Steelhead Fishing has become one of the fastest growing sports in the North East due to the massive stocking programs by the states of Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. With this fast growing sport is a large fly fishing community looking to master the waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. And everybody is looking for the magic fly that will catch more steelhead than any other fly. Guess What? There's no magic fly out there!
I've been fishing for steelhead for quite some time and they are no different than any other fish. The flies they take are primarily based upon what they are feeding on a reaction strike. Steelhead like any fish will strike a fly either out of hunger or anger. I've found these three types of flies to be productive with steelhead on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario Tributaries.
- Egg Sucking Leeches - Colors - Black / Chartreuse, Black / Orange
- Bead Head Woolly Buggers - Olive / Gold, Black / Gold
- Woolly Buggers - White, Black, Olive
- Sucker Spawn - Colors - White, Chartreuse, Orange
- Estaz Egg - (Chartreuse, Orange, Pink)
- Big Glow Eggs (Chartreuse, Orange) = Dirty Water
- Beads! Not a fly but damn do they work.
- Kaufman - Stone Fly - Black
- Prince Nymphs
- Copper Johns
- Hare's Ear Nymphs
That's it for me, I know there are a lot of other patterns that people use including tube flies, spey flies, crystal meth, but the above flies will cover about every situation that you'll run into. I generally start with a big fly like an Egg Sucking Leech and the leeches that I use are probably much larger than ones you may have seen. I tie them on either a # 2 or # 4 Salmon Hook and use a lot of marabou for the tail and tinsel chenille for the body. If I fail to get any bitters with the leech I'll move to an egg pattern such as sucker spawn. If that fails I'll try a Stone Fly and if that fails I'll switch to using a float to achieve a dead drift presentation with a single or dual sucker spawn rig. In Pennsylvania using a dropper is legal however in New York you are prohibited from using a dropper rig.
With the flies above you will catch fish. One thing I've always believed is you have to have confidence in the lure or fly you are throwing. With confidence you'll know how to fish the fly correctly and you won't get into a game of wasting time. Remember the more time your line is in the water the better chance you have of hooking up. Often I see folks trying every fly in their box thinking that maybe the next fly is the magic fly. Like I said before there is no magic fly. Steelhead will hit anything when they are in the mood to feed. One thing you will notice when fishing for steelhead is when you see an angler hook up with a steelhead it's time for you to get ready. Steelhead seem to turn on all at once and will quite biting as fast they started. When the steelhead bite starts don't waste time trying to figure out what they are biting on. All you really need to do is look at how the other angler is fishing. If the guys that are throwing bait on a float are killing them the steelhead are targeting eggs. In that case use an egg pattern such as sucker spawn. If the guys throwing bait aren't doing that good but notice the folks with fly rods and no strike indicator are catching fish chances are the fish are being taken on streamers.
When fishing for steelhead be observant of other anglers you can learn a tremendous amount without asking a single question. So what are you waiting for starting tying up a few of the flies above and get out and catch some steel.