For many anglers, the steelhead trout is the holy grail of fishes. Steelhead trout are among the most beautiful—and most difficult—trout species to catch anywhere in the United States, especially when fly fishing.
A steelhead is different from other, usually smaller rainbow trout because it's an anadromous fish—it runs from the rivers or lakes where it is born out into the open ocean, then returns upriver as a much larger adult ready to spawn. The native range of the steelhead is the Pacific Northwest, yet today it can also be found in the Great Lakes, where the massive rainbows continue to follow instinctive reproductive patterns by returning to freshwater rivers and small tributaries to begin anew.
Interestingly, while Great Lakes steelhead fishing and traditional Northwest steelhead fishing are related, the environments, as you can imagine, are dramatically different. Great Lakes tributaries where steelhead run are often small streams, strewn with deadfall and other natural obstacles. In the Northwest, on the other hand, steelhead often rush through wide-open, brawling rivers.
While the settings are different, the technique is similar. The classic Northwest fly fishing method to catching a steelie is to "swing" a streamer fly (like an egg-sucking leech, a Muddler Minnow, or a Green-Butt Skunk) through a run. Cast across the current, mend your line so the fly sinks, and hold tight as the leech swings through the current. This fly fishing technique also works on the larger rivers of the Midwest, where anglers use egg flies and wigglers on nymph rigs with strike indicators. With the wigglers, the bite happens quickly though subtly as the flies drift through deep pools.
Steelhead run based on the season. In the Northwest, summer and winter runs (which usually have larger fish) are the norm. Summer steelhead are best caught with floating lines and streamer flies. In the Midwest, the steelhead run starts in the fall, lasts through the winter, and peaks in the spring. Again, streamer flies such as black woolly buggers and leeches often work best. But wigglers and other heavy-weighted nymph flies also yield good results.
In either setting, the angler can also hook steelhead by running artificial egg imitations, like corkies, leeches and even live baits (where permitted) through deep runs.
As someone raised on the Great Lakes, I've always taken offense when anyone says that brand of steelhead fishing isn't "the real deal." Spend a day in a March snowstorm in Michigan casting around the stumps in the river for wild rainbow trout, and you'll get an appreciation for just how challenging and authentic this game can be.
I've also spent many days challenging these tough fish in Northwest rivers from Oregon to Alaska, and there's definitely something uniquely alluring about the pure pursuit of native fish on the rivers they've owned for eons.
In the end, steelhead fishing tends to bring out the best in any angler—fly fisher or gear fisher, Northwest or Midwest. It's something that must be experienced to be fully understood and appreciated. So if you haven't chased steelhead on the fly yet, put it on your "must-do" list. You won't be disappointed.
So you want to go out and land "the big one," huh? You've equipped yourself with your favorite fishing rod and reel plus an assortment of tackle, but you're still wondering what type of artificial bait to use. Anglers have been talking about "the secret lure" for years, but the truth is, there's really no such thing. The trick to finding the most effective bait, fly, or lure to catch fish is pretty simple: know what the fish are eating and then try to match that with a lure that looks and acts exactly like it.
Successfully doing that boils down to three factors: size, color and action.
SIZE: As mentioned, it's important to match the general profile of the bait fish or the insect with the size and proportion of whatever the fish actually eats. For example, if bass are eating shad, it would be a mistake to tie on a giant lure. Or, if bass are eating rainbow trout in a California reservoir, swimbait would not be the right choice because it's too small. Size does matter! When you aren't 100 percent certain about what size lure to use, it's always better to err on the small side and adjust upward from there. That's true in fly fishing, too. If you think you have the right fly pattern, but the fish refuses your fly, the first thing you should do is size down.
COLOR: Do fish see colors? Absolutely. So do colors matter when you select a lure, fly, or bait? You bet—but not always for the reasons you might think. Kevin VanDam, the most decorated pro bass angler in history, makes a lot of his money by using a Strike King Red Eye Shad crankbait. That's a very accurate representation of bass' favorite forage fish. But VanDam will mix and match colors according to the seasons, and more importantly, to water clarity. A fish can't eat a lure if it can't see it. So when the water is dirty, flashy metallic baits and colors like orange and chartreuse are in order. In clear water, more natural, muted hues are always best.
ACTION: If the lure doesn't swim (behave) in a manner that makes a fish want to eat it, it won't work. The Sebile Magic Swimmer is about as realistic of a swimbait you can find. It comes in various shapes and sizes, looks and swims exactly like a minnow or other baitfish, and works on many species of fish, from largemouth or smallmouth bass to northern pike and muskies. That said, sometimes a teasing action gets fish to bite. For example, walleyes on the bottom of a lake often find a vertical jig absolutely irresistible. And bass guarding beds will strike soft plastics (like lizards) out of a territorial, reactionary instinct more than hunger.
The bottom line is, if you're looking for the right lure or fly for the right fishing situation, keep size, color, and action in mind. Because it isn't the "magic" lure or fishing tackle that tricks the fish after all…it's the angler!
We've all experienced this scenario. We are away from home, have access to a fishing boat, and are eager to head out on the water and throw our lines in – BUT we aren't familiar enough with the location to know where to go. Well, there's a map – and an app – for that.
TakeMeFishing.org's popular Hotspot Map is now also a mobile site – meaning you can easily access it on your smartphone – helping you take the guesswork out of where to find your next fishing or boating adventure. Since its launch, the Hotspot Map has proven to be an indispensable resource for thousands who search for the perfect spot for fishing and boating activities, daytrips, and vacations.
From the palm of your hand, the mobile Hotspot Map site allows you to quickly search by state or zip code for community hotspots, facilities, and bodies of water where you can fish and boat. If it's a particular fish you're interested in, you can also search by species to see where they populate, accompanied by the best fishing methods and baits and lures to catch them.
Also, don't forget to download the Take Me Fishing Boat Ramp App. Available on iTunes and in the Android Market, this FREE app allows you to search a database of more than 35,000 launch points by state or zip code, revealed in map or list form. Or, let the App do the work for you as it searches for the nearest boat ramp by your GPS location. Turn-by-turn directions are supplied when you select your preferred hotspot destination and click "Get Directions."
No matter where you are in the United States, the Take Me Fishing mobile site or Boat Ramp App can help you find your next fishing and boating "hotspot" and get you on your way to hauling in your next big catch!
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