Steelhead & Salmon on a Fly – How To

Steelhead & Salmon on a Fly – How To


(lively guitar music) – Welcome to the Orvis
Guide to Fly Fishing. I’m your host Tom Rosenbauer. One of my favorite
kinds of fishing is for migratory species
like salmon and steelhead. They’re big, they’re strong and they jump a lot. They’re also mysterious
because they migrate. They’re incredibly fun
to catch with a fly rod. In this episode,
we’ll cover the basics of salmon and steelhead fishing, giving you the essential tools
– Set up. – [Tom] to get you started. – There, there we go.
– Yes! – Woo hoo! – Yeah, baby! (bright guitar music) – [Man] Oh wow. – Yee yee! – [Woman] You’re so tame,
when you’ve been caught. – [Man] ‘Cause this
is the way to cast. – [Announcer] This show
has been brought to you by Orvis Rod and Tackle, Ontario, yours to discover. Ontario’s Algoma region, where Huron and Superior meet. (gentle guitar music) – [Tom – Voiceover] Anglers
have enjoyed catching salmon and steelhead since
Europeans first came to North America. Whether on the
east coast or west, there were huge runs of
migratory species to catch. They’re known as
migratory species, because they live in
oceans or large lakes, but return to rivers to spawn. Salmon and steelhead
are anadromous. They’re born in fresh water, migrate to the ocean and then return to fresh
water to reproduce. This is different
than trout in rivers, which are year-round residents. Salmon and steelhead
only migrate through a river system to
reach spawning grounds. It’s generally during
this migration period that we fish for them. In the Atlantic, the
principal species is the Atlantic salmon, which is caught in North America from Maine, all the way
north to rivers in Labrador. It’s also found in many
rivers in Northern Europe. Known as the kind of game fish, Atlantic salmon are
exceptionally popular because of their
incredible strength and propensity for jumping
or leaping when hooked, which is why their
scientific name in Latin means the leaper. On the Pacific coast, the
rivers from California all the way north to Alaska have five different
species of salmon and steelhead available. Each species has a
specific migration time depending on the location
and time of year. The species of Pacific salmon that fly fishers target are chinook, coho, pink, chum and sockeye salmon. All require different
presentation
techniques and flies, but there are general
methods of presentation that are common to all. More about that
later in the show. Steelhead are
essentially rainbow trout that live in salt water
or in large lakes, like the Great Lakes. They too migrate
up rivers to spawn at different times of year. They’re legendary
fighters, prized by anglers and exist in their
native form in rivers from southern
California all the way to the panhandle of Alaska. They’ve also been introduced
to the Great Lakes system. – [Man] That’s a good fish. – [Tom – Voiceover] Much
like Atlantic salmon, steelhead can be
caught on dry flies at certain times of the year, which can make for
some exceptionally
fun surface fishing. In addition to steelhead, Pacific salmon have also
been successfully introduced into the Great Lakes. You can use swing flies for coho on rivers in Michigan and use nymphing techniques to catch steelhead
in Pennsylvania. There have been different
techniques that have evolved to help catch these
migratory fish, but there are presentation
methods common to all. – Fish on.
– Oh there’s a fish. (reeling) – Yeah nice. That’s what she’s
all about buddy. This is a true
summer run, folks. These are the fish that
dreams are made of right here. People wait for years to
catch something like this. Big northern coho. (water lapping) He’s tired. There he is. – [Man] Nice. Nice fish, wow. – Nice coho on the Skeena River in Terrace, British Columbia. On the spey rod, caught him on a lamprey pattern. So we’re just gonna
let this guy go. Go make some babies,
(splashing) there he goes. No harm done there. (laughs) Right on, that’s
what it’s all about. Let’s see if we can
get another one. There you go. That’s a coho. – Yeah he took it on the strip. So this is my first
Pacific salmon here on the Skeena River. Nice bright fish. – [Gil] Yeah real bright. – Ooh that was a dumb move. That was a dumb move. – [Gil] You got it on that
egg-sucking leech, eh? That’s interesting, yeah, I
haven’t seen that done before. (laughing) – This is very interesting. (laughing) – Oh my goodness. Now that is a technique
that I have not seen done before. – Oh this? I have this special, boy, right
in the corner of the mouth. I have this special technique. You wrap the line
around the fish and it confuses them. – Well it’s called
hog-tying them, eh? – Yeah yeah, and it’s
easier to get ’em in because it confuses them, they don’t know where
the poles come from and they just come right in. Piece of cake. – Nice fish, bud. – Yeah, pretty fish. – Yep. – Pretty bright
fish, sharp teeth. – [Gil] Well there he is. What do you think
of that mister? – [Tom] Good, I’ll release him. – [Gil] Yeah, there you go. You got him? – Yeah got him. Okay buddy. Off you go.
