Fly rods seem to be the dominant tool for steelhead in the Great Lakes and its tributaries in the fall and winter. The fly fishing techniques are relatively simple and a fly rod presents many advantages over spinning tackle. But let’s talk about the business end.There are many proven options for what is tied at the end of your tippet. Fishermen use live bait, Berkley Power Bait, a nearly endless variety of egg patterns, nymphs, and my favorite – streamers.
Streamers often work better than other baits because it’s a larger meal for steelhead than a dainty egg pattern. If steelhead aren’t hungry at the moment you are fishing they will often strike a streamer out of anger, like a dog protecting his turf. Streamers are very versatile – as with many flies, there are a large variety of sizes and colors. It’s the many ways you can fish them, though, that makes them adaptable to the conditions and mood of the fish.
Streamers can be cast quartering upstream and drifted with the current to imitate a dead minnow. Bring it to life with stripping the line when the streamer is quartering downstream. Fish it fast, fish it slow, or with erratic action and brace yourself for a vicious strike! An exciting way to fish streamers is sight-fishing: spot a steelhead or pod of steelhead in a stream, cast above them and bring the streamer to life in front of them and watch the take! The fish won’t “sip” your streamer, they will kill it!
My favorite way to fish for steelhead is from a float tube in Lake Erie. My technique is sinfully simple: staying out of range of shore fishermen, I make one cast and troll back and forth parallel to shore and wait for a jolting strike. The steelhead are fresh, fight hard, and have plenty of room for long runs and jumps for freedom. A good selection of streamers include light, dark, and attractor colors in the smaller sizes. When you need some weight, add some streamers with bead heads to your collection – water conditions will tell you what you need. Wooly Buggers can represent a variety of things, but arguably can be considered a streamer and fished like one.
A streamer starter kit could look like this:
FishUSA Lake Erie Shiner (Size 4)
FishUSA Wooly Bugger (Black, Size 6)
FishUSA Black Ghost (Size 8)
FishUSA Zonker (Olive, Size 10)
FishUSA P-Flash Fly (Silver, Size 8)
A fly box dedicated to a good selection of streamers is an essential addition to the arsenal of any dedicated Great Lakes steelhead fisherman.