Spey rods and swung flies for Pacific Northwest Steelhead
Salmon may be at the core of Pacific Northwest culture, but steelhead are the ultimate goal for every angler who strings up a spey rod on this region’s wild coastal rivers.
And why wouldn’t they be? This fish is as elusive as it is acrobatic and beautiful, which makes it, at once, a sturdy challenge to locate and equally formidable to land.
Anglers pursue these fish in big, brawling rivers that twist out of massive snowcapped mountain ranges and run fast to the ocean. The water often runs off-color and darkish green most of the time making steelhead nearly invisible to anglers. Which brings up a critical factor in the success of any “steelheader”—you have to be a die-hard to catch these fish, more optimistic than a trout or bonefish angler, more resilient to weather and water conditions, and willing to go home empty-handed on occasion without ever knowing if a steelhead was even near.
Swinging up steelhead, it’s a long game, not a short hit. But with anything, challenge and reward are intertwined—if you’re strong enough to weather the lulls, and you are hip-deep in the water when a fresh wad of steelhead arrive, and you’re swinging your favorite fly (the one you have confidence in and fish well) you won’t forget that time in your life. Ever. And, you’ll be getting ripped by a fish that averages about six to 14 pounds, can grow to 40 pounds, and is beautifully painted with a mix of crimson and chrome.
You can catch steelhead on a variety of tackle, including single-hand rods with floating and sinking lines, but the quintessential experience is fishing a two-hand spey rod while swinging a variety of flies down and across. And why is that you might ask, when quite often a single-hand rod is enough to do the trick? First, when steelhead take on a tight line swing anglers don’t have to wonder whether they just bit or not. A rod nearly yanked out of their hands, and the backing on a reel quickly evaporating, says all they need to know.
Two of the most incredible places to fish Pacific steelhead are the Skeena country in northern British Columbia and Southeast Alaska’s “panhandle” region.