Guided Fly and Spey Fishing Trips for Steelhead and Brown Trout with
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|Posted on September 1, 2021 at 2:10 PM||comments (68)|
Everyone wants to connect with screamer early run steelhead like this one
Well, I've been hearing reports of steelhead already pushing into the creeks for the last few weeks. Not numbers but a fish here or there. Please leave those fish be until the weather gets more appropriate for fishing. Catching one right now is likely a death sentance in all but the most unseasonably cool of temperatures. But it does get my thoughts turning to one of my favorite topics- early run steelhead fishing.
As the month of September marches onward and temperatures cool, the true beginning of fall steelhead fishing will occur. And I can barely wait. Each year I just get more and more amped for the start of fall steelhead. The last week of September and first couple weeks are my absolute favorite time to fish. For those who have been following this page for a while, you already know my reasons for it. But one thing I've been thinking of recently is the difference between my early boxes and even boxes that I will use mid-late October and onward. So I thought I'd write a piece on it.
WHY AN EARLY BOX IS DIFFERENT:
One thing I enjoy doing a fair amount is to critically think through a question that may have a multi-factored answer. It's kinda a mental exercise, and I think it also helps develope a better understanding of the sport and the fish in general. So why would an early fall box be different? The obvious answer is that the conditions are different- most years those first weeks of the season are spent fishing to lower, clearer, and warmer water than even a few weeks later. And this affects the fish. But a large factor in my answer to the question is also one that I think a lot of anglers may overlook. The fish themselves are different.
In the context of west coast classifications of summer and winter steelhead, those first fish that enter the river in late September and early October would be considered summer run fish. These are fish that undergo a significant amount of maturation in the river itself, verses fish that towards the later fall and winter that usually enter either fully developed or very close to fully developed for spawning. One of the most telling things that a female steelhead is physically capable or closely capable of spawning is the external development of the egg depositor cone extending from the cloaca. Many female steelhead taken later in the season, November and December, have a pronounced egg depositor. Even late run steelhead that are perhaps only a day or two or less from the lake can have this physical development. I have yet to see an early October steelhead, not including fish that are obviously of domestic rainbow stock, with the same physical development. The lack of this in early run steelhead is significant because, again, it suggests that entry of the fish occurs prior to full maturization.
This mid-December fish from last year still had tail shine, meaning that at most she was 24-48 hours from the lake. Yet if you look closely you can see the clearly developed fleshy egg depositor cone above the anal fin extending outward.
Since spawning is not as immediate a concern for these early run fish, they appear to be more inquisitive towards their surroundings and more susceptible towards a wider range of spey fishing techniques that require a fish to move farther, even vertically, to take an offering.
The other relevant factor that I believe plays into difference between early run fish and fish returning later in the fall is that I believe early run fish have a higher proportion of wild fish in the predominate river system I fish in the fall. Though I lack the ability to formally test this, and my conclusion is based largerly on circumstantial evidence, this theory does make sense to me. What I base my theory on is that very early in the season, usually the last weeks of September and first half to two-thirds of October the pods of fish I find mid-river have a very high, and sometimes complete, porportion of fish with perfect fins. Sometime around the last week of October this changes.
After about the end of October, we begin to pick up high amounts of fish with visible and obvious signs of fin wear or erosion. If hatchery fish made up the same proportion of early run fish as they demostrably do of later run fish, even only a few weeks later, based purely on visible signs of fin wear, then I would expect that the percentage of early run fish with visible fin wear or erosion to be the same or similar to the percentage we see later on, again starting only some couple weeks later. It simply is not. In late September and early October, we see very high proportions of fish with perfect fins that we catch mid-river.