(splashing) Ooh, that was fun. – [Gil] Right on buddy. – Thank you. – Good one, beautiful. – [Tom – Voiceover] When
salmon and steelhead enter a river to migrate
to spawning grounds, they use structure
similar to trout to hold in while making
their pilgrimage. By reading the water and understanding the
basics of river morphology, we can eliminate
unproductive water and locate fish quickly. When we return, we’ll
examine in detail how to break down a
river and locate fish. (gentle guitar music) (gentle guitar music) When salmon and steelhead
come into fresh water to travel to their
spawning grounds, they use much of the same
structure and currents as trout. But there’s some
important and key places to look for migratory species, places you need to focus on. (lively guitar music) When salmon and steelhead
move up a river, they’re generally trying
to move fairly quickly. Of course, they
remember their youth and how in these rivers,
there are predators, eagles and ospreys are
constantly on the lookout for careless fish. So they’re looking for structure
and riffles to hide beneath and of course, deep
water channels. As anglers, we need
to focus on locations where salmon and
steelhead are likely to hold on the journey. These holding spots, not
only give them cover, but also a slight
break from the current so they can rest. Key locations to look for them are current breaks, where you see fallen
trees, rocks and boulders, ledges and drop offs. Salmon and steelhead also
love holding in seams. Seams are places
where slow water and faster water meet. Another important place to look is at the heads of pools, just where a riffle
or fast water begins and also at the
tail of the pool. Fish will hold at
the head of the pool, getting ready to move through. At the tail of the pool, the fish are resting
after already fighting through swift currents below. Both are excellent
lies to swing a fly because they’re high
percentage locations, both salmon and steelhead
will likely use both in their migration. My favorite location
to find fish is at the tail of a pool, where fish are usually
funneled into a small area. For Atlantic salmon, this is often a great
place to use a dry fly. The equipment used for
salmon and steelhead can vary greatly. For smaller Atlantic salmon, when fishing in
northern Newfoundland, a seven or eight weight is
ideal in a nine foot rod. You might also want to use
the 10 foot seven weight to fish for steelhead on
a Great Lakes tributary, when you’re using
nymphing techniques. For big chinook and coho, you definitely want a
nine or even a 10 weight, to have the ability
to effectively fight these big strong fish. For all species and conditions, you’ll need a good quality reel with a solid drag. These fish are explosive and will test your
drag system to the max. So it’s critical, to
get a quality reel, especially a large Arbor system which will help
you bring in line for fast running fish like Atlantic salmon
and steelhead. If I had to pick
one all-around rod for application to both
salmon and steelhead, I’d probably pick a 10
foot, eight weight rod. However, it’s important
to match your rod size to the species and conditions. So I strongly recommend
you check with the experts at your local fly shop, or through our
website at orvis.com. By getting the right rod, you’ll ensure you can
get the maximum enjoyment from your fishing time,
by having the right tools. – [Gil] Oh another one. (chill guitar music) – Here on the Skeena river, we’re using 13 and a half
foot to 14 and a half foot spey rods for eight
and nine weight lines. Now we could cast just as far with a single-handed
eight weight rod or a switch rod. We can handle these
fish with those rods. The reason we’re
using a spey rod is because we’ve got
these big heavy sink tips. We need to lift those
lines to the surface and be able to
throw them out there and you just can’t do that with a swtich rod or
a single-handed rod, at least you can’t
do it very easily. – [Tom – Voiceover] The
traditional way of catching salmon and steelhead is
by swinging a wet fly. By using different types
of presentation methods, combined with specialized
lines or flies, you can effectively work a run. We’ll discuss these
techniques later in the show. What you need to know first is how to work a run. If you don’t know exactly
where the fish are, then you have to
systematically break it down. The best method for doing this is known as the
two-step two-cast. Basically, you make two casts, each one longer than the first, aand then you take
two steps down stream. By doing this, you’ll effectively work over
an entire area with your fly. (gentle guitar music) – Well here we are
on the Skeena River. (reeling) We put our time in today to
get the fish that we’ve got, but when you get one, they’re quality fish. This is what it’s
all about right here. Black intruder pattern,
black and purple actually. And there it is right there. You can’t get much
better than that. There she goes. (splashing) – [Tom] Nice. (laughing) – I thought maybe there’d
be a coho in there. – [Gil] Yep. – So I started stripping. – [Gil] Yeah well
that’s where they’ll sit on that inside slow stuff, eh? – Hey thanks. – That’s a nice fish.
