Beginner Steelheader Mistakes

With another steelheading season quickly approaching, a new class of steelheaders will be taking their first casts. Every year, I have newbies come up to me and ask questions on how to cast a centerpin. Some do their homework before hitting the water and others need to hit the books.

Here are some common mistakes

Wrong Rod - Using a 6'6" bass rod for steelhead isn't going to catch you a lot of fish. Long rods are critical in achieving drag free drifts and float control. The best rod for a novice should be a 10'6" to 14'6" rod. Stores such as Cabelas sell them starting off at as little as $50.00. 

Incorrect Float - The worst floats for steelhead are the large plastic ones with the metal plug. Not only do they make a lot noise when they hit the water, but the metal plug pinches the line and weakens it. The end result is when an angler gets snagged, the line will snap. The end result is your float and rigging is gone. The newbie steelheader should have one kind of float and that's the Raven FM model. That model is very versatile and can be used in all types of water.  

Incorrect Depth - I've seen beginners either have too much line or not enough under their float. If your float is dragging and constantly going under, then you have too much line and need to adjust. Your float should be able to drift freely. But I've also seen some anglers with not enough line and they're missing the strike zone. 

Missed Takes - Steelhead takes come in a wide range. Some hits are hard and others are really light. During the winter months, when the water is cold. Steelhead tend to be more sluggish. More than often the takes can be subtle and many rookies believe they've bottomed out and don't set the hook. When ever the float goes under I set the hook, regardless if it's slow or fast.

Reading Water - I believe in the saying "10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish" This can make or break a rookie steelheader. Reading water is very difficult in regards to what's at the bottom. I tell newbies to think like a fish. Where would I hide? When the water is cold, where would I hold? When steelhead first enter a river, they seek out deep pools with cover or long sweeping riffles. The reason for this behavior is steelhead are often wary entering shallow water from a deep lake. During the winter, steelhead will seek out slow flowing pools. The best place for steelhead to hold is at the tail end of the pool. Tailouts deflect the current as the bottom starts to rise. This allows the fish to expend less energy. A pair of polarized sunglasses also helps.

Poor Etiquette - In the quest for the first fish, manners often take a backseat. Nothing drives a veteran steelheader crazy, then a newbie wading out to retrieve a snagged hook or starting to fish 15' below them. Take the time to watch others fish and ask questions.

Fishing the same spot - Hole beating isn't very productive. Most rookies tend to fish not very far from the parking lot. These spots usually get pounded hard and the fish gradually start to wise up. Not to mention some of these spots will be packed. The best advice is to go off the beaten path. Not only you find peace and quiet but a lot of fish for yourself.

Giving Up - Steelhead are a challenge and I have seen some newbies throw in the towel after a couple of weeks. Fishing is not catching and it does take time. The best advice I can give is research on the internet, read some books, join a fishing club or ask a veteran to take you fishing.

Using Fireline as a mainline - Believe it or not, I remember running into a newbie who had a centerpin and his mainline was 30# Fireline.

Crystal Meth

Crystal meth is another egg pattern widely used along steelhead alley. It's similiar to the sucker spawn. The only difference is instead of yarn, diamond braid is used. This pattern is effective in water that is murky. Like the drug, steelhead get addicted to it.


Hook - Daiichi 1530 #10 - #12
Diamond Braid - Pearl, Red, Hot Pink, Shrimp, Chartreuse and Orange
Thread - 6/0 red

Wrap the thread around the hook all the way to the end of the shank.

For this example, I'm using shrimp braid. Unlike sucker spawn, crystal meth is tied using single loops. Place the braid on top of the hook and tie it in. Then pull up the braid and wrap the thread several times. This will securely hold it in place. Take the braid and fold it over making a loop. Wrap the thread several times to hold it in place. The loop should hang over the side of the hook.

The next loop should be the same size.

The next set of loops will be larger.

Repeat the same step. As you can see the loops have a weaved appearance.

The final loops should be the same size as the previous ones.