There are some questions I have regarding my theory that wild fish make up a disproportionately larger percentage of early run fish. Perhaps it is the location that I take my samples- I am usually fishing higher up in the system and so it could be possible that both wild and hatchery fish enter the river in similar proportions throughout the season but wild fish simply move up the river quicker, etc. However the result at any rate is the same: early on I believe I am fishing to higher proportions of wild fish. And that conclusion makes sense to me as well. There may be an ecological benefit of wild fish returning early and/or running the river quickly, not the least of which would be first access to high quality spawning habitat.
Again, how this really matters to me is that wild fish are absolutely more aggressive and will move farther to take a fly. So as you are constructing your early fall box, don't forget to consider the reasons why that box might look different than one with your trusty November patterns in it.
Okay, so maybe I've been misleading you. I do not have a single early fall box. I have several based on anticipated techniques that I enjoy employing early in the fall: baitfish box; floating line streamer box; and dry fly box. But to get the point across, I'm just going to pretend they're all in one large fly box and discuss why there is a useful purpose for each.
Baitfish patterns are all around producers of steelhead, early fall included. Though it is a good idea to have a few colorful attractor baitfish or streamers with you for the days when the water is higher or more colored, for the normal early fall conditions of lower and clearer, my baitfish patterns are reflective to those conditions. They're usually smaller, usually drabber. I make use of many earthy tones- olives, tans, quiet yellows. I also like mutued whites with accents of colors such as chartruese or pink. Here are a couple:
These are patterns that can be fished either on a light tip, such as a slow sinking poly, or simply sent out there on a floating line with a longer leader and using the small weighted eyes to get down. I don't classify them as "floating line streamers" because I'm still getting these down in the column even when I'm fishing them on a floating line which I tend to do a fair amount especially when the water is low and clear. Remember, even some of the deepest holding spots in low flows might only be in the ballpark of three or four feet at early fall flows. This means in the early fall when fishing these on a floating line, even if they're riding two feet or so under the surface they're definitely still in the danger zone.
Floating Line Streamers
Okay so the difference I make between fishing baitfish on a floating line and "floating line streamers" is just how high up the column I anticipate fishing them. Floating line streamers in most cases are smaller streamers that the majority of the time I anticipate fishing in the upper half of the water column if not even in the upper foot or so. These are usually more traditional-type patterns tied on single salmon hooks or light wire hooks, and include things like my small bunny speys, muddlers, hairwings, etc. Here are a few of my favorites:
These are flies that I anticipate fishing very high up off the bottom, sometimes all the way up to the surface film or even surface proper for the muddler. I am asking the fish to move a distance for them. The reason they are useful is that unpressured fish this time of year are aggressive fish if you can avoid spooking them. These are smaller patterns that are more discrete on delivery and can get to a fish that might otherwise have been spooked by the aggressive delivery of a larger, more gaudy pattern on even a light sinking tip. The vast majority of my early run fish are taken with this method, and using the weight of the hook and line management alone to determine depth that I am fishing at.
Some final bits of advice- when we swing we are used to pinching the line against the cork on the rod. When I'm swinging these, it's usually on 3x. Do not pinch the line or you will break off your aggressive takes. Just let a fish slam it from the reel. It's an odd sensation not holding the line. But it's super cool when your reel just starts screaming at you out of the blue.
Finally, the dry flies. Make sure you have at least a couple in your box. There are some days where the only fish we see is a fish that rolls on a dry. But most of the time these come into play with the following scenario: we're having a great day fishing to a good pod of aggressive early run fish. The fish are willingly taking traditionals or wets on the floating line well off the bottom all the way to the point that they are boiling the surface with the take. So we listen to them and after a while toss a bomber or foam waker on. Somewhere down the pool it just gets annhilated. Sure we could have stuck with the streamers way up off the bottom and probably caught fish. But it is days like this that pose legit shots at hooking a wild, early run steelhead on a waked or skated dry fly were we werent fishing to cornered fish in a tiny bucket of water. That's the real shit. These are the days we live for and that we remember forever. My last day like that was October 21, 2017.
