Nymphing is a fun and productive method for catching trout in general, but with steelhead, this special technique can be one of the most effective ways to hook up consistently. Learning how to effectively nymph fish will change the way you approach spring steelhead fishing.
The spring steelhead run is no secret, anglers chase them from the second they enter the river to the time they make their runs back to the lake. Natural presentations like nymphing can be important when targeting weary steelhead. We have all been programmed to use brightly colored flies for steelhead but with pressured fish these flashy patterns will do more to spook a steelhead than attract it.
Nymphing for steelhead can be done in a few different ways ranging from the dead drift to the swing. Out of all the time I have spent on the water steelhead fishing, the dead drift has to account for 80 percent of the fish I have caught. Dead drifting nymph patterns for steelhead is done much the same as for fishing trout in summer. Nine-foot fly rods, floating lines, long leaders and strike indicators are the setup; and small, naturally colored weighted nymphs like the Prince Nymph, Hares Ear and the Epoxy Backed Stone are the preferred patterns.
Dead Drift Technique
To try the nymph fishing technique for steelhead with the dead drift, use a upstream and across cast to get your fly to the target. Make sure you place the cast ahead of the desired target a few feet, as it will take a few seconds of drifting for the fly to reach the correct depth. Getting your fly to the bottom is the critical point to remember with this technique. Steelhead will often lay very tight to the bottom, so getting your flies down deep and keeping them there longer, adds up to more fish hooked.
Once your fly is in the water, mending your line to create the dead drift is of utmost importance. Getting a drag free drift will help keep your nymphs in the strike zone and create a very realistic float. If you are not used to using an indicator with your flies, watch the indicator for signs of how the fly is doing below. If you see the indicator pulling downstream faster than the line, this indicates the drag is lifting your fly off the bottom.
Pick the line off the water and mend (flip) it downstream of the indicator. This will slow the drift and reduce the drag, getting your fly back to the bottom. Another problem you will see is the line drifting faster than the indicator again resulting in drag on the fly. In this scenario you will need to pick the line off the water and mend (flip) it upstream of the indicator to reduce the pull on the indicator and the nymph.
Keeping your flies drifting unhindered by the current is not an easy task, so taking the time to practice your mending skills and drifting will pay big dividends. Steelhead fishing is one of my favorite signs that spring is finally here, and nymphing is a great way to bring the fish out of hiding.