Pro Tips: How to Catch Fall-Run Great Lakes Steelhead

Written by: Tom and Max Werkman, Werkman Outfitters

This big fall steelhead fell for a classic yarn egg.
All photos by Tom Werkman

Fall offers many different angling opportunities, but here in the Great Lakes region, the first steelhead of the season are entering river systems, angry and ready to eat. They’re mostly following the spawning king salmon and feeding on the abundance of eggs tumbling downstream. What the steelhead may lack in numbers, they more than make up for with their high energy, feeding eagerly and fighting hard when hooked–famous for their long runs punctuated by big jumps. 

Important tasks for anglers who wish to pursue these migratory fish include knowing where to look for them, what flies to throw once you find them, and how to adjust your approach based on conditions.

1. Where to Look

While fishing for fall steelhead, look for spawning salmon, and target the darker water behind them. Ideally, it’ll be medium-depth (4 to 6 feet), with bottom structure like downed trees, and some nearby “transition” water with faster current. Water temperatures should be between 42 and 55 degrees. If at first you don’t find salmon or steelhead, remember that both species are migratory, so every day could be different: they are often here one day and gone the next.

Having a boat makes covering water and finding fish easier, but you can still be successful on foot.

2. What Gear to Use

It should come as no surprise that egg flies are the main patterns during fall. Try using shades of orange, peach, and cream to match the different stages of natural eggs from the salmon spawn; the older the eggs, the paler they are. Nymphs can also work, but it’s primarily an egg bite.

We recommend a 10-foot, 7-weight fly rod with a floating line and long, hand-built monofilament leaders tapering from 20-pound test down to 12-pound tippet.

The extra reach of a 10-foot rod is handy for nymphing, and a 7-weight is powerful enough to make casting all day less tiring.

3. Make Adjustments for Depth

Pay close attention to the amount of weight you are using, and to the distance between your weights and your indicator. Small changes in the depth and/or current speed can greatly affect how your flies are riding in the water column, so constant adjustments are necessary to keep them down in the strike zone. If your indicator stops “ticking”the bottom, you may need to add more weight and/or increase the distance between weights and indicator to allow your flies to sink closer to the bottom. If your indicator starts to sink, you have added too much weight. 


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