Fly Fishing For Steelhead: 4 Best Great Lakes Style Methods That Work

Fly Fishing For Steelhead on a great lakes river
An angler fly fishing for steelhead on a great lakes river.

Fly fishing for Steelhead around the great lakes is very popular because of the size and abundance of steelhead. Most river guides fly fish for steelhead and they tend to catch a lot more steelhead than the average angler, but do they do this? This article discusses the most effective methods that I and other steelhead guides use when fly fishing for steelhead.

Fly fishing for steelhead can be done using methods like nymph fishing, streamer fishing, Spey fishing, and even euro-style nymphing. It’s important to know which method to use and then have an effective setup and the right flies.

I will discuss the best methods, leader setups, and the best flies that work for me and other guides.

Fly Fishing For Steelhead: The Rivers

A guide teaching fly fishing for steelhead
One of my guides on the river with a couple of clients that are fly fishing for steelhead on a great lakes rivers.

I have been fly fishing for steelhead from upstate New York to the western shoreline of Lake Michigan to as far north as the north shore of Lake Superior, and everywhere in between, and there are literally hundreds of great steelhead rivers that flow into the great lakes that anglers can fish.

During the spring and fall, just about any creek or river could have steelhead entering it. All it takes is large enough rains that flood these creeks and rivers and attract any steelhead that is swimming by.

At times these rivers could be getting runs of thousands of fish over 48 hours and can provide anglers with days when they could catch over 50 fish a day while fly fishing for steelhead. I’ve guided clients to many days with over 50 steelhead in the net but your method and skill matter a lot.

There are too many steelhead rivers to list so I will discuss the best steelhead rivers on my page Best Great Lakes Steelhead Rivers.

The Fly Fishing Methods For Steelhead

There are 4 methods that I use when fly fishing for steelhead and the one I use will depend on my client’s preference or on the type of water that I’m fishing. Some methods are more effective than others so I discuss that below.

Nymph Fishing For Steelhead

Nymph Fishing can be very effective for big steelhead like this.
Nymph Fishing can be very effective for big steelhead like this and it can be the best way to catch the most steelhead with a fly rod.

Nymph fishing in small to mid-sized rivers is almost always the most effective way to catch the most steelhead. You can also nymph for steelhead in larger rivers if you know where the steelhead will hold and concentrate. Anyone interested in fly fishing for steelhead should consider nymph fishing.

Nymph fishing for steelhead means that you are drifting small insect-like flies or flies that look like eggs under an indicator or with a tight line method. The goal is to get your flies into the strike zone and then drift your flies past that steelhead in a way that looks natural to the fish.

The more natural your presentation is and the better your flies and your fly setup is the more fish you will catch.

Unfortunately, many anglers fly fishing for steelhead do this poorly. Getting a great presentation is what I and other guides spend most of our time teaching our clients when we are on the river with them because we know that presentation is the key to catching more fish.

It’s the presentation that matters the most, not the fly. However, most new anglers get it backward and they focus too much on the fly and not enough on the presentation. When they don’t catch fish, they either change flies or they change locations which can help, but fishing poorly with a new fly or in a new location will still give you the same results, NO FISH.

Proper and effective presentation combined with the right flies and the proven tactics used by me and other guides that are sometimes catching over 50 steelhead a day when nymph fishing is what I will teach you on my page Nymphing For Steelhead.

Euro Nymphing For Steelhead

Fly Fishing For Steelhead

Fly fishing for steelhead should include the newest and most effective methods and I have always said that I am the type of river guide that uses what works best and that I never want to get stuck in a rut by using less effective old-school methods.

Euro Nymphing for steelhead is a new concept that is slowly growing around the great lakes regions and at times Euro nymphing for steelhead can be very effective and even the most effective method. When I am fly fishing for steelhead I use this method on pocket water and smaller runs and pools.

I have been using and perfecting Euro Nymphing methods for steelhead all around the great lakes since about 2006.

Euro nymphing for steelhead is basically a tight line method of nymphing that doesn’t use an indicator. With Euro nymphing, you will use a colored line called a sighter that is strategically placed up your leader and you will use 1 to 3 weighted flies. You DO NOT use weights or split shots at all.

Where you place your sighter and the flies that you use are only a part of what makes Euro nymphing for steelhead so effective.

