Never Lose Another Steelhead

Three common problems that cost anglers big.

steelhead fishing, fishing,

We bet you know the heartache of dropping a huge steelhead. Truth is, it’s often your own fault. From proper prep work to fight techniques to end-game insurance, these tips from a pro will keep you from feeling that sting ever again.

Experts: Marty and Mia Sheppard
Home Water: John Day River, Oregon
Credentials: With 30 years' combined guiding experience on rivers throughout the Northwest, the Sheppards are the first couple of steelheading.

THE PROBLEM: Corrosive Conditions

“Where we fish, it’s rainy and damp during much of our season,” says Marty Sheppard (little​creek​outfitters.net). “Guys fish a bunch of flies, stick them back in their wallets, and forget about them. Next trip out, they’ve got rusty hooks that are dull and weak and will stop them from sticking and landing fish.”

THE FIX: Get to the Point
"Make sure you dry out your flies. Beyond that, any time my hook makes any kind of tick, I'm checking the point. Anything that makes me feel the hook isn't 100 percent, I take a couple of seconds to hit it with a file."

THE PROBLEM: Power Lifting

“If you’re swinging a fly for steelhead and you lift the rod to set the hook as soon as you feel a take, you’re going to miss that fish 90 percent of the time,” says Marty. “The fish simply hasn’t had time to eat.”

THE FIX: Just Do Nothing
"If you feel a take and do absolutely nothing at all, you've done exactly the right thing. When a steelhead eats, it takes the fly and turns. Just keep the rod low and don't swing, and that fish will come tight on its own. When you give the fish that time to turn, it seats the hook right in the corner of its jaw."

THE PROBLEM: Unsmooth Moves

“I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone hook a steelhead and go, ‘What do I do now?’” says Mia Sheppard. “When that reel starts screaming, people just panic. Unfortunately, their gut instinct is to not let it run. They clamp down on the reel and either pull the hook or break the line. Or they’ll fight a big steelhead like a trout and raise the rod up high.”

THE FIX: Take It Easy
"I fight a fish with the rod to the side at a 45-degree angle," Mia says. "You just want a gentle bend in the rod to keep the pressure on. Also, make sure you don't turn the rod and change the angle too often or too aggressively. I let my reel's drag do the work, keeping it cranked, but not all the way down."

Photograph by Brian Grossenbacher