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These sea run species are widespread enough to furnish good fishing in many places. The steelhead of the Pacific coast, the sea run brook trout of Newfoundland and the New England coast, the sea run cutthroat of the Pacific northwest, the sea run brown trout of the European coast from Spain to the Arctic waters of Norway, the sea run browns of near-Antarctica, in Argentina's Tierra del Fuego-all these sea going trout are ready hitters to flies. They are real battlers, packing a special sailor's punch to furnish some of the greatest sport the angler will find anywhere.
In America, the steelhead is the outstanding fish of this kind. The steelhead is a rainbow that goes to sea, and more specifically it is the rainbow of the Pacific coast. From California to Alaska, these tidal rovers slip downstream into the sea each year, stay there for periods that vary from one to four months, then journey back into the sweet water of the coastal waters, and head on up to distant spawning beds. They travel amazing distances, and it is nothing to catch them 100 miles upstream from the salt. When they first come in they are bright silver, readily identifiable, but after being in the river for a while, they resume their original familiar rainbow colors.
Before planning a trip to the Pacific coast for steelhead, it is essential to contact someone who is right on the river that the angler plans to fish, or who at least knows the general area thoroughly an outdoor editor of the local newspaper, for instance, or the game and fish department authorities, as the steelhead is strictly a periodic fish.
There are what are known as "summer runs" and "winter runs" and each comes at a certain specific time in each special river, sometimes only a week apart but if the run is not in, the fish just are not there. The Kalama in Washington, the Deschutes in Oregon and the Klamath in northern California, are early rivers with summer runs working in around September 15th and continuing into the fall. The early run fish are usually small, (called half-pounders by anglers), weighing from half a pound up to 3 or 4 pounds. The average weight increases as the run continues, with more five-and six-pounders, and the bigger fish coming in late. With the exception of a few rivers, there are seldom any really big fish in the early runs. However, the Deschutes is one river that holds some big fish as early as mid-September. It was from this river that former Governor of Nevada Morley Griswold took his world record steelhead on a fly, a wonderful 28-pounder.
But in general, the winter run steelhead are much bigger than the earlier ones, with many 20-pounders being taken on flies. They are real busters and in the high water of the winter months they are something to handle.
Steelhead will occasionally take a dry fly in a low, clear river for instance, in the early fall when the summer fish are in, but for the most part fishing for this species is done almost entirely with wet flies. Because in some of the rivers the water is slightly dingy, steelhead flies run to reds and yellows, red and white combinations, the royal coachman colors, orange, pink, and some brown and black. The flies used are mostly tied on number 4 hooks and number 6 hooks, and many of them are weighted, partly to get them down into deeper water and partly to get them underwater in the riffles where steelhead like to lie.
Some of the best fly tyers in the country are West Coast steelhead men. They are inventive tyers and have done a wonderful job on designing flies that really work consistently.
Steelhead fishing usually calls for long casts in order to reach out to the far sides of riffles, and most steelheaders use a stout rod, and 8 1/2- or 9-foot stick and a Hedge 7 tapered line.
The Hedge 7 tapered line is a tournament caster's line, first evolved for the caster's platform, and made of silk for extra weight. With such a line, the caster should have at least 50 feet of line in the air before making the forward cast, so it is not a line that can be used where there is a backdrop of trees or bushes. But in the open, with this line it is possible to make plenty of throws of 8o and go feet by throwing the 50 feet that is already in the air, and shooting the remaining line after it.
But almost any of the GAF or GBF lines manufactured by leading line companies will do a capable job, and when there are trees behind the caster, then they are far better than the 7 taper. The weight of the head will carry out plenty of running line, so a good caster can get 70 feet and even more.
It's fun to throw a long line and everyone likes to see his cast shoot away out, turn over nicely at the end and pay off nicely with a fish that seemed out of reach. But it pays, too, to give a certain amount of thought to the near water. I remember very well one time fishing with a lady angler, who was a very competent caster, but whose casts were usually about 20 feet shorter than those of the men in the crowd. And I remember that in two days of fishing she came in with more fish than any of the rest of us. So all the steelhead do not lie on the far side of the riffle.
Leaders for steelhead are usually g to 12 feet in length, tapered from a heavy butt section to 6-or8-pound test tippet, but are stepped up a bit heavier when the later runs of big fish come in.
The usual procedure of handling the fly in the water is to allow it to float along with the current and swing in below, and that is the moment when the fish usually climbs aboard. Some steelheaders believe that a little motion imparted to the fly, short jerks, will bring more hits, while others think that the fly should float along in the little eddies, bobbing at the will of the current. I have tried both methods with equal success, and whatever float the steelhead hits, he does it with a thump and fights with flash and power. Like all rainbows, steelhead are great jumpers, and being fresh in from the salt, they jump more often, and higher.
Sometimes there are too many fishermen for the pool or riffle on a steelhead river and then it is that the line forms from the right. A fisherman will get into position at the top of the riffle and start casting across current, fishing his fly through that float. Then he will move down a couple of feet in the riffle and make his next cast. After a few moves, the next angler will take his position and he too will start casting. There could be as many as 8 or 10 men in a riffle, at one time, then the procedure is that as soon as one angler catches a fish, he backs out of the line and starts again at the rear of the parade. It works very well and in that manner a lot of fishermen can work the same water and with success. Once the first man reaches the end of the riffle, he scrambles out and goes off to another run, or back he goes to the end of the line and again awaits his turn.
The very few dry flies used for steelheads include the royal coachman Wulff, the gray Wulff and the black Wulff, in sizes 6 and 8. The list of wet flies is much longer:
WET FLIES FOR STEELHEAD, hook sizes 4 and 6;
THOR ORLEANS BARBER VAN LUVEN BLACK OPTICC BROWN'S EAK RED OPTIC QUEEN BESS COCK ROBIN OPTIC NORWEGIAN MOUSTACHE UMPQUA KALAMA SPECIAL DUSTY MILLER GOLDEN DEMON ALASKA MARY ANN CUMMING'S SPECIAL CARSON AL'S SPECIAL MCGINTY BOBBIE DUNN POLAR SHRIMP SKYKOMISH SUNRISE DRAIN 20