Is having a game plan really the best way to begin your fly fishing day? In the world of sports a game plan is always needed. NFL football teams will have certain “go to” plays that they will utilize throughout the game that have been practiced and practiced. Stay with this game plan and keep focused. This discipline is what makes champions. Or is it? The Trick Play that the Philadelphia Eagles used in the second quarter of the Super Bowl this year was far from the norm. The Eagles needed to fool the Patriots. They did this by changing up their game plan. Basically having no game plan at all.
What has this to do with Fly Fishing? Everything. We are not dealing with humans. Humans are predictable. Many fisherman say that fish are predictable also, but they are not. To have a game plan when you are fly fishing is the worst thing you can have. What worked yesterday may or may not work today. There are many variables that can change the behaviour of our prey. Cloud cover, water temperature, barometric pressure, fisherman pressure etc. We have to be able to deal with these changes. If your game plan is to cast the bigger streamers all day or fish the size 18 Pheasant tail nymphs which have been working for the last 2 weeks you most likely will meet up with some bad luck.
When this quote begins to run through you head “come on fish, where are you?” you have lost all control of your day. It doesn’t matter how good you are. We have all said this on the river. This is when I stop and regroup. All the usual flies and methods obviously are not working. The fish have changed. Change with them. Go deeper, go slower, strip faster, fish shallower water or deeper water. Do not get caught up in your game plan. Change it up. Go old school.
Sometimes with Fly Fishing it’s ok to “wing” it. If it can fool the Patriots it can most likely fool Mr. Trout.
Every year I learn something new about our Fall Ontario Steelhead. This season was no exception. Normally by November our rivers fill up with autumn rains and the Steelhead move in. This 11th month of the year is typically the start of Steelhead guiding season for Calmwaters Fly Fishing. This year as we know was tough – the rains did not happen.
Walking along painfully long, low, extra skinny stretches of river one would certainly shake their head and move on. I’ve said it many times “there is no way a Steelhead could navigate through this lack of water.” Yet these chrome bullets proved me wrong again.
We did receive a few bumps of water and the fish came in. Anglers had success on the stretches closer to the lakes. Some fish, mountains of people. Yet even before the bumps of rain our Steelhead made their journey through inches of water much farther upstream. We began finding them in the deeper pockets miles above the Great Lakes. Their determination and will to survive is incredibly strong. This is not new news but when you wander the rivers in these drought conditions you can’t help but shake your head in disbelief at the incredible power of Mother Nature.
Always keep moving and walking when Fly Fishing for Ontario Steelhead. If your determination and will to catch these fish is as strong as their will to survive, you will hook up.
Normally this time of year on our Ontario rivers we are happily walking or drifting our main systems with our two handed Spey Rods. Heavy rains bring on big water which in turn brings silver Steelhead. That’s the usual weather pattern. We tie big flies full of colour and bling to entice these chrome beauties. Normally swinging these flies with a Spey rod is by far our best bet to attack our larger rivers enabling us to cover the heavy flow.
Not this year. This drought that we are experiencing has our Ontario Rivers down to a trickle. These low flows are making it very difficult to actually get any kind of a swing on the normal runs that we target. However this doesn’t mean that we should stay home and pout. Dig out your single handed fly rods and dust them off. Work with a slow sinking line and head to the softer water. A slow retrieve will get those Spey flies moving which in turn may ignite a strike. The water isn’t high enough to swing but if you work the fly yourself you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Regroup and grab your single handed 7 or 8 weight. There’s fly fishing fun to be had out there!
Yesterday’s incredible downpour has got my Steelhead senses tingling. We are still a bit away but it won’t be long before the silver bullets will be making their trek up our Ontario Rivers. Learning to fly fish for these migratory trout is indeed a thrilling quest. Different set ups for nymphing rods are needed. Quite a complex array of fly lines for swinging methods. But one thing remains the same, they are just fish and we must not put ourselves in a dangerous situation just for a hook up.
5 years ago I headed out to my favourite Steelhead River by myself. Water was high but perfect. Hiking for about a half hour I found myself at a perfect run with no one in site other then a few mallards, geese and 2 curious deer. I began my routine and worked the run 3 times with no hookups. I decided that crossing the river was needed as I was sure that I would have better luck. As I approached the far bank I had one last deeper portion of the river to cross. My mind was focused on the Steelhead and feeling omnipotent, I pushed through the deep area. This is where my right foot got lodged between 2 rocks and I became stuck.
Laughing at first, I worked my foot back and forth thinking I would just pull it out and trudge on. No such luck. The rapids were strong and were thrashing against my waist. I realized then that I was in trouble. My foot was not coming out and if I toppled backwards from the force of the river I would be done. This was the first time I ever thought to myself that this could be the end. I said out loud “it’s only a fish Jeff. What have you done”. Obviously I’m writing this story so I was able to bend down and loosen my boot while almost falling over numerous times. This took a long, agonizing 15 minutes. I wiggled out from the two rocks, turned back and sat on the bank of the river to reflect. This was the day that had changed my life and how I fish and guide for Steelhead.
I say 2 – 3 times every Steelhead guide day. “It’s only a fish. Do not put yourself in peril. Move on to a safer spot or river run. Again, it’s only a fish”.
Stay safe while pursuing these Ontario Steelhead. Water will be high. Never underestimate the power of the river.
