Winter Steelhead Technique — Dead Drift fishing primer

I have this friend, see, who’s on the verge of committing to year-long, exclusive use of a fly rod. He loves to fly fish for trout. You should see his eyes sparkle when he talks about fly fishing for sea-run cutthroat: Daybreak mist on the water, silvery streaks exploding on his fly.

But when winter steelhead season rolls around, he looses confidence in the fly rod. Out come the eggs and spinners. He wants to catch fish, he says, as if that was sufficient to conclude the discussion.

Jay Nicholas steelhead technique

But now he’s teetering on the edge, seriously exploring the option of fishing flies for winter steelhead. He asked for my advice. Here’s what I said, abbreviated.

Dead-drifting usually involves using some sort of nymph or egg pattern, fished under a strike indicator, trying to achieve a drift-speed about the same as the river current. Whether you believe that winter steelhead feed actively or not, they do take stuff into their mouths, and sometimes they even swallow. Curiosity? Aggression? Hunger? Who knows? That discussion is topic for future story-telling and conjecture.

Nymph and egg patterns totally rock wherever steelhead are concentrated in sweet spots because you can put your fly right on Mr. Steelhead’s nose. Side-drifting flies under a Thingmabobber is effective when prospecting long river reaches from a driftboat, because you can let your fly drift alongside the boat, guiding your fly into areas where you think steelhead are most likely to lay. This is how a lot of guides fish eggs, and it’s also a most excellent technique for fly fishing.

Jay Nicholas steelhead technique

Winter steelhead will, on occasion, eat every type and size of nymph they encounter. Big stoneflies; little mayflies; cased or swimming caddis – they eat ‘em. So your flies can be the same nymphs you fish for trout, or you can draw attention to them with a fluorescent bead.

Egg-style flies are also effective and there are a zillion different egg patterns out there. Some of these flies are little, some are big; some are designed to look like an egg, some are simply a bright colored blob of some sort. I tend to fish larger egg patterns flies in murky water and smaller eggs in clear water. Fish a nymph and an egg on the same leader (if it’s legal).

Jay Nicholas steelhead technique

My favorites include the glo bug, lowly glowly, trilogy egg, and the Strung Out Fat Albert. The Thingmabobber is an effective, easy to use strike indicator and fishes well.

Jay Nicholas

This entry was posted in Oregon Fly Fishing Tips, Oregon Winter Steelhead Fishing. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Winter Steelhead Technique — Dead Drift fishing primer

  1. Zach VanDeHey says:

    Great post, thanks for the info!

  2. Jessie says:

    I had the same problem as your friend a few years ago, so I know what he is going through. Last year I had my best winter season ever with 50+ fish, all of which fell to the setup you described. Tell your buddy to hang in there, he will be rewarded.

  3. Grant says:

    I have been called a half-stepper by the fly fishermen on the coastal Oregon river i fish for steelhead. I use a normal graphite drift rod with one variation, Egg fly patterns like the veiled egg and volcano egg drifted behind a slinky weight and 36 inch 8lb leader produced many winter steelhead for me this year. Egg patterns of all kinds will produce steelhead. Guaranteed.

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