorocarbon

Smaller PNW river:
Surface rig - 10'4" Beulah Platinum Switch 6wt w/ OPST Commando, 10' OPST Floating tip, 10ft Airflo steelhead floating leader, 3-4ft Maxima/Rio tippet
Subsurface rig - 10'8" Beulah Platinum Switch 7wt w/ OPST Commando, 12' OPST Run tip (T8/T11 also works), 6" cheater of ~30lb Maxima, and then 2'-3' OPST 18lb fluorocarbon

My goal has been a sort of on going experiment to see which way yields better results (surface vs subsurface). I wanted to be sure I was covering every hole I fished as efficiently as any other fly fisherman could. I wanted to increase my hookups skating, but I didn't want to feel like I was missing fish by not fishing those runs subsurface. Currently I work my way through every run with the surface rig some times dead wake, some times popping. Then I re-fish the same run with my subsurface rig if I don't encounter a fish while fishing the surface rig.

Generally I skate an October caddis or green butt styled foam skater and swing subsurface with various small traditional steelhead wet flies or 2"-3" single station unweighted/lightly weighted articulated flies. Rarely do I find the need to put on T14/T18 and dredge with a heavily weighted 2 station dumbbell eye. I feel like I do fairly well, and I hook up regularly fishing each way. Fishing subsurface does seem to produce more fish when the water is cold during the winter season, but you can't catch fish on a dry if you are not fishing one. I have encountered steelhead on the NU that still rise to a waked fly in the winter months before the river totally blows out. It is very rare considering the number of fish around this time of year in the NU's system, but I specifically remember one in front of our house in the fly water that hammered a waked fly in December last year. Skate first, then swing a wet.

GR8LAKES FLYER 12-18-2019 02:24 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by 808steelheader (Post 2485814)
So sorry Mike. I forgot that your rivers freeze over in winter! Us west coasters are spoiled with open, flowing rivers all year. Might need an ice auger waker for your area!



I know Mike and others have shown that GL steelhead do take surface flies. Sometimes 99% of finding successes with surface flies is showing up to the river and fishing them. Traditions. and regional/local beliefs can prevent folks from believing that alternative methods can work.

On my local ditch, the common mentality is these are mostly hatchery steelhead, they won't move to a fly, so sink tips or indicator fishing is where it's at. As a result, I have been among the few who bother fishing surface flies here. Guess what? I have gotten more dry fly steelhead on my homewater than all othe rivers combined. So.... don't be afraid to challenge those local customs and traditions. Don't worry about the strange looks from the center pinners, right Mike, Larry?

Todd

Yes, my post was very sarcastic. During the warmer fall (September/October), my first fly when I approach a run is usually a surface fly of some sort. Whether it's a hitched muddler, greaseliner or one of your Wangs, the surface gets the first chance. If I finish the run with no players, I then decide if I want to re-fish it with either another surface fly or a wet fly. More often I lean towards another surface fly. The Butterfly has done well for me as a back end fly :D

I had one pinner yell back to me as he passed me by and below the area I was fishing and said that something must be wrong with my set up because my fly was swinging across the surface. I just yelled back and thanked him :hihi:

It took some self convincing at first to try the surface game, especially being in the GL's and even more so, my home river. My final decision was that I would never know if I didn't try .... really glad I stuck with it :)

Todd, you're dealing crack man .... thanks :)


Mike

flyfisher231 12-18-2019 03:45 PM

I have been fishing mostly dry this Fall. Definitely my first choice. When I use tips it is not so much hoping for more fish as I just like to challenge myself to try new things. Not to mention I bought the tips and I hate to think I totally waisted my money on them. Of course that ship may have already sailed, with how rarely they are used.
I figure if it is not too cold for a trout to rise, why not a Steelhead. And on my home river trout routinely rise midday.

flyfisher231 12-18-2019 03:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by 808steelheader (Post 2485770)
I fish mostly 2s, never know until you try. I have had success on yellow/orange, purple/black, now trying pink.

Good luck,
Todd

What is your theory on the larger waker in cold weather? Do you just think the bigger commotion will do more to excite a lethargic steelhead?