– Nice fish. – [Gil] Good job. – [Tom] Very bright. – [Gil] We’re gonna
let this guy go. He’s gonna go up river,
he’s gonna make some babies. Say goodbye Tom. – [Tom] Goodbye buddy. (Gil laughs) – Right on. Good job man. – Thanks, this is magnificent. – You’re on fire. (laughs) – Now that’s what I’m
doing instead of the swing, that we’re using
for the steelhead, I’m mending the line over
into this froggy water. And just stripping it like
you would a trout streamer. Pretty fast too, they like, supposedly like a
very aggressive strip. (gentle guitar music) – [Tom – Voiceover] How
your fly is presented to the fish is critical. In fact, it’s more important than the exact
pattern you choose. The fly has to
swing in the current at the right speed and depth, in order to trigger
a fish into striking. You know it’s all too
easy to get hung up on fly patterns and your casting when you’re fishing for
salmon or steelhead, those are fun things, but it’s far more
important to worry about your fly swing speed and the depth at which
your fly is swinging. The fly has to be
off the bottom, but fairly close to the bottom and it has to be swinging
at kind of a slow walk kind of swing, so pay
attention to those things when you’re fishing for
salmon and steelhead. So Gil we’ve got this giant
river here, the Skeena, how can we possibly
catch a steelhead, when there’s so much water? – Well Tom, you
gotta break it down. You gotta look for
different structure, you look for structure
and you look for a funnel, a narrow point on the river where they come up out
of heavy, fast water and then you need to
slow down long enough and you can get a good swing. The way I describe
the flow of the water that you’re looking for, it’s a nice flat even
table top surface almost, but with broken,
cobble-y stones, and it’s flowing
almost at a fast walk. If you can visualize that, and just see the speed
of the water here, we look here, you can see it, that the inside is nice
and soft and ripply, and if you go out any further, it’s actually pushing very hard. So that’s how we break it down. You need to find the lane, in order to get into
the fish consistently. These are migrating fish. They’re not holding fish. They’ll stop for a rest. They may stop for a break, but they’re gonna continue
on in their migration, to all the legendary
tributaries of the Skeena River. (gentle guitar music) – Salmon and steelhead
are very aggressive fish and they’ll strike anything
that gets in their way. This brightly
colored Spin-N-Glow used on a conventional rod is weighted to the bottom with a big heavy weight. It spins around in the current, the fish come by,
and they see it and they grab it. This intruder fly
does the same thing. This is what we use on a fly
rod for salmon and steelhead. It’s brightly colored, it’s big, it’s obnoxious. But we can’t weight
this to the bottom with a fly rod and
wait for the fish to come by. We have to cast it
there on a sinking line and let that fly slide
through in the current to get in front of the
fish to make ’em strike. But the principle is the same. You got a brightly
colored obnoxious thing that gets in their way, that they’re gonna strike. The flies used for
salmon and steelhead are often usnique. Many of the patterns
are impressionistic. They don’t try to imitate
a specific food source. That’s because salmon and
steelhead don’t feed much once they come into fresh water on the journey to
spawning grounds. Some of these patterns are
quite beautiful and artistic, while others can
be garish and wild. I’d recommend patterns to you, but there are just so many
and they’re so specific to species and location, there’s just not enough
time to address them all. Just do some basic
research on what you need based on these criteria and you’ll find you get
the patterns you need. The only exception to
this rule is steelhead, especially in the
Great Lakes region. They will eat on
their spawning run and may pick up salmon
eggs, other steelhead’s eggs nymphs, or even small bait fish. So egg patters,
nymph and streamers will work for these steelhead. To swing a fly, you typically cast down river at approximately 45 degrees. You can change the
speed the fly travels through the water, by either
mending upstream or downstream. But one of the things
you want to make sure is that the fly line
is never downstream of the fly. If the fly line is
downstream of the fly it pulls the fly at the fish, and that’s gonna spook the fish and they’re not gonna take it. There are a lot of
theories about why salmon and steelhead take a fly. They feed little, if any, when they come in front
