Pick the wrong fly and you have to deal with this guy
1. The Fly. This is number one for a reason. And it's probably the least of your worries. Thinking like a trout fisherman is a big stumbling block, especially for new steelheaders. We are not typically matching the hatch. Finding the right shade of purple for the hackle isn't going to make or break the result. Of course, sometimes, steelhead do act like trout. But, in general, if they are in the mood, they will eat about anything. Also, contrary to popular belief, steelhead are not trout. Actually, trout are steelhead that didn't make the traveling team. I have to admit, it entertains me when customers labor over fly choice. Sometimes people will bring a fly into the shop and claim that "only this pattern works". I attempt to remind them that yes, I'll bet it does work, but so do 600 others! Sure, you have to believe in your choice. But don't stress over it. The steelhead won't.
2. Water Conditions and Weather. Sure, if a river is blown out, you're going to be home watching playoff football. But steelhead don't wait to come in until you think the water is perfect. Most summer steelhead fisherman in our region miss out on some great fishing while they wait until the Rogue River is at it's lowest, which is usually by October 1st. The higher flows in July, August, and September present opportunities to get fish in different places. While the fish are more spread out, they are less spooked and more aggressive. What's not to like? Winter steelhead fishing is a little trickier. You have to catch rivers as they are dropping into shape. Somewhere during that time when the river is dropping, fish are pulsing upriver in good numbers. Like many, I have caught fish in very dirty water with less than 2 feet of visibility. Adjust your tactics and you will find fish. "The bigger the river, the shorter the cast", I once heard. Trying to predict the perfect weather day is impossible. You just never know when steelhead are going to bite. If we did, it wouldn't be much of a challenge. It might be a sunny day, cloudy day, rainy, windy, who knows? Play the hand you are dealt and enjoy the experience. Some day you might say, "remember that day we got snowed on and we still got fish?". Sometimes the best memories are the ones that involved suffering.
3. The Sink-Tip. Yes, you should own every sink-tip on the market! Being prepared is part of the game. If you have sink-tip conditions, put on some T-14 and get busy. If you're hanging up too much, put on a lighter tip and be done with it. You'll get more fishing done if you're not fussing with it all day. If you have multiple rods, rig each rod with a different sink-tip. Choose your rod/sink-tip combo based on the water you are fishing. The colder the water, the slower and deeper you need to be. But please don't spend more than 5 minutes deciding which tip to fish. Because that probably means it will take another 20 to pick your fly!
4. Getting Out Early. If you are not the first one on the water, who cares? Too many steelhead fisherman get fixated on the idea of being out at the crack of dawn. Do you really catch fish before the sun comes up? In general, I don't. I have done hundreds of days on the Rogue. During the months of July and August I am out early, mostly so I can finish early before it gets 100 degrees. I can count on one hand how many fish I have taken before 7am. As we get into the fall, getting out early is no advantage because water temps are so cold. I prefer to start late and fish late. Go ahead and launch at 4am. I'll see you down river at some point.
5. Other Fisherman. Let's face it, when the river is packed, you might not be able to fish every spot you want to. Or you might be the third guy to fish it. Big deal. There's plenty of water. You might experience anglers with poor etiquette. Yeah, it's a bummer. But you can't let it consume you or it will ruin your day. I have done a lot of winter steelhead guiding on our coastal rivers. The "bait dudes", in general, don't know what to do with a fly fisherman. Some don't care, some don't know, and some are very considerate. If a guy casts into the water I am fishing, I have two choices: get upset or blow it off. If I get worked up about it, so does everyone else in my boat. It affects the tone of the day, in a bad way. Fly fisherman should know etiquette. It always amazes me when a "fly guy" low holes me or fishes right over my line. But in my experience, karma has a way of taking care of it for me. I've seen lots of guys lose their flies fishing through my water. That makes it all worth it. Go ahead and throw it in there. Good luck! Sometimes it forces me to fish different water, parts of the river that get less pressure. I have discovered little nooked out spots that I have passed by for years. Sometimes the less obvious spots hold fish you never knew about.
Final thoughts. These are just some of the things steelhead fisherman worry about too much. But when it's all said and done, it's just fishing. It is your time to relax, decompress, and search for the elusive creature that we are so overly obsessed with. Worrying about things out of your control or fussing about the details kind of defeat the purpose of the exercise. So, for your own good, please don't sweat the small stuff. Leave that to the trout fisherman.
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