808steelheader 12-18-2019 04:34 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by velocity (Post 2485830)
Over my past few seasons on the Rogue and NU I have moved into a fairly standard procedure when swinging flies for steelhead. Time of year or water conditions don't influence my procedure other than fly color (brighter flies for dirtier water). I may be a bit OCD as I hate wasting time relining so I have a different rod for each situation. I have four rods I use for either skating or swinging a wet on a tip in either big water or small water.

Bigger PNW river:
Surface rig - 13'3" Winston BIIX 7wt w/ Airflo Rage, 10ft Airflo steelhead floating leader, and then usually another 3-4 ft of Maxima for tippet.
Subsurface rig - 12'7" Beulah Classic Spey 7/8wt w/ Airflo Skagit Compact G2, 12.5' of T8/T11, , 6" cheater of ~30lb Maxima (save your tips loop to loop), and then 2'-3' OPST 18lb fluorocarbon

Smaller PNW river:
Surface rig - 10'4" Beulah Platinum Switch 6wt w/ OPST Commando, 10' OPST Floating tip, 10ft Airflo steelhead floating leader, 3-4ft Maxima/Rio tippet
Subsurface rig - 10'8" Beulah Platinum Switch 7wt w/ OPST Commando, 12' OPST Run tip (T8/T11 also works), 6" cheater of ~30lb Maxima, and then 2'-3' OPST 18lb fluorocarbon

My goal has been a sort of on going experiment to see which way yields better results (surface vs subsurface). I wanted to be sure I was covering every hole I fished as efficiently as any other fly fisherman could. I wanted to increase my hookups skating, but I didn't want to feel like I was missing fish by not fishing those runs subsurface. Currently I work my way through every run with the surface rig some times dead wake, some times popping. Then I re-fish the same run with my subsurface rig if I don't encounter a fish while fishing the surface rig.

Generally I skate an October caddis or green butt styled foam skater and swing subsurface with various small traditional steelhead wet flies or 2"-3" single station unweighted/lightly weighted articulated flies. Rarely do I find the need to put on T14/T18 and dredge with a heavily weighted 2 station dumbbell eye. I feel like I do fairly well, and I hook up regularly fishing each way. Fishing subsurface does seem to produce more fish when the water is cold during the winter season, but you can't catch fish on a dry if you are not fishing one. I have encountered steelhead on the NU that still rise to a waked fly in the winter months before the river totally blows out. It is very rare considering the number of fish around this time of year in the NU's system, but I specifically remember one in front of our house in the fly water that hammered a waked fly in December last year. Skate first, then swing a wet.

Velocity: I like your style! I bet going through subsurface on subsequent passes teaches you more about where steelhead hold and what factors may be conducive to cold water dry fly steelhead encounters. Great to hear of your cold water surface experiences on the NU. I fish there a lot in summer and fall so I am sure we have crossed paths. We may need to meet sometime!

Quote:

Originally Posted by GR8LAKES FLYER (Post 2485832)

Yes, my post was very sarcastic. During the warmer fall (September/October), my first fly when I approach a run is usually a surface fly of some sort. Whether it's a hitched muddler, greaseliner or one of your Wangs, the surface gets the first chance. If I finish the run with no players, I then decide if I want to re-fish it with either another surface fly or a wet fly. More often I lean towards another surface fly. The Butterfly has done well for me as a back end fly

I had one pinner yell back to me as he passed me by and below the area I was fishing and said that something must be wrong with my set up because my fly was swinging across the surface. I just yelled back and thanked him

It took some self convincing at first to try the surface game, especially being in the GL's and even more so, my home river. My final decision was that I would never know if I didn't try .... really glad I stuck with it

Todd, you're dealing crack man .... thanks


Mike

I'll never forget the excitement conveyed in your posts with your early dry fly steelhead successes! The validation that your local steelhead could be caught on the surface is priceless. Glad that you caught the fever!


Quote:

Originally Posted by flyfisher231 (Post 2485844)
Quote:

Originally Posted by 808steelheader (Post 2485770)
I fish mostly 2s, never know until you try. I have had success on yellow/orange, purple/black, now trying pink.

Good luck,
Todd

What is your theory on the larger waker in cold weather? Do you just think the bigger commotion will do more to excite a lethargic steelhead?

A larger surface fly could be better at attracting cold water steelhead, however the wakers I fish are not huge. The size 2s I fish are tied on bait hooks so they are similar in size to typical #4s or #6s.

Todd


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