That's not to say that I don't spend a significant time when I'm out by myself fishing the dry blindly. I do. But my best days with it are usually days we found the fish first (or already knew where they were) and then switched over. Either way, throw a few dries in your early season box because- well fuck it you never know. It's steelheading. Good patterns are bombers, oversized caddis, and foam wakers. You would not be out of place to put muddlers with dries as well, particularly smaller ones you want to fish on a hitch. Tube flies can be good waking flies as well. Here are a couple of mine:
So hopefully this helps. It can be intimidating putting together a gameplan for early season. Often times the tried and true patterns that may catch the bulk of your fish later in the season just do not seem to produce as well early in the run, or only have limited applications such as first and last light or periods of higher water that carries color. That's normal. Make the adjustment, and maybe you can put a few extra fish on the board early on when the conditions might not be as "prime" for the spey game. Who knows. It might even become your favorite time of the year. It sure has for me.
Tight Lines and Here's to a Great Upcoming Season
|Posted on March 24, 2021 at 7:50 AM||comments (631)|
Jim working a really nice run
Well it is definitely that time of year. We're right at peak season on the Ohio steelhead fisheries, with great numbers of fish in most of the systems. If anybody out there is looking to get their feet wet (pun intended) in spey fishing, anytime between now and the end of April would be a great choice. Spey fishing is such a cool form of fishing, but it is a process that one doesn't master instantly. The nice thing about getting out in Ohio is that even new anglers who are just going to be learning the basics and might only get to the point of casting out the full head can really have a great day fishing. Funny enough, more people call me looking to fish the Catt in the spring. When I tell them they should really think about Ohio, they seem surprised. Still seems like for the most part, our fishery is largely under the radar outside our borders.
Had the pleasure of fishing with Jim a couple days ago. Jim's a solid angler who has fished with many of the greats in steelhead and spey fishing. Listening to him talk about the places he's fished and the people he's bumped into along the way was a treasure. And it was nice from my perspective that he already had more than the foundation down. So my job as far as casting and technique wise was just making minor tweaks. One of the things I tell a lot of anglers who have the basics down on spey fishing but start to lose their cast for one reason or another is simple: start casting cack handed. A signifcant amount of the time, issues with the cast are related to a couple things. Either not using the bottom hand as the driver of the cast, or timing, with improper anchor placement being third.
Anyways, Jim who was casting very nicely at the start of the trip began to have his cast fall apart on him. It can be frustrating. On our second morning, after seeing the same issue creeping up again, I told him to start casting cack handed. Almost instantly his cast was back. The reason for this is simple. When you cast cack handed the bottom hand naturally comes out from the body on the back cast, and because of this on the forward cast you have to clear it out of the way first. This forces you to start the forward cast by driving down with the bottom hand. The other big thing is that because it is a bit awkward, most people don't rush the cast. These two are cures for the biggest two issues in spey casting that I know of. And once that occurs, it's easy to simply say "Hey, why don't you leave the anchor a little farther away from you" or something similar. Boom. Casting's back. It was an old trick I picked up in my Alaska spey days but seeing it work so well with Jim, who is a proficient spey fisherman, was really nice to see.
As for the fishing, Jim hooked 9 fish in two days, and landed three. But I'd like to talk about one we lost at the net. It's no secret among the anglers fishing in Ohio this year that there are some big fish around. Anyways, Jim set the hook on a fish and it didn't move. My first thought was well he's snagged. But I asked him and he said no it was a fish. Then it started to move. It didn't go crazy, but with Jim putting a lot of side pressure on, the fish just slowly swam up to the middle of the pool. I told him I thought it might be a big fish and that I wasn't sure it knew it's hooked yet. We got nearly all the head back in a minute or two. And then it rolled. My personal biggest fish is a 35" 17-18 pound fish you see at the top of the banner on our home page. I've seen a handful more between 13 and 15 pounds. In the water, this fish look broader than all of them but do to the stained water I couldn't see the head fully or the tail at all. Regardless it was clearly well over 30" and just so wide it was difficult to fathom.