Some days we have such great luck Steelheading. Four, maybe Five Steelhead on a cold blustery fall day. Life on the river couldn’t be better. Then we encounter the dark days on the streams. If you have spoken to other fly fisherman and one or two say they have never been skunked fly fishing for Steelhead they are not telling the truth!
All my other guide buddies and myself talk about the dark days. The fish are obviously in the systems. But some days they just will not play ball. This is tough to take. We question ourselves. Should I have done something different? Used different flys? Slowed down my swing? Used more weight? Used less weight? Should I have worn a different jacket? Brushed my teeth with my left hand rather then my right???
These are the questions that run through our minds as we take the long two hour drive home. Confidence has taken a big hit. Your buddy hit one upriver. Your other buddy hit two downriver. This happens to us all. What I do in this case is always keep my chin up. Festering will get you no where. It was just Steelheading.
This happens every season to us all. Use this down time to work on new approaches such as different colour flys and maybe tweek your set up a little for the depth of the rivers.
Dont let it bring you down. There is always tomorrow!
As our Ontario Steelhead begin their migration up our tributaries we all dream of hooking these silver bullets at night. When the alarm goes off at 4:30am, we never seem as tired as we do when we are waking up for work at 6:30am. Quick coffee and a few timbits and we are off for our adventure.
Because we are never alone in our quest for these Steelhead we find when we do get to our favourite location that 30 or so other fisherman were having the same dream the night before. After muttering a few curse words we walk into the stream and try and find a free piece of water to fish.
The Big Head River in Meaford, Ontario, the Maitland River in Goderich and the Saugeen River in Southampton can be very crowded when the run is on. Many people shake their head and move towards the main runs and try their luck.
Before you walk into the river, take a look at the people pressure. Where are they mostly located. Are they catching Steelhead. The pressure that fisherman are igniting in the river will determine where the Steelhead will be. Sure there will always be fish in the main pools. But try and determine where the fish would swim and hide from the fisherman. Especially after one has been caught and had created a commotion within a pool. This will certainly move some fish either up or down river into a place to hide such as behind a boulder or some Rapids. If you move away from the people you should find quite a few dispersed Steelhead calming themselves in other locations.
Moral of the blog? Don’t hang with the crowds. Find your own piece of Chrome farther away.
It’s that time of year again. We are still casting crayfish flies and clousers on our favourite streams for Ontario Smallmouth, but lurking amongst them are a few chrome jewels with plenty more to arrive.
Ontario Steelheading on the fly can be challenging but not impossible. We are all impatiently waiting for the cooler nights and the fall rains to kickstart our season.
The last two years have been tough as the numbers of Steelhead just did not appear. Yet already this year we have begun to see a few. Definitely a great sign!
To maximize your success in catching these brutes it is imperative to watch the Ontario Wateroffice graphs of your favourite Steelhead rivers. When the graph shows that the rivers are on a rise then stay away as they are usually to dirty and dangerous. Wait for the graph to “crest”. The river now has stopped rising and will then begin to clear and drop. This is the time to suit up, grab your Spey rod or indicator rig and head to the streams. There is nothing worse then arriving to do some fly fishing for Steelhead and find you river is blown out.
Use these graphs for better success at catching our silver Ontario Steelhead
Ontario Steelheading offers one of the most rewarding experiences that you can encounter on our magnificent rivers. I often get asked what is the best option to catch these elusive fish, “a day on the river in a drift boat, or a day on the water walking and wading?”. Tough question… If we were talking Ontario Smallmouth then I would say our best option is the drift boat. As these fish are not migratory (although there are some lake run bass in the spring) they will hold in the same areas year to year. So should you want to learn to fly fish for these bronze backs then a drift boat is the best pick.
Steelhead are different. A drift boat day can certainly get you to areas where there are no people and get you to spots where there could be some incredible runs. However with a year like we are having this year where the fish seem to be scattered throughout the systems you may hit a drift where virtually there are no Steelhead. Unfortunately once you have launched you’re stuck on that one particular run. We have had great success walking and wading this year. This method allows you to hit several different areas of the river. Start low towards the mouth and if there is nothing there move up a concession. Some days we hit 8 different sections of the river until we find the runs. While hunting for Ontario Steelhead keep moving. You will be rewarded!
Getting fooled by those elusive big Brown Trout? You’re not alone. Last week we watched a 24″ brown work the water about 15 feet from us in a small run. He was definitely interested in the caddis that were hatching yet for about an hour we couldn’t even get a look at our flies. I decided to put a small split shot on my customers line and use the same Elk Hair Dry fly that we were working with. We fished just upriver from our target and swung the fly towards Mr. Brown. He hit the fly on the second drift. Sink those dry flies and fish them like a nymph and you’ll find your luck changing!
Our Ontario Steelheading season has spawned some new methods for success. Some of our Ontario rivers have been full of fish and yet some are still waiting for the Steelhead to come in. Our drift boats have had good success but we’re finding walking and wading for these gems has been more productive. This is due to the fact that the fish are not concentrated in one area but are scattered all through the systems. Rule of thumb for this year is to keep moving. If you don’t find a fish in one section hop in your vehicle and move down or up river quite far. The high water also means they are looking for slower moving water to rest. Work these sluggish currents and enjoy!