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Fly Fishing Articles

Title: What is the difference between Summer & Winter Steelhead fishing techniques?

Date of Article: 2008-03-06


Winter Steelhead approach the coastline and enter rivers between December 1st and April 30th and are generally in an advanced stage of sexual maturity. Summer Steelhead enter rivers between June 1st and November 30th in a relatively immature stage and spend an entire winter in fresh water prior to spawning.

All Steelhead have a common nature. All spawning occurs in either late winter or spring.

Answer - Many, but in brief - see highlighted points:

  • Winter fish are sexually mature / Summer Steelhead are not - Winter Steelhead are in a hurry, Summer Steelhead are not.

  • Winter water temperatures - when river water temperatures go under 40 degrees F, Steelhead get more lethargic - slow to move or respond to a fly.

  • Swinging fly - vs. Nymphing (dead drift) Water temp says a lot about techniques. Getting it close - putting the fly in front of the Steelhead (hitting them in the head) is a winter rule of thumb for success. (Weighted flies, sinking tips lines, heavily mended casts - so fly has time to sinků.)

  • Flies - Winter Steelhead (attractor type patterns of flies that stimulate a response from past feeding habits in salt water/fresh water - Great lakes feeding meals. A popular winter Steelhead fly in the "Intruder" - It all started way back in the early 90's with a circle of guides at a lodge in Alaska. The first "Intruder-style" fly was the brainchild of Ed Ward, and was originally designed for king salmon. This shank-style fly was a solution for creating huge plug-like silhouettes that could simply not be achieved on conventional fly hooks. While fishing these flies for kings, it was impossible not to notice how well Alaska's huge rainbows took these large life-like patterns. And, it didn't take long for the light bulb to go on, "If these big rainbows can't resist them, just think of how well they might work for their anadromous cousins (steelhead)." Summer Steelhead respond to both natural and attractor fly patterns.

  • Equipment: Winter Steelhead Fly Fishing requires the rod's ability to cast large, and often weighted flies. Spey rods are designed for this. Summer Steelhead fly fishing allows for both single handed rods and double handed/Spey rods.

Submitted By: Jeff Layton

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