What really makes Euro nymphing so effective is how you control your depth, your speed, and your overall presentation. I know that some of my clients that I have taught Euro nymphing are now catching the bulk of their steelhead using this method.

I discuss how to use this method effectively, show you my leader setup, discuss the types of water where this method works best, and show you my best Euro nymph flies, as well as how to use this method with any fly so that you don’t need to go out buy all new flies, all on my page Euro Nymphing For Steelhead.

Spey Fishing For Steelhead

Spey fishing for steelhead on the great lakes rivers is growing in popularity. I was just out yesterday teaching another new angler how to effectively Spey fish for steelhead. Some anglers that enjoy fly fishing for steelhead think that Spey fishing is by far the best way to catch steelhead.

Spey fishing for steelhead on great lake’s rivers requires the use of long Spey rods and reels and lines that can cast bigger flies and weighted sink tips a long way with little backcast room. Once your flies hit the far side of the river, you simply swing your fly across the river and wait for a bite.

It’s the fun of the cast and the hard yank of a steelhead grabbing your fly that attracts many anglers to Spey fishing for steelhead.

There are few simple casts that I teach to my clients and only a handful of Spey fly patterns that I use that will be effective on most rivers around the great lakes.

It’s also very important to learn how to cover the water effectively and how to get your fly down to the fish. Getting down to the fish requires sinking tips that are added to the end of the fly lines.

I discuss all of this in great detail on my page Spey Fishing For Steelhead.

Streamer Fishing For Steelhead

Streamer fishing catch be very effective for big steelhead
Streamer fishing catch be very effective for big steelhead

Streamer fishing for steelhead is something that not a lot of steelhead anglers do anymore, but streamer fishing can be an effective method when fly fishing for steelhead.

It can also be a lot of fun and an exciting way to catch steelhead with a fly rod.

When Fly fishing for steelhead I always have streamer flies with me just in case the fish are aggressive and will chase a well presented streamer.

The honest truth is that I use the same flies and the same advanced streamer fishing tactics for steelhead as I do when I fish for summer brown trout, rainbow trout, and brook trout.

I often tell my clients that I treat steelhead in a river like oversized trout, or I call them “trout on steroids”, and that’s because I know that most of the same tactics that I use for trout will be very effective when fly fishing for steelhead.

However, most guys use very simple and basic streamer fishing methods when they fish for steelhead and for trout and that means they are missing a ton of fish.

When I do my advanced streamer fishing classes I tell guys that I can cover 3 times more water with 3 times fewer casts and I can do it in half the time than it would take most anglers.

I can also do it in a way that triggers more bites from both steelhead and trout which is why I call it advanced streamer fishing. Fishing faster and more efficiently allows me to get my flies in front of more fish in a shorter period of time and it doesn’t tire me out as fast.

Learning these methods will help any fly angler become more effective and catch more steelhead with streamers. I discuss my advanced streamer methods for steelhead on my page Streamer Fishing For Steelhead.

Watch the guys from the new fly fishing show and me having some fun fly fishing for steelhead – HERE

Fly Fishing For Steelhead FAQ

There you have it, the 4 most effective methods when fly fishing for steelhead that are used by me and other river guides.

If you have a question, comments, ideas, or tips about fly fishing for steelhead let me and other readers know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines

Graham

Cool River Fishing Accessories

Simms Taco Bag

Simms Taco Bag

It’s a wet wader bag for storing your waders after a day on the water and it’s a mat to stand on to keep your feet dry when getting your waders on and off.

Duffel Bags and Stream Packs

SIMMS Duffel Bags and Stream Packs

Having a dedicated bag to pack and carry your waders, vests, boots, jackets, and more is a good idea. Waterproof and mesh bags are available.

Waterworks Release Tool

Waterworks-Lamson Ketchum Release Tool

Protects your flies from damage caused by forceps, This tool gets all hooks out easily. Even deep hooks come out with this tool.

Clip-on Magnifiers

When I flip these down to tie knots a lot of guys say ” I need to get some of those”. These are great for anyone that ties knots. Make sure they are lined up properly for the best view.

Author

  • Graham - River Guide / Instructor

    I am a full-time river fishing guide with over 20 years of guiding experience and I run one of the top river guide services with a team of great river guides. I have guided about 3000 anglers and this website is a compilation of the tips and methods that I teach my clients and other guides. Check the About Us page in the bottom menu for more about me and our river guide contributors.

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