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Backpackers Fly Shop - Fly Fishing Gear
Spring Steelheading Made Simple
Scott Smith, March 14, 2015

As a fly shop in the heart of Steelhead Alley, the most frequent questions we get are when, where, how, with what, why and what are your top ten tips for Steelhead fishing.We have learned that the
language of fly fishing is strange and difficult to understand forthose that do not actively speak this
bizarre language. Accordingly, we thought we would share our personal thoughts on these topics
and attempt to provide this information in a way that everyone can understand.


March 15th to May 10th.The best fishing is generally April 1st to May 1st.

The Lake Erie Tributaries ”tribs” are the rivers and creeks that flow into Lake Erie from Toledo,
Ohio to Buffalo, New York. These tribs do not get a fresh run (steelhead that spend most of their
time in Lake Erie) until the end of March after the ice clears. Then, these Steelhead migrate into these tribs for purposes of reproduction.


Steelhead travel into every trib and each little creek they can possibly swim into. However, from March 15 to April 1, most fish will be at the end of the deep pools and the tail outs of these pools. From April 1 to April 15, most fish will be in the middle to upper sections of the deeper runs. From April 15 to May 1, most fish will be on or near the gravel sections. From May 1 to May 10, most
fish will be dropping back toward Lake Erie and will be resting in the holes and slots.


There are two general methods used to catch Steelhead. They are called nymphing and swinging, and they are fairly simple.


We recommend whatever rod you have. If we could chose, we would say a 10’ 7 weight. However, the fish don’t care. Also, use whatever line you have. If we could chose, we would say a weight forward floating 7 weight fly line. However, the fish don’t care.

From the end of whatever line you have, add 5 feet of 8-10 pound fishing line. Then add 3 feet of
6-8 pound fluorocarbon-this is where the fish start to care. In very simple terms, if you see a rope
leading to your hamburger, you are not going to eat it. The fish just do not see fluorocarbon line
very well.

Then, tie on a pastel colored orange or yellow egg pattern that is no bigger than Lincoln’s face on
the penny. Add 2 feet of 6-8 pond fluorocarbon by tying one end to the bend of the hook on the
egg pattern and then tie on anything that resembles a black stone fly or caddis. This fly should be
no wider or longer than Lincoln’s body on the penny.

Steelhead eat steelhead and sucker eggs and the other insect life in our tribs. Good or bad, we
have very limited bug life that mostly include stone flies and caddis flies. Feed them what they eat.
Again, if you are at the hamburger shop and are looking for a hamburger, you are most likely
going to choose a hamburger instead of a taco. Feed them hamburgers.

Then add a strike indicator (a fancy name for a bobber) just above where the fluorocarbon line is attached to the regular fishing line. The bobber should be no bigger than a large marble. Then add a couple small dark colored split shot “sinkers” that are no larger than the BB’s used in your BB gun about 14” above your first fly. The fish are used to seeing dark pebbles in the tribs. They are not
used to seeing big, bright shiny balls attached to their meals of choice.

Then, fish where the fish are. If you are not catching fish, keep moving and changing the depth of your bobber. Don’t keep doing the same thing in the same spot and expect a different result.

The key is to let your flies float down the river in a “dead drift.” You wouldn’t eat a burger that
moves on its own and the fish won’t eat flies that are not floating naturally in the current.

Use an “upstream mend.” This is a fancy term for picking up your line between the end of your rod and your bobber and throwing it upstream so your flies do not “drag” in the water. “Drag” is when your flies move faster than the current.

Finally, when the bobber acts funny or disappears, pull the line tight. This is not a bass master pro strike-just pull it tight and you will set the hook without breaking the line.


This is a fancy name for fishing with a fly that looks like it is swimming.

We recommend any rod you have. However, if we could choose, we would say an 11’6’ 7 weight
two handed fly rod is great. Regardless, the fish don’t care.

We recommend whatever fly line you have. However, if we could chose, we would choose a 480 grain Skagit head. Again, the fish don’t care.

Then, add 5 feet of fluorocarbon. This is where the fish start to care. They won’t eat something
with a rope attached to it.

