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Skating for Steelhead

Skating for Steelhead is a frequently ignored tactic, one that should always be in a fly fisher’s bag of tricks for these notoriously hard to figure out fish. Skating involves taking a big hunk of floating fly (Steelhead Skater, Bomber, and Green Machine) and swinging it in front of a lying steelhead. The bigger the wake this process makes, some swear, the better.

The genesis of the idea for this west coast steelhead strategy lies in the fact that juvenile steelhead spend up to four years in their native waters before migrating to the ocean, in this time they eat what is available, including surface flies. It is imperative the water you are attempting this strategy contains native fish, hatchery fish don’t grasp the concept of surface food. Rivers with prolific caddis seem to be the best candidates for skating strategies, and if the October Caddis is present all the better.

To fish waking flies there are some basic concepts to keep in mind. In general, keep your waking fly in the surface, at a comfortable speed that you can control, and in relation to the e current. An upstream mend slows down the fly, and raises it up if it is sinking too low. A downstream mend will speed up the drift.

Not all steelhead will rise to a skater, covering a lot of water improves your chances. Late summer to mid-fall are the best times, but avoid this technique in bright sunshine, as steelies are reticent to look up. However late in sunny days when the sun has left the water is an optimal time, as are early mornings before the sun hits the water.

If you see a lot of activity but no strikes from your searching patterns, try more exact imitations, Grease Liner or stimulators work well or grease up a steelhead muddler.