salt water into fresh water. They do take flies. So Gil, why do you think
steelhead take flies? – Steelhead take flies
purely out of instinct. They snap at things as
young juvenile smolts in back channels,
small streams, creeks, tributaries to the Skeena. And that’s purely
out of survival. As they progress
and they get older, they still have to
continue to feed. They move down to the ocean and as they’re in the ocean, they’re feeding on many
different creatures out there and as they come back to their native
rivers as adults, putting a fly in front of them, we’re trying to duplicate and replicate the things
that they eat in the ocean. Such as the lamprey
pattern or these smolts or these dry flies. Some of these different
patterns that we use, they are simulating a lot of the things
that they’ve seen throughout their entire lives in all these creeks and streams in the Skeena drainage. – [Tom] Okay, so it’s
memory and reflex. – A lot of it, yep, they are a very aggressive fish. They’re a predator. And I believe in
most situations, if they’re there, they’ll bite. – [Tom – Voiceover] Spey casting
is a very effective means of using a two-handed rod to fly fish for both
salmon and steelhead. Its popularity
continues to grow. I’m still new to spey
casting and I love it. But to get expert advice, let’s listen to Pete about
some of the basic casts. (gentle guitar music) – With the dynamic roll cast, we need to lift this rod up, come back with a smooth
acceleration that will lift. We’re trying to
establish an anchor point about a rod’s length
away, right here. Once that line touches, we then can deliver
that line out there. Think of it almost
as splash and go, let it touch, then
send it on its way. If you wait too long, the line’s gonna collapse. And it looks
something like this, come back, lift up,
touch and then go. Lift up, come back,
lift touch, then go. And that’s the foundation
for spey casting. (chill guitar music) One of the first casts we
learn when spey casting to change directions,
is a single spey with a change of direction. That’s simply just
that dynamic roll, but we need to shift our
body to reposition that line out across the water. Now it sounds like
the easiest cast, when in fact, it’s probably
one of the more difficult ones to accomplish. That timing has to be spot on, when we create that cast. We’re gonna lift that rod up, come towards the bank, then we’re gonna
dip down, lift it up and then we can deliver
that cast out and across. Kind of at a 45
when we’re casting or straight across. So again, we lift that
rod up towards the bank, dip it down, come back and
then make that dynamic roll. We’re just making
that twist to set up for that dynamic roll. That’s the foundation
of this cast. The double spey is
actually a little easier than the single spey. The reason is, you have
a little bit more time. Once you flop that line up there or upstream of you, you now have a little
bit more time to set up for that dynamic roll cast. This is often a great
cast to try first. With that double spey,
I said it’s easier, notice how much
time that I have. Once I make that flop, I then can wait as that line
comes downstream towards me. Then once I’m ready, I can bring that rod around, set up for that dynamic roll and then send that
line out there. (gentle guitar music) Snap T is a great substitute
for that double spey. It’s a little bit more dynamic. And it’s a lot more fun
to do in my opinion. With that Snap T, we’re gonna lift the
rod tip up downstream and then snap it
underneath that line. We lift this rod tip up and then pop it underneath. That’s gonna get our line
to reposition upstream. We can then sweep our rod around and set up for
that dynamic roll. The Snap T is a lot of fun and it’s a great cast to learn. (gentle guitar music) – [Tom – Voiceover] Fly
fishing for migratory species like salmon and steelhead
is a lot of fun. They often make
their spawning runs up incredibly beautiful
rivers on both coasts. And when hooked,
they’re spectacular
and powerful fighters. Once you’ve hooked
a few of these fish, you’ll quickly understand
why I have such a passion for these magnificent game fish. To learn more about
salmon and steelhead, please go to our leaning center at orvis.com/learntoflyfish. Thanks for joining us and we’ll look forward to
seeing you on the water. – [Announcer] This show
has been brought to you by Orvis Rod and Tackle, Ontario, yours to discover. Ontario’s Algoma region, where Huron and Superior meet. (lively guitar music)

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