It pulled off about twenty yards, over to the other side of the Grand. We got it back. And it was rolloing out about a rod tip away from us so that I saw it two or three more times. It was a large buck, not dark but a bit colored. As Jim was trying to turn his head and ease him into the net, he got the head pointed the right way. Two or three more feet and it would have been in the net. But the hook popped out and that was all she wrote. Jim was cool with it. He was stoked he got to fight it. His only regret was that we didn't get a picture. Sometimes you lose a fight, that's just how it is. It was a big fish. I know based on the girth alone, we were looking at somewhere low-to-mid-teens. Plus fish will sometimes look shorter and smaller in the water than they really are due to refraction making things appear shallower than they really are. That fish had a legit shot at going 15 or better, but who knows. Until you net them and tape them, it's all just speculation. It was a big fish anyways. I'll probably be thinking about it till the end of the season now.
Jeff was also up in the area for four days. He hooked a good amount of fish swinging as well. Between what Jim hooked, what Jeff hooked and what I hooked here and there, I think we're somewhere around 45 hookups on the swing in the last four days, landing maybe a third. It's great fishing. And it's Ohio in the spring.
Tight Lines and Good Fishing. I'll leave you with a couple more shots.
|Posted on March 9, 2021 at 9:00 AM||comments (8)|
Gary holding the first spring steelhead after ice out!
Well it's official! It is spring steelhead time! We had about 5-6 weeks of solid winter where most of our rivers froze up. But that all changed about a week- 10 days ago with a combination of warmer temps and rain that broke things free! We patiently waited for the spike in flows to recede, wondering what was in store for us. And when it did, our suspicions were confirmed. While the spey fishing was still a bit of a challenge with the colder flows, we found a few willing takers. Things should only improve as the weather warms.
If you haven't already, get on the phone with us to reserve your spot. We don't have a ton of days left, so reach out to us when you can.
|Posted on January 17, 2021 at 12:50 AM||comments (75)|
Beautiful chrome fish
The fishing remains very good, with a nice mix of fresh and holdover fish. The fish that have been in the systems a while have taken up winter lies, so dredging the deeper slower runs is often what it takes. Fresh fish can surprise you from a fast water pocket or choppy run, even though the water temps are in the 30's. The fish above was taken in 35 degree water from the choppy head of a riffle where we often find fresh fall run steelhead. So don't overlook every faster water pockets, as fish do have to move through the entire system. Cold water colors of blacks, blues, and purples seem to be producing the best, with the whiskey hangover taking the most fish.
Looking ahead, the next two weeks are calling for dropping temps. Daytime highs in the low to mid thirties and nighttime lows in the mid teens. This will likely cause a moderate amount of ice up. So if you haven't been out yet, get it while you can. This time of year you just never know. We've been fortunate in that we have not seen any real ice-up so far this season. Perhaps it will stay that way, but the weather is nothing if not unpredicatable.
Check out some from the last few weeks, and tight lines!
Browns on the swing are always fun- Steve Vaccariello Photo
CJ with a nice swing fish- his first on the spey rod!
A fat hen from the fast water (they still gotta move through it)
Matt with a steamer! Steve Vaccariello Photo
There's chrome in them there hills (and rivers)! Steve Vaccariello Photo
Cool shot of me trying to tail a fish! Steve Vaccariello Photo
The result! Steve Vaccariello Photo
|Posted on December 15, 2020 at 8:20 AM||comments (75)|
I got to swing up a nice bright fish way up on the Catt
Well soon 2020 will be in the books, and that can't come quick enough. It's just been a weird year all the way around and we're looking forward to better on many fronts. One thing that was really nice was just how good the fishing was this past fall and continues to be. It's been a long time that I can remember fishing so many days on the Catt with the decent run that we've had this year. While it for sure wasn't an overload of fish, we've had good numbers and steady fishing since early October. Coupled with the number of fishable days, that's a big win. If memory serves me, might have to look all the way back to 2015 for a similar year. And fishing continues to be good with steady, small influxes of fresh fish pushing into the lower river at regular intervals.
