Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fall Steelheading is a process

To fully appreciate flyfishing for steelhead in the fall, you must think of it as a process. Of course, you can simply show up at a river and fish for these migratory beasts any old day of the week. You may even catch one or more. But that really isn't what it's all about. I've realized this since moving away from a certain Great Lakes coastal area.
When I wake up in September and it is raining (like today), I think of this fish

For me, fall steelheading would begin on a day like today; a rainy mid September morning. The fall colors are only starting to change, the weather is still pretty warm, and the flows are typically low and clear this time of year. It is just starting to feel like steelhead should be in the river. You go because you've hooked fish during September before. But mostly you go because it is raining and you are craving what October and November will soon feel like. While it doesn't feel like that now, you know that you are starting the process of fall steelheading. You also know that fishing in October and November won't feel the same if you don't put some hard work in early. If you are like me, you've got to earn your fish.
October Steelhead are also very nice, but only the really big ones are memorable
During October the fish show up. Some were already there in September and maybe you hooked a couple then, but the majority of the fish enter the river during mid October. Now you experience days when you hook and land several fish. But you also get skunked. That's just the way it is. You play by the rules of the fish and the river, you can't force success here. The leaves are at their peak colors now and the mornings are cold. The is what steelheading feels like.  
                Perhaps just as important as your experiences on the water are your experiences off the water. The fly shops are buzzing with talk about big fish, where someone hooked this or that fish and on what fly. You don't contribute much to these conversations, choosing instead to listen and nod your head. You meet friends at local bars to watch the baseball playoffs and talk about your last day on the river. At the end of the season you will look back and realize that for every hour you spent on the river you spent 2 or 3 thinking about being there, tying flies, talking about it. For me, fall steelheading was about immersing myself in a feeling best characterized by constant anticipation and tension. Not catching fish only increased the time I spent thinking about catching fish and further added to the anticipation of getting back on the water.
                The fall steelhead season ends in November, when the air temperature might not get above freezing all day. You still fish because you know that fish are in the river. You also know that you won't be having the sort of days you had in October. But you go because this is the end of a two-month process. Most of the leaves are off the trees now and the scene is brown and cold, perhaps with a dusting of snow. Ironically, you spend more time looking around now than you did when the fall colors were so pretty because you simply can't stand to be in the water for extended periods of time- it's just too cold. And then it's over, the season ends. Perhaps more importantly, the mystery is gone. You now know that the fish are in the river and you know where to find them. That doesn't mean you'll catch them. But you know much more now than you did in Sept when this whole process started. In the Spring you will come back and fish hard. But you will know that the fish are in and the process will be much different.
Damn I miss fall steelheading. Driving to the coast for a couple of days just isn't the same.


  1. Fall Chinook Salmon in the Great Lakes tribs starts about a month earlier...I used to do that every year before I moved back to Iowa. I caught my only Steelhead while fishing for the salmon. I know what you mean, though...I really miss that whole experience.

  2. sweet action shot, that really captures what its all about, you know?

  3. That was a beautifully written post. Articulated the sentiments surrounding the season very well.

  4. My name is ____ & I'm a fall fishing addict. Amen!

  5. Thanks for the comments guys. I guess the only response to the steelhead blues is to go fish, yes?

    Salmon, trout, bass -whatever is in your backyard, new or old.