Build a head and cut the excess braid. Whip finish and apply head cement. This is what the fly should look like a cluster of eggs.

Fishpond Blue River Chest Pack

Fishpond Blue River chest pack

I'm very minimalist when it comes to things, especially when it comes to hauling my gear. The less is better, that's my motto. I see a lot of guys on the rivers that have too much stuff in their vests. They look like they're ready for a 3 week expedition and the only things missing are a sleeping bag and a frying pan. I usually see them fumbling about going through the endless pockets looking for something. Then I would hear them complain about their sore shoulders or back. I wanted something simple. I've had chest vests but I always found them cumbersome. A lumber pack was more practical so I headed over to one of the local fly shops. 

Blue River chest pack fly bench

The store is a high end fly shop and they had a wide selection of vests to choose from. One vest that caught my eye was the Fishpond Blue River pack. What I found appealing about it was it could be used a chest, lumber, or sling it over your shoulder. It measures at 9.5"x5"x7 is about 366 cubic inches. It had a large fly bench that had plenty of room for my streamers, egg patterns, nymphs and jigs. That meant no more fly boxes. It had enough pockets for all of my needs and it felt very light. Whenever I go fishing, I carry the basics - a single small box for sinkers, hooks, beads and swivels, forceps, floats, spools of 3X and 4X tippets, spool of 10 and 8 pound leader material and a leathermen tool. It had plenty of pockets and zippered compartments. There's also tabs and loops to attach various tools and spools of line.

So we'll see how this pack performs in the long run. 

Idiot Poacher of the Year Award goes to.......

There has been a YouTube video of two people illegally catching steelhead from a feeder creek running into the Chagrin River. The video was taken on a property located in Gates Mills. One of the preps is from France and from watching the video, his guest isn't well versed in the game and fish laws. In the state of Ohio, it's illegal to net steelhead. The creek in the video, is so small and narrow that a 3 year old could piss across it. He gleefully dunks his net in and catches one of the darkest, nastiest looking steelhead. It looks so awful that a starving raccoon would pass it up. Nonetheless, the guy is very happy with his catch and brags about how easy it was to catch in front of the camera. After that we're shown a segment of the fish lying in a large pan ready for the oven. I suspect a puddle of black mush after 30 minutes of cooking. 

Well that video went viral and it sparked outrage in the steelheading community. Several people emailed the video to the ODNR. The ODNR contacted Youtube and they assisted the game warden by tracing the ISP account. The warden arrived only to find out that the homeowner was out of town. Once he returned, he gave a summons for him and Pepe that they broke the law and had to face a judge.

They had their day in court and the guy from France was charged with illegally netting a steelhead and fishing without a licence and the landowner was charged with aiding. Both were fined $250 and received 30 day suspended jail sentences.

I felt they got off lightly as a $250 fine for a Gates Mill resident is pocket change. Both of them should be forced to fish the Manchester Hole on Walnut creek with 10 slob anglers for company for an entire season

Sucker Spawn

Ask any Lake Erie steelheader what's their favorite fly is and the most common answer will be - sucker spawn. The sucker spawn is one of the most widely used patterns along Steelhead Alley. The majority of steelhead I've caught when fly fishing has been this pattern.

The sucker spawn is suppose to resemble a mass of fish eggs. This pattern is relatively easy to tie. I buy most of my yarn from arts and crafts stores such as Joann's or Micheal's. A large ball usually costs a couple of dollars and can last a long time.

Daiichi 1530 hook - #10 to #14
3 ply yarn - white, orange, peach, pink, and blue
Thread - 6/0 red

sucker spawn

Wrap the thread around the hook all the way to the end of the shank.

sucker spawn

Cut an 8" piece of yarn. For large hooks such as #10 or #12, you can use 3 ply yarn. For smaller hooks may need to remove a strand. This will make the fly less bulky and easier to work with. Take the yarn and fold it in half. The first loop will be a single one as shown above. Wrap the thread around the yarn about 5 times. Then pull the yarn up and tie the thread around the hook 5 times. This will hold it in place.

