Tag Archives: steelhead fishing

Steelhead Fishing: Swinging Flies


hatchery steelhead
Steelhead caught on a swinging fly

Fall Steelhead fishing on our local river, the Rogue, has been good thus far. We’ve had the most luck swinging flies in front of our drift boat.

This is unusual since we normally do much better nymph fishing. However, I’ve yet to catch a steelie drifting nymphs through the standard holes this year.

This made me realize, there’s a big difference between nymph fishing and swinging flies. Here are the major advantages and disadvantages to both.

Swinging Flies:

Swinging flies means you’re putting the steelhead fly about 20 or 30 feet out in front of the boat. You can have either floating or sinking tip line depending on the water you’re fishing.

The oarsman is the one really fishing in this scenario. He’s the one putting the flies into the water holding the fish.


The oarsman holds the boat, (ideally a drift boat) in the current and rows from side to side, pulling the flies through the water, swinging them. The fisherman simply holds the rod and gives it an occasional twitch, waiting for the takedown.

Since the flies are streaming they’re usually pretty close to the surface. Sometimes this is a disadvantage because steelhead in cold water don’t always like to come up from the bottom to eat the fly.

If you’re fishing deep slow water, you’ll want to use a sinking tip line to get it down a few more feet.

The advantages to swinging flies is that it’s really easy for the guy holding the rod. Anyone can sit in front of a boat and hold a fly rod, all they have to be able to do is reel up and strip line as needed. This makes it perfect for kids.

Another advantage is the way a steelhead hits a swinging fly. For some reason they hit it like they’re a deranged locomotive. They slam it hard and usually burst through the water and start tail dancing. It ads to the excitement and really sets the hook.

Nymph fishing is a different deal. It’s much more skill oriented. You need someone who can cast well and read water.

My kids are excellent casters but it’s hard casting because steelhead flies and lines are heavy and take some strength to do well.

The advantages to nymph fishing make it worth it, though. Typically you’ll catch more fish because the dead drifting bug will be on the bottom passing through where the steelhead live.

However, the fish won’t hit the fly like they do a streaming, swinging fly. They tend to eat it rather than slam it.

The fisherman has to watch his indicator and wait for it to stop drifting. When that happens, pulling back on the rod will hopefully end with a strong pull from a surprised steelhead. More often than not, though the fly stopping will be because the fly hit the bottom and got stopped by something other than a fish.

Having to stay vigilant makes it more like dry fly fishing. Nymphing is a great way to catch steelhead, but it takes an accomplished caster to do it well.

Like I said, this year i’ve had more luck swinging flies. We’ve gotten into some big steelhead and most have been hatchery fish, which means we can keep and eat them…yum.

Steelhead Outing on the Rogue River

I took Thursday of last week off and headed out early with my brother and dad to the Rogue for a full day of steelhead fishing.

I was excited because I hadn’t put a full day in on the river in a long time. I’ve been fishing all season, but mostly from the bank for an hour or two. I haven’t put in a whole day of hard fishing for quite a while. I was stoked and excited at the proposition of getting into some steelies.

The fishing reports from the previous week were all positive, with many anglers seeing 7 and 8 fish days.

We met up at Touvelle park and headed upstream to Dodge bridge. There were a few other trailers at the put-in but the pressure looked  fairly light. It was cold and the river seemed a little off-color, but we were confident.

My brother has a drift boat that has a casting station behind the rower and in front. It’s a sweet setup, perfect for two fly fisherman to cover a lot of water. Cover a lot of water we did, but by midday we still hadn’t touched a steelhead. The water looked perfect, and we skillfully plied the waters but we found no fish.

My brother introduced me to a new indicator, the thingamabobber. It’s an air-filled ball that you attach to your leader. I really like this thing, it is much lighter and easier to cast than the indicators I was used to. The indicators are brightly colored so seeing them is a breeze as well. The bright colored balls brought up some funny conversations though, (ie. Pulp fiction, red ball in Bruce willis’ mouth). Continue reading Steelhead Outing on the Rogue River

Nymph Fishing for Steelhead on the Rogue River

The Rogue river is famous for Steelhead fishing. It has good-sized runs of both summer and winter steelhead.

