Show up at a river ready to fish, find a high point, at least 10 to 20 feet above the river and read the water. Figure out where the fish will most likely hang out. Once you’ve figured that out, study the water, looking for fish. Using your peripheral vision works well.
They’re hard to see, but if you concentrate and have patience, eventually you’ll notice some movement. It’s amazing; once you’ve spotted a fish, suddenly you’ll see lots of fish. It’s as if they suddenly materialize.
Whether you’re steelhead fishing or trout fishing, the process is the same, you’ll just have to tweak where you look. Steelhead and trout hold in similar water, but there are some differences.
How you approach the steelhead is different from how you approach the trout.
If you’re on a river with lots of surface bug life, your job is easy. Simply wait to spot a trout rising to take a fly, or natural. Try to keep tabs on the fish as it descends. Most likely you’ll spot other trout around that one.
The area where the fish rose is the area you’ll fish. But don’t just run down there and cast to the exact spot.
Trout don’t rise straight up from the bottom then descend straight down. Normally they’ll see the fly drifting into their feeding zone, they’ll rise up and drift below it. They may drift backwards several feet before they actually eat the fly. Then, and this is important, they’ll swim back down but forward from where they took the fly.
If you were to cast directly to where you saw the fish rise, you’d be putting your fly several feet below where the fish is actually holding. Chances are they wouldn’t even see it.
Instead, present the fly above the rise by at least 4 feet. Let it drift into the zone.
But before you even cast to the fish, evaluate how you’re going to approach the area. Ideally you want to approach sighted trout from downstream and cast to them from a 45 degree angle.
Fly fishing tip: Remember, fish sighting trout is only possible because you have clear water. If you can see them, they can see you. Stay below them and be sneaky.
If you see a fish or even multiple fish rising in a pool, it’s a good idea to first fish the bottom half of the pool.
Why? Because the fish you catch in the lower half won’t spook the fish in the upper half, unless you’ve hooked a big brute that fights his way into the forward half. But if that happens…who cares, you’ve got a great fish.
You may end up taking 5 or 10 trout before you even get to the spot where you saw that big one rise. If you go straight to the sweet spot you may be moving past a lot of fun fish.
Sight Fishing for Steelhead
Of course the advantage is, steelhhead are generally bigger than trout, unless your fishing for half pounders, so once you’ve spotted them, they’re easier to track.
I heard about a guy that found his steelhead by throwing a rock into a likely spot and looking for the spooked fish moving away.
Once he saw the fish he could track it to its new holding location, wait a few minutes for things to calm down then start casting.
This type of sight fishing probably didn’t make him many friends, but I hear it was effective. There’s something about throwing rocks into fishing water that just doesn’t seem right.
Whatever method you use to find them, approach carefully. If you’re nymphing, stay below them slightly and cast well upstream. If you’re swinging flies, be sure to approach from far upstream, you don’t want to spook them.
Start casting with a short line at a 45 degree angle or so. Keep casting, adding line every time. Many times i’ve caught steel head in water not more than a few feet from me. Of course these weren’t the fish I’d spotted, but a steelhead is a steelhead.
If you have lots of room for casting lots of line, or you’re using a spey setup, try to keep your body far upstream for as long as possible.
If after swinging the fly past the steelhead a few times nothing happens, switch out the fly to a completely different color scheme.
Still nothing? Switch to a heavier sink tip and put the fly right in front of the steelhead. If nothing happens its time to either move on or try nymphing or try some surface skating action.
Sight fishing is a great way to catch trout and steelhead, especially if you only have time to fish one spot. Go to the spot, sight the fish and catch it…what could be simpler? HAHAHAHA, just kidding, there’s nothing easy about fly fishing, but that’s why we love it.