sucker spawn

Take the yarn and fold it over as shown above. This will be the first pair of loops. Wrap the thread around the hook 5 times. You can adjust the size by pulling on the yarn. Then pull up the yarn and wrap it 5 times. This will keep the loops from moving.

sucker spawn

The second pair of loops will be larger.

sucker spawn

The 3rd pair of loops should be the same size.

sucker spawn

The last set of loops should be the same size as the first pair of loops. Wrap the thread around the hook several times and cut the excess yarn.

sucker spawn

Form a head, whip finish and apply head cement.

sucker spawn
The end result is a cluster of eggs. This pattern can be used under a float or bottom bounced. The best colors for me are white, pink and peach.

Leave It To Beaver

Major league asshole Donnie Beaver is in the news again. He's preparing to appeal the court decision in his never ending battle to keep Joe Angler off the Little Juniata. Beaver thinks he's a tough guy but now he has to deal with the 800 pound gorilla named Norfolk Southern. What are the chances that he's going to win this - zilch

Railroad joins Little Juniata River access fight

Exclusive club told to remove fencing, no trespassing signs

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

By Deborah Weisberg, Special to the Post-Gazette

As state attorneys and Donny Beaver prepare to do battle in a state appeals court over access to the Little Juniata River, another matter is unfolding along its banks. Norfolk Southern Corp. has ordered Mr. Beaver, operator of the exclusive Spring Ridge Club, to immediately remove barbed wire and "no trespassing" signs from railroad property along the stream. If he fails to do so within 10 days, Norfolk Southern will perform the task and might bill him for the work, according to Norfolk Southern attorney Randal S. Noe, who made the demands in an Aug. 3 letter to Mr. Beaver.

Mr. Noe said yesterday that he doesn't know when the barbed wire and signs were erected, but the railroad only recently was made aware of them. The "no trespassing" signs bear the names of the Spring Ridge Club and Legacy Conservation Group, two of several corporations Mr. Beaver has or had an interest in. The barbed wire is strung among dense brush downstream of Spruce Creek. "We were advised by a third party of [the wire and signs'] existence," said Mr. Noe. "We weren't aware of anything before that. But once we became aware, we got concerned."

Although Mr. Beaver leases a small, relatively narrow strip of land from the railroad along the Little Juniata, Mr. Noe said the signs and barbed wire are beyond the leased section. He also said that while the railroad "does not want to get in the middle of a dispute between the state and Don Beaver ... when [Beaver] allegedly invaded our property, we felt it was our duty to react." Mr. Beaver declined to comment.

In the Aug. 3 letter to Mr. Beaver, Norfolk Southern demanded "the immediate removal of any barbed wire, fencing, barriers, signs or other material placed on our property by you, your employees, or agents." It further stated that the railroad company would inspect the property in about 10 days, remove and dispose of any such material and "reserve the right" to seek recovery of payment for the cost.

Three state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection, and local fishing guide Allan Bright sued Mr. Beaver and the club four years ago because they treated a 1.3-mile section of the river near Spruce Creek as members-only water.

Earlier this year, Huntingdon County Common Pleas Judge Stewart Kurtz ruled in the state's favor. Subsequently, Mr. Beaver was ordered not to post or hang signs on the stream, not to "threaten, harass or otherwise attempt to exclude the public" from the water and streambed, and not to advertise the river as private.

In recent months, however, "no trespassing" signs and metal posts with bright orange caps had been posted in and along the Little Juniata on the side opposite the railroad tracks, where Mr. Beaver owns land for the Spring Ridge Club, a private fishing organization that charges up to $80,000 for membership and thousands more in annual fees. The metal posts and most of those signs have since been removed.

Mr. Beaver appealed the judge's decision last month in a case that probably will be argued early next year.
Stan Stein, the attorney for Mr. Bright, who is seeking damages over income he claims he lost for all those years that the club advertised the Little Juniata as private, said the railroad issue "will have no effect on the appeal, but it may have an effect on how and whether the court might be asked to enforce the court order."