Lake Ontario browns have been another pleasant thing of 2020. Again not like the run of 2018, but much better than last year's run. Good numbers and good size to the fish made getting up there fun. On the flip side, man have there been people out this year, and people doing crazy shit too. But the fishing has been good and looks like it should stay that way.
As remote as you can get in the lower Lakes
Steve with a nice brown
Dan with one of many
Another bright December fish
Winter spey fishing
Matt with a good sized brown
|Posted on November 18, 2020 at 7:25 AM||comments (113)|
Tom with a great fish his first day spey fishing with guide Matt Rysak!
I'm going to keep this one short. Things are fishing very well. We had a bit of an unseasonably warm and dry spell for a minute that made fishing a little tough on sunny days. But other than that there are good amounts of fish around. We've had some water of the past two weeks which got things moving even more. The Erie fish, bucks in particular are running large. We've lost a couple I'd say were well over 12 pounds. And from the reports I'm getting up on the Lake O tribs, there are some monster browns around. Watch for a full report on that next time. All in all, great fishing.
Greg with a FAT colored up buck
They don't get much nicer than this
Dough with his first fish (of 3) his first day ever spey fishing with fishing buddy John
Another one of Doug's first day fish
John getting it done on the Firestarter second morning
Doug even swung up an elusive Cattaraugus lake run brown way up there
The Lee Party striking silver with Guide Matt
Matt getting ready to put one in the net
Now's the time folks.
|Posted on October 19, 2020 at 4:00 PM||comments (69)|
Solid fish on the hangover
Well we're marching along into fall. The fishing continues to be productive if you can adjust and know how to fish low, clear water. Over the past week, we've had ideal water temperatures for very active fish, along with the persistent low flows. In that time we've hooked fish skating dries, swinging clear floating or clear intermediate polys, and even a tip here and there. Despite the low flows, there are good numbers of fish in the river.
The game is stealth mode. If you're going to swing a sinking tip, do it early before the sun gets on the water (if it's a sunny day). Once the sun gets up, back down to clear tips, and long leaders. Natural colored speys are working well. Don't be afraid to skate a dry in choppy pockets. Now's the time to get surprised. Case in point, Jeff was fishing around us. He came to a pool that had been worked through by indicator fishermen and spey fishermen and hooked and lost one on a skated dry. That fish had seen pressure. Yet it still ate off the top. And not just once. The fish ate it twice in the same swing before he hooked it the second time. Unfortunately, like a lot of dry eaters, it threw the hook early. I don't know what it is about fishing that way but you land a lot less than you hook and you hook a lot less than you rise. Props to Jeff for at least sticking his first on the dry.
Looking ahead, we got weather coming through. Hopefully it will really get things rolling, though I don't mind the conditions as they are if you just adjust a bit. But more water will help bring more fish in and get the ones already in moving up higher. That will help the fishing.
Jeff with his first of the year
|Posted on October 12, 2020 at 3:25 PM||comments (132)|
The Concord Grape is a quick tie that catches fish.
Check out the video to learn how to tie and fish this productive pattern:
|Posted on October 10, 2020 at 2:40 PM||comments (40)|
Perfect fall steelhead on a blue and purple spey
Despite the very low and clear water, there are decent numbers of fish. With flows this morning hovering just north of 100 cfs, I figured early would be the game. Started a nice mid-river stretch of pocket water, good early season floating line water, with a traditional blue and purple spey pattern on a size 4 Alec Jackson. I started out with a 14' clear floating poly with about four feet of 1X, but after a while I decided to shorten up to a 10' floating poly but lengthen the leader out to about 7 feet tapered down to 3x. I liked the initial length I was fishing, but I was afraid that with the shorter leader, the poly would be right on top of the fly and the fish might still see it despite being clear. So I switched it up and started working again.
