Casting For Steelhead & Salmon

In the words of Dec Hogan the fly rod and the line are essentially a "Weapons Delivery System", with the fly being the weapon for the gathering of Steelhead and Salmon. I like this way of looking at the process of fly fishing for for these fish.

The rod and the reel and the line are secondary to the fly, in terms of hooking and landing a fish. If the fly is not there the fish can not eat it. So there must be a fly or there is no fly fishing. Of course, the other tools are also critical process. a leader is needed to hold the fly to the fly line without tipping the fish of to the presence of the fly line, and eventually to tether the fish to the fly line. The fly line is needed if you want to fish further than about 15' (which is aproximately the distance that I can throw an unweighted fly by hand), as the fly needs to be carried by the weight and momentum of the flyline to be delivered to fishes location in the river.

A person could cast a fly, leader, and fly line by hand and catch fish(Lee Wulf famously accomplished this catching a salmon, long before I was born), but this decrease the efficiency of the process to such a degree that it would quickly become frustrating. I, infact, strive to find efficiency in my fishing exploits, though not to the degree that I would take upnymphing or gear fishing on a regular basis. Anyway, I digress, a flyrod is, in my view, a necessary tool in the delivery of the fly.

I have caught many fish with either no reel, or a malfunctioning reel, and while this is also possible, it is again, inefficient. Reels are necessary too.

Each river and each season bring their own challenges and requirements, when it comes to getting your fly in front of the fish you are after. Sometimes fish want to eat small (#3-#10) flies on or just below the rivers surface. Other times fish prefer a big fly (3"-5" long) fished 3'-4' below the surface, and some time even deeper than that. Some runs have fish sitting just a few feet off the bank, while others require a very long cast to get the fly out to where the fish are.

The goal is to figure out what is reguired to find the fish and to then accomplish the delivery of the fly to the fish in the most efficient way possible. Such as fishing a skagit head on a small, tight-to-the-bank, spring river.

Above and Below: Skagit Casting a CF Burkheimer 7133-3 w/550 grn Comapct Skagit. I am casting about a 5" string leach on about a 5' leader and with a 9' T14 tip.
 My favorite way to fly-fish is with a two handed rod. I like to cast long belly lines especially for summer steelhead out on the clearwater and the snake. Although I often fish both Skagit and Scandinavian heads very often throughout the year. Last year, infact, I fished only a Scandinavian head on the snake, where I would normally prefer a long belly. So... there are a lot of ways to skin a cat, I think the best way is to find what you enjoy the most. That way you will spend more time fishing, and less time being frustrated.

Below are some additional casting videos using various rods and lines for different purposes. I do this as a general reference.
Above and Below: Single speys with a Scandi Head: CF Burkhiemer 7133-3 Airflo Scandinavian head on the St. Jean river for Atlantic Salmon. Fishing a #8 Blue Charm.

Above: Rusty casts a Sage 6110-4 w/ one hand on the Trinty River.
Below: I do a snake roll with the same outfit.
Below: Doing a Snap T with the Sage 6110-4 and a Compact Scandi - Grande Ronde.
Above: Tom Town performs a left handed single Spey w/ a 16' Bruce and Walker and a Next cast Fall Favorite. Oconto River

Below: I perform a cross body single spey with a G. Loomis 15' 7wt and a 65' Hardy MachII

Rivers of the Niagara Escarpment - Wisconsin

The Niagara Escarpment is a continious cliff and /or slope that runs in an East/West curve and stretch from Illinios to New York State, where the most famous part of the escarpment is located, Niagara Falls. In Wisconsin, rivers feeding Lake Michigan from the Illinios border up to the Northern tip of Door County, flow to the East from atop the Escarpment into the lake. These represent alot of our most productive steelhead rivers in the state, such as: the Root River, The Milwaukee, The Sheboygan, the Manitowoc, the Twin Rivers, The Kewanee, the Anhappee, and the streams of Door County.

While these water all vary in character, such as water color, flow speed, etc. they are all productive steelhead waters at certain time each season. Some have a multitude of quality public access, Such as the Kewanee, the Manitowoc, and the Milwaukee. Others such as the Sheboygan have limited access, unless a pass is purchased, to give the angler a chance to pay twice for the chance to catch a steelhead, though the sheboygan is a productive river.

While a visiting angler would likely find these rivers difficult to figure out into a period of a few days or weeks. Two of them are heavily stocked, The Root and the Kewanee, and dont take much figuring out. the other rivers and streams can be very productive, if you know them and if conditions are right, and if you're lucky.

These river can blow out quickly. Often if a big rain falls at the right time of year, it will bring the fish in, but an angler has to time the fishing to coincide with the fishing moving in, but before the river blows out.

