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Steelhead Overview

Steelhead Overview
First in a Series of Articles on the Sea-Run Rainbow Trout

This article is intended to be the first in a series of Steelhead Fly Fishing. Entire volumes have been written on the subject, so this article will not go into much specific detail. For those searching the most detailed information we encourage you to read one of many great books written on the subject. Or find an experienced steelhead fly fisher to go out with. If worse comes to worse going out alone in true pioneering spirit will teach you. Those of you wanting the hottest tip will be better off calling your buddy, local guide or fly shop. However, if you are a beginner or thinking of beginning, or a seasoned veteran looking to catch perhaps a new idea or remember a lost one, we hope this series will be of value.

Steelies are a noble evolution of the Rainbow Trout. They are born in fresh water streams (at least the wild steelies are) where they imprint everything from water chemistry to natural occurring food sources. The Steelhead life cycle is about as varied and complicated as fish can get. They can spend anywhere from 1 to 4 years in freshwater before going to sea and 1 to 4 years at sea. Steelies are native to the Pacific once occurring from the Asiatic coast to Southern Alaska and originally down to the Tijuana River. Now they only reach as far south as Central California.

To say Steelhead have been successfully planted in the Great Lakes, is like saying Microsoft is a success story. Great Lakes steelhead fly fishing can be incredible, and not more passionate fly fishers can be found anywhere in the world. Great Lakes steelhead live entirely in freshwater, and migrate up the tributaries to duplicate the spawning behavior of the Pacific Steelhead.

Steelhead are imprinted to return in the summer or winter runs. And in those two basic runs there can be 'A' runs or 'B' runs or even more. While summer runs see the steelhead entering the river in the summer and the run continues through fall, usually spawning in early to mid-winter. Precise dates are very hard to gauge with steelhead preferring to enter rivers when the water is clean and cold, sometimes they can hole up for weeks at the mouths waiting for a summer rain.

Then there is a winter run where the fish enter the river in early winter to early spring and spawning sometime in that time frame. The Great Lakes Steelhead generally enter the river in early fall, especially in Pennsylvania, and fishing can be done in fall, winter and spring. Rivers can have both runs in fact most rivers close to the ocean do. Pacific winter steelhead generally do not travel as far inland as summer runs.

Steelhead fly fishing is becoming more and more popular and with good reason. When conditions are ideal a ‘chromer’ will smash a fly and treat the fly angler to a treat that is hard to duplicate. When steelhead enter the river we are getting them at their biological prime. Loaded with survival instincts that include territorial and sexual aggression, they can rip into your fly and go off on a terror of a run, which will often leave the uninitiated limp lined and open mouthed. But the angler will be hooked. If you live in an area that is lucky enough to feature this great fish, do yourself a favor and go give them a try.

In upcoming articles we will delve more deeply into techniques of inducing strikes from this terrific game fish.