Then tie on a swimming fly pattern. Steelhead eat emerald shiners, sculpin, leaches, crayfish and worms. Feed them what they usually eat and they will usually eat it.

Throw your fly somewhere between straight across the trib and quartering downstream and let it swim like a wounded bait pattern.

Again, keep moving until you find the fish.

When you feel a take, just hold on. Again, no bass master strike-just tighten up and enjoy the fight.


Use whatever gear you have. A pair of rubber hip boots and a hoody is fine. However, if we had
our choice, we would choose a pair of breathable goretex waders, vibram soled wading boots and
some Montana Tech wool. Regardless, the fish just don’t care what you look like. See some other tips below.


We are in the heart of some of the best Steelhead fishing in the world and we have hundreds of
miles of fishable and wadeable water. And, quite frankly, its outdoors, fairly easy, nobody keeps score, fairly inexpensive, really fun and fish usually live in beautiful places.

Easy Tips:

1. Scared fish don’t bite.

Don’t walk down stream. The fish look upstream and may see you. Don’t walk in the stream. The
fish will see and sense you. Don’t fish with the sun at your back.
Shadows scare fish. Don’t wear
bright colors-they scare fish.

2. Cold fish don’t bite.

From March 15 to April 10, sleep in and fish when the water temperatures are higher.

3. Hot fish don’t bite.

From April 10 to May 10, fish early and late when the water temperatures cool back down.

4. Fish don’t bite in the bright sun.

Fish do not like sunny days. They feel scared and vulnerable. They think something will see them and eat them.

5. Paired up fish don’t bite.

They are thinking about mating, not eating.

6. Spawning fish on the gravel don’t eat.

They are trying to have babies and are not thinking about their next meal. And, there will always
be 8-10 males hiding behind these spawning fish and they are happy to chase a fly. If you need
a tug, focus on the males.

The fact is, although these fish don’t know it, there is little to no natural reproduction of steelhead
in Steelhead Alley. We have too little gradient and the water just gets too warm. However, they
keep trying and who knows why for sure. Regardless, it looks like they are having fun and you
wouldn’t want to be disturbed if you were doing what they are doing.

7. Fish hate jewelry.

If you foul hook a fish, we recommend a quick line break. Fighting a foul hooked fish can kill them. If you catch a fish with flies stuck in its fins or otherwise, try to gently remove them.

8. We practice catch and release.

These are beautiful fish and take a great picture, but they just are not great to eat. Plus, fish
don’t like to be killed. Finally, all of these fish are truly gifts from the tax payers of Ohio,
Pennsylvania and New York. These are all fish that were stocked in their first year of life and grew up in Lake Erie. They could use a break and somebody else may easily get a charge out of catching
that same fish.

9.Respect the other fisherman.

If other people are catching fish, leave them alone. There are fish throughout the entire river
systems and not just in front of the person you see catching fish. Crowding somebody that is
catching fish is just mean and only scares the fish. Scared fish don’t bite.

10. Wear polarized sun glasses.

It really helps cut the glare and see what’s going on under the water. Look through the water and
see what is going on under the surface. Don’t look at the water.

11. Fish that can’t see won’t eat.

When the tribs are high and muddy, look for fish in the smaller feeder creeks. These creeks will be much clearer. Basically, if you are in knee deep water and you can just see your feet, the water clarity is great. If you can’t see your feet at all, chances are that the fish can’t see your flies.

In the larger tribs, any cfs between 150 and 350 is great. In the smaller tribs, look for 50-150 cfs.

These are the merely our thoughts and recommendations on how to make Steelheading in
Steelhead Alley as simple as possible. We hope it helps!


These are the merely our thoughts and recommendations on how to make Steelheading in
Steelhead Alley as simple as possible. We hope it helps!



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Expert Outdoor Outfitters Since 1966

For forty years, the Backpackers Shop has been servicing the fly fishing community in northeast Ohio. Once almost
exclusively destination travelers, our local fly fishermen can now enjoy a world-class local steelhead fishery. Our mission
with is to reach beyond our boundaries to offer the same great expertise, service, and
selection that our regional customers have enjoyed for years.

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