Even though these rivers are very small compared to Western rivers, they can for the most part, be fished with two handed rods.

some rivers are hundreds of feet wide, while others could almost be jumped across. But water flow changes through out the year, and a stream can fish like a river when conditions are right.  One of these tiny rivers, that flows close to my home looks far too meager to swing flies on for most of the year, but when the best days of the run happen, during high flow periods, I will fish a compact skagit on my Sage 6110 11' 6wt switch rod and work string leaches and similiar flies in bed rock slots and along steep banks. Most anglers, even those that fish two handed rods would never imagine that these streams could swing so well.

Renous River - New Brunswick


While fishing the Miramichi river in New brunswick in the summer of 2008. My fishing partner Bob and I along with our guide Jeremy, made a side trip over to fish the Renous river which is a tributary of the Main SouthWest Miramichi River. The Renous enters the main river down stream of where we were staying at Country Haven Lodge near Blackville.

Both the Miramichi and the Renous were high and off color during our trip, and we did not land a fish. We actually only fished this one run on the Renous, but I thought I would add this as reference to the look and the size of the river.

I really enjoyed fishing this run on the Renous, and was truly in constant expectation of a grab. There were some fish rolling and the run had a bouldery charactor.

Trinity River - California

Trinity River - California

I fished the Eel a few years back. after a few days of getting skunked. we finished up the last day of our trip checking out and fishing the Trinity. We didn't get any sort of sign of steelhead, but it was a pretty river.  Here are a few pictures of the river.
The Trinity flows from the Cascade mountains into the Klamath River and then to the Pacific. It seems to be a popular river for fising nymph and egg patterns. It is very clear water, at least when I saw it.

The Margaree River - Nova Scotia

This summer I spent some time checking out the Margaree River in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately Nova scotia does not have a 1 day license, so I had to drop $50 for the week license, But it was worth it to discover this river.

The Margaree is a beautiful little river. The water is very clear, so clear infact that on one run I saw a salmon resting in the middle of a pool as I fished it. The river can easily be fished with a small two handed rod. I had many runs that I fished without getting my whole scandi head out of my guides.

The fishing was good when I was there in late July. I think this was mostly due to the rains that had just come through Cape Breton, and brought the river up and the fish in. The first evening I fished a couple runs that a Halifax fly shop employee had shown me. The first was incredibly narrow with a big back eddie that swirled along the near side for a good hundred feet, I wasn't to impressed with the run, but the angler that fished through it before me and who waited to fish it again, said it was good and that he had seen a guy land a large salmon from the run the morning before. The run below was more to my liking, alot more like a classic Steelhead run, but no grabs on either run.
The next morning, I started on a run called Long Pool which is really the Head and bog of a good sized run. The tailout of the large run is called Snag Pool, these seem to be the two most well known runs on the Margaree. There is a bench at the start of Snag Pool and anglers will wait on the bench for their turn to fish the run. I am not into waiting, so I fished Long Pool.There was an angler on the other side of pool from me . I fished behind him but not as far as I would if he were on my side. He landed a grilse pretty quick and it was dime bright. Long and Snag Pools are not even a mile from tidewater and the rains were moving fish in.

Seeing the guy across hook and land a fish gave me confidence, beyond what I already had. I fish down the riffle at the head of the run, when a older local angler came by and spoke to me, about nothing important, where I was from and such. He was waiting for it to be his turn on Snag Pool.

I fished as we spoke andwithin a few casts of the start of our conversations start my line snap tight, the rod bucked and the line came loose again.

"Did you see that?" the Local exclaimed "You just got a take!"
"Yeah" I said, I had gotten nothing but "takes" all week on the Miramichi.
"What fly are you fishing?"
"a number eight Blue Charm."
"Well, get it back to that fish. You may get him"
I was pretty excited now. His enthusiasm and the delayed excitement of the grab were settling in. I threw out another cast, and another, the fish didn't come back.
"What else do you have in your box" The Local asked, and I opened my flybox to show him.
The Local said "Tie on that Night Hawk, thats a good fly that should bring him back"
It didn'y and neither did any other fly I tried over the next few minutes, so I tied the Blue charm back on and kept fishing down.
The Local got in behind me when I had moved down far enough and in a few minutes he was hooked up just where I got grabbed. I ran up to my bag to get my camera and got a few shots of the fight before the fish came off.

I met a guide as I finished my second pass through the Long Pool. While every angler flyfishes on the Margaree, Spey rods are not common, and I don't think that any one around there was even aware of switch rods, so my equipment was a source of much conversation. Anyway, The guide I met talked to me for a while about two-handed rods and then he told me how I could get to a section of river that had very few anglers on it, and not as many salmon either, but I was interested. He let me park in his yard.
The section of river was beautiful, I only wish I had had more time to fish. After a couple of fishless hours I headed back to the car, and then down to the Margaree's Tidewater. I fished the tide water for a couple hours. I hooked nothing, but I saw a few salmon sitting in the run, suspended in water that seemed as clear as air.