The best months to steelhead fish on the Rogue are September, October and November. During these months there are both late summer steelhead and early winter steelhead.

During the month of October, most of the Rogue is fly fishing only. This means steelhead can only be fished with artificial lures, this means no bait, and no weights.

The most productive method for catching steelhead is to nymph fish. Dragging streamer flies on the surface can also be effective, but I have much more success nymphing; particularly when the Salmon are spawning and working the redds.

Here’s how it’s done: use a nine foot leader made up of 6 pound test. Tie on a heavy “ugly bug”, or something dark and fairly large. Then tie about 18 inches of 6 pound tippet onto the shank of the fly and attach another, smaller fly pattern to that. I like to use a number 8 or 10 Prince nymph. I’ve heard of fisherman tying the second fly from the eye of the first fly, but I’ve never tried it. It seems like it would get tangled easily.

Now you’ll need to attach the strike indicator. Decide what the approximate depth of water you’ll be fishing is, and put the indicator about a foot higher up the leader than that depth. For instance if you think the water is 4 feet deep put the indicator 5 feet up from the highest fly.

My new favorite indicators are thingamabobber indicators. These are air-filled balls which are extremely easy to cast and easy to attach to the leader. Yes, they resemble a bobber in every regard, but since were steelhead fly fishing were calling them indicators.

Continue reading Nymph Fishing for Steelhead on the Rogue River

Dam Removal Opens New Stretch of Water

Since 1904 there has been a pour over dam on the Rogue river called, Gold Ray dam. It was built by some locals, C.R. and Frank Ray, before there were rules and regulations about such things.

The original structure was built of logs. The Ray’s dream was to produce hydroelectric power from their makeshift dam. They were successful and were the first suppliers of hydroelectric power to the Rogue Valley.

Eventually the dam was bought and rebuilt with concrete. A fish ladder was also built to accommodate the migrating Salmon and Steelhead.

In 1972 the hydroelectric feature of the dam was shut down. The dam remained and eventually was named one of the biggest hindrances to migrating fish on the Rogue River.

To make a long story short and to get to the point of this post, the dam was removed with federal and local money in the Spring of 2010. The Medford Mail Tribune reported extensively about this process and can be read here.

The nearest upstream boat ramp to Gold Ray dam is Touvelle boat launch. Before the dam was removed you could launch your boat from Touvelle and float this great Steelhead water, but you needed a jet boat in order to climb back upstream to the boat ramp. Continue reading Dam Removal Opens New Stretch of Water

Half Pounder Steelhead on the Rogue River

It’s Fall which means it’s time to start thinking about hitting the lower Rogue for the annual half pounder steelhead run.

If you’re unfamiliar with just what a half pounder steelhead run is, let me explain.

Normally Steelhead (basically sea run trout) are born in the river, stay until they’re around 7 inches long then head downstream to the ocean where they stay for 2 to 3 years, getting big and strong.

Half pounders, though return to the river after only a couple months. This is an unexplained phenomenon which happens only on the Rogue the Klamath, and the Eel rivers.


The half pounder steelhead aren’t sexually mature when they come upriver, so they don’t spawn and die, but hang out eating then return to the ocean in the Spring. They return again the next year as fully grown mature steelhead.

What does this mean for steelheaders? It means some amazing fishing. Though they’re called “half pounders” most are more like 2 pounders.

half pounder steelhead
hatchery steelhead perfect for eating

What they lack in size they more than make up for in viciousness. They’re amazing fighters, hitting a fly like a ton of bricks, jumping, shaking and spooling line like they’re much larger than they actually are. Continue reading Half Pounder Steelhead on the Rogue River