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A New Frontier - Euro Nymphing for Steelhead

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  • A New Frontier - Euro Nymphing for Steelhead

    Scott’s Westfly History posts have me thinking nostalgically of some of my favorite fly fishing times from years past.

    I think it was 2002 when I first got on Westfly. This was before spey rods were popular, the easy casting skagit lines had not been invented yet and everything spey was a lot more expensive than it is now. At the same time, we had a MAJOR run of summer steelhead jammed into the Clackamas, making it possible to have multiple hookups after work. It was great. Since these were my “pre-spey” days at that time my favorite fly rod was a single handed 6wt, so that’s what I used. You could get a decent battle from the more prevalent trout plus land all the 10lb hatchery steelhead you wanted to. But, as you can imagine, when I started posting about this some people lost their minds. Even people who had never even caught a steelhead and could barely catch trout were “fashionably pissed.”

    Still, the whole 6wt-for-steelhead thing worked spectaculary well and truth be told, it still does.While I love throwing my spey for steelhead, the fact remains that my most sucessful steelhead days have happened while trout fishing with a 5wt or 6wt single hand rod. Heck, at the first Westfly Rondi on the Deschutes I even landed 3 chinook on my 5wt-I wasn’t targeting them but they were biting. It was lat October and they were pretty spawned out but after beefing up the tippet to 10lb and using strong hooks it was doable-just point the rod at the fish, grab the spool and if the tippet doesn’t break, you’re going to land a Chinook on your 5wt.

    With the popularity of Euro Nymphing it was only a matter of time before accidental steelhead hookings started happening. Might as well land them, right? Since fly line has a 30lb core and even crappy reels have pretty good drags these days it’s very doable. Since the Deschutes always has a little color you don’t really give up any trout catching advantage by beefing up to 10lb fluorocarbon tippet and using heavy wire Euro jig-fly patterns. You can even tie Euro jig-fly egg patterns or really go nuclear and use beads like most guides do on their days off.

    Would anyone like to come out of the closet and admit they’ve tried this? It’s a lot of fun and a really good way to build your fish fighting skills. Fighting a fish that seems too big to land is a good skill to acquire if you ever intend to check a fly caught GT or Tarpon off your bucket list.

  • #2
    in years past, this is exactly what I'd do....just beef things up a touch. I always liked catching fish over not catching fish, so I'd nymph for trout on beefed up tippet and catch a few steelhead while I was at it. Good times!!

    Now, if we're talking about hooking into a fish that you just had no clue if you were over-gunned or not, that actually happened to me twice this last summer getting after tigers...both on 10wts, both were those types of fish that just make you stop for a minute and go, "whoa! how the hell did that thing end up in me net", the little one turned out to be a little 3'er (for some reason, fought far above its weight class), and the other, well, let's just say it turned out to be my personal best. It was a completely different level of fish than I've ever encountered out there...I felt way under gunned with my 10wt.


    • #3
      It is true that I've hooked more steel fishing for trout than spey fishing for steelhead. Last year's only D Steelhead came on my 5wt switch rod nymphing a run I had swung through twice. It was a memorable fight on 4x following it down river over 200 yards. It was a chunky hatchery hen that we ate on the spot that night. Another time a I hooked a big wild buck with the same rod. It jumped right in front of me slow motions style. I could see my stonefly out in front it trailed by a size 18 midge dropper stuck in its snout followed by an in tact giant adipose fin before it plunged back into the river and headed back to the ocean. No chance landing that one.

      On coastal rivers I end up short lining chutes and runs because that's the only way to fish those areas. This last time on the D I only strung up my spey.
      Choices! We have a lot of choices in Oregon.


      • #4
        Hey Randy, check this out these video's on how to fight big fish with a fly rod: and

        Ryan, your story reminds me of Lee Wulff's 16/20 club: landing a 20lb salmon on a size 16 fly.


        • Clarkman
          Clarkman commented
          Editing a comment
          that's what I do!! there were just a couple that were, well, weird...the little one thought he was some other species, and the larger one was, well, LARGE!

          Although, trying to get a large fish up from directly under the boat isn't necessarily conducive to truly "getting them on the butt"...

          But yeah, those are both a tremendous resource for anyone who wants to learn how to fight large fish. Those'll show you just how easy it would be to catch steelhead on a 5wt....
          Last edited by Clarkman; 10-03-2019, 05:03 PM.

      • #5
        I do the euro nymphing thing for trout a lot. I've tried it for steelhead, but with the numbers as low as they are these days, you need to cover lots of water, and I think you are better off gear fishing with a bobber in most rivers. Euro-nymphing drifts are pretty short, so its very slow going covering water, and there will be places you just can't fish since your maximum range is 30 or 40 feet. These days, if I feel like nymphing/beading for steelhead, I'll use my centerpin rod. I still high stick/tight line nymph for steelhead on small coastal rivers and creeks, I feel like I'm covering water better there.