After I made about ten casts, I looked down and saw the head of a big, usually moderately fished run was open and with the sun cresting over the trees, it was still in the shade. My plan was always to work down through all the pocket water and riffles and fish that run, but I started thinking that people usually fish that run and I don't see people fish the choppy water I was casting to. So why not book down there, fish the run first, then come back up and fish all the water through again. Made sense to me.
So I got down in position and started fishing high on the head of the run. The run is set up on a gradual river-left turn with a riffle up top and a trough that forms against the right bank on the other side. It's not a crazy deep trough in the head, particularly in the flows we had this morning. But about four feet off the right bank puts you somewhere around mid-thigh deep. And there are a couple boulders right near the bank on the other side. It's good water.
As I was fishing through, I was making a conscious effort to not hold the running line against the cork. I wanted any fish that took to be able to pull line from the reel if it needed it. 3x is 3x after all, and I've had many fish break off on the take alone. Lesson learned. When fishing a floating line and super light tippet on the swing, let them take it from the reel. Right as I got into that trough and the current evened out, the fish absolutely annihilated it. It was somehow thrashing on the surface while screaming line off the reel at the same time, even before I lifted the rod. People ask me why I fish the way I do. That's why. You will not find a harder hit than light line on a floating tip on a scandi or long belly. None of the energy is absorbed by a weighted tip so it all goes to the rod.
The fish fought the way you hope an early fall fish does- long, fast runs with a few jumps thrown in for good measure, and it even briefly got around a mid-river snag as I did my best to lose it. But the hook stayed buttoned, my line held, and I was able to bring it in. Not huge, perhaps four or five pounds, but as pretty and clean as can be with perfect fins. Sometimes you can just tell.
After that I spent the rest of the morning jumping around to spots and switching it up between a riffle hitched muddler and a foam waker, but none wanted to play all the way up top. But that didn't matter. I got my fish. I could go another year if I have to, but a sink tip won't be on my line anytime soon.
Check out a few extra pics.
The fly that did the damage
|Posted on October 8, 2020 at 12:00 AM||comments (53)|
One of the coolest things I find about steelhead fishing is the absolute variability in flies that one can catch them on. Sure, it's fun to have old standbys. Finding a confidence pattern is like finding a twenty on the sidewalk- money in the bank. Those are the patterns to tie on your line when you need to feel like you're still a somewhat capable steelheader. Whether that's fishing in slightly off conditions, trying to break a dry spell (we all have those), or simply fishing a new stretch of water where you're looking for feedback as quickly as possible- confidence patterns have a crucial place in a fly box.
But as fun as it is to catch a steelhead in general, I think if it's possible, it might be even more fun catching one on a new pattern or profile scheme or color. Part of the reason behind that is until a fly pattern is proven, you just don't know if it will catch a fish. I've tied lots of flies I thought looked great. But it's not me those flies have to catch, and sometimes the fish don't share my opinions. Maybe that's due more to confidence- again until a fly is proven you don't know how a fish will react, and the longer you fish it without a fish the more you can second guess whether it's a good pattern or not. It is often right about then that I find myself switching out to a proven pattern and relegating the previous to my infamous drawer of misfit flies.This coming fall, however, I've set out to add as much variety to my steelhead game as possible. So of the flies I've been tying, while many are old standbys, perhaps even more are new patterns.
To accomplish variety, in the leadup to fall steelhead, I've put quite a lot of emphasis on tying different patterns with different materials. And one material I've recently rediscovered is bucktail. While I've always had a few hanging around in my fly tying supplies, I haven't really used them for tying steelhead flies. That changed recently. I've gone on a bit of a bucktail kick, tying everything from templedog style patterns to muddlers and I have to say, I'm really impressed with the results. But more importantly, though I've only got out once so far, I had a nice fish eat a natural bucktail bugger. Now I can't wait to go through my bucktail lineup.