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Catch Fall Steelhead Using The "Dead Drift" Tactic

Use a slinky weight to fish for steelhead trout along the bottom

Fall steelhead anglers typically cover water with cross-stream casts until a fish hits. But Michigan flyfishing guide Tom Johnson (tomjohnsonflyguide@att.net) employs a different approach. “The fish are more aggressive now because their main goal is to stock up on food for the winter,” he says. But Johnson knows there’s a big difference between being aggressive and being catchable. So to increase his hookups, he puts the fly right in front of the fish.

Getting Down Pattern choice matters, but presentation is the real key. “You need to put the nymph 4 to 8 inches above bottom, as the fish aren’t inclined to dig something off the bottom,” Johnson says. That means adding weight to your line. An unweighted fly moves more naturally than a weighted one, so he uses a slinky weight attached to the leader butt (see inset above). The setup lets you easily change the weight as river conditions dictate; Johnson notes that every pool or run may require an adjustment.

Dead Drift When water temperatures dip below 50 degrees, Johnson dead-drifts a nymph on a 91⁄2-foot (or longer) 7- or 8-weight rod with a small-diameter shooting line rather than a traditional weight-forward floating fly line. The small line allows for quieter entry of the flies on the cast (no line slap to spook fish) and offers less resistance in the water, which makes it easier to get a drag-free drift. Don’t false cast. Simply pick up the line and shoot it directly upstream. Casting with the added weight is smooth and effortless. This is a great way to work a tree-choked stream that routinely snags back casts.

The Go-To Rig One of Johnson’s most productive rigs consists of an 8- to 10-foot butt section that ends with a bead and barrel swivel. A slinky weight slides freely on the butt section via a snap [a]. To the swivel, he ties on a 3- to 6-foot leader, to which he knots on a green chartreuse caddis nymph [b]. He runs 17 to 24 inches of line from the eye of this fly, then attaches a stonefly nymph [c]. The long, light tippet (8-pound Maxima Ultra) offers little water resistance and sinks quickly.

Photo by Kevin Hand


Comments (7)

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from Salvatore wrote 4 years 27 weeks ago

I cant wait to get to the river and do some steelie fishing here in NE Ohio! Ill let you know how this rig does for me!

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from losername2of2 wrote 4 years 26 weeks ago

If you are a steelheader or salmon fisherman or trout fisherman, please visit my blog at www.troutfishingny.blogspot.com

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from FOWL_attitude wrote 4 years 26 weeks ago

Anxious to get to the Lake Erie tribs in NW Pa to try this out.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from HumanSalmonoid wrote 4 years 23 weeks ago

I love the idea of this because it gives you an extra chance for the fish to take your bait. But what if the fish take the B fly instead of the C fly, wouldn't that make for a more difficult fight? and/or a less accuarate hook set?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 3 years 48 weeks ago

I draw the line on this method of fly fishing. It just isn't comfortable to cast, and would be better served using a spinning outfit. I fly fish a lot, and fly fish for steelhead, but chose to cast, and swing the fly. This greatly increases my joy of flyfishing rather than the chuck and duck method of bobbers, and wt. For years, I fished and guided for steelhead on Western Rivers in WA St. and driftfishing with the long, glorified flyrods using level wind reels was fun as well as productive..cast, feel the wt ticking bottom, detect the strike, set the hook, all exciting stuff. I just won't try to duplicate this method with a fly rod and say I am fly fishing. But that is my opinion on the subject. If it is fly fishing only, and this is legal gear than fine.

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from Sayfu wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

I might add that the effectiveness of this method is the result of the lead hitting the bottom, and PAUSING the fly in front of the fish. It is the pause that causes the take as apposed to the fly moving downstream at the ace of the current like all the other sticks, and stuff that float by the fish. For my thinking, it is the territorial thing that causes the strike because the fly is pausing in the fishes territory rather than the feeding instinct. That is why the spin angler does so well. He can easily get to the bottom, and pause his offering in front of a steelhead. Pieces of colored yarn work just as well choosing the right color for the right light conditions, and the color of the water.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Justin Engelman wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

I like the idea of the extra wheight, but I also agree what if he takes the Bfly insted?

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from Salvatore wrote 4 years 27 weeks ago

I cant wait to get to the river and do some steelie fishing here in NE Ohio! Ill let you know how this rig does for me!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from losername2of2 wrote 4 years 26 weeks ago

If you are a steelheader or salmon fisherman or trout fisherman, please visit my blog at www.troutfishingny.blogspot.com

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from FOWL_attitude wrote 4 years 26 weeks ago

Anxious to get to the Lake Erie tribs in NW Pa to try this out.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from HumanSalmonoid wrote 4 years 23 weeks ago

I love the idea of this because it gives you an extra chance for the fish to take your bait. But what if the fish take the B fly instead of the C fly, wouldn't that make for a more difficult fight? and/or a less accuarate hook set?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 3 years 48 weeks ago

I draw the line on this method of fly fishing. It just isn't comfortable to cast, and would be better served using a spinning outfit. I fly fish a lot, and fly fish for steelhead, but chose to cast, and swing the fly. This greatly increases my joy of flyfishing rather than the chuck and duck method of bobbers, and wt. For years, I fished and guided for steelhead on Western Rivers in WA St. and driftfishing with the long, glorified flyrods using level wind reels was fun as well as productive..cast, feel the wt ticking bottom, detect the strike, set the hook, all exciting stuff. I just won't try to duplicate this method with a fly rod and say I am fly fishing. But that is my opinion on the subject. If it is fly fishing only, and this is legal gear than fine.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Sayfu wrote 3 years 19 weeks ago

I might add that the effectiveness of this method is the result of the lead hitting the bottom, and PAUSING the fly in front of the fish. It is the pause that causes the take as apposed to the fly moving downstream at the ace of the current like all the other sticks, and stuff that float by the fish. For my thinking, it is the territorial thing that causes the strike because the fly is pausing in the fishes territory rather than the feeding instinct. That is why the spin angler does so well. He can easily get to the bottom, and pause his offering in front of a steelhead. Pieces of colored yarn work just as well choosing the right color for the right light conditions, and the color of the water.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Justin Engelman wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

I like the idea of the extra wheight, but I also agree what if he takes the Bfly insted?

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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