Something I see people do consistently while steelhead fishing is forget to fish the short cast. A lot of the time while guiding, I see people step into a run and immediately start peeling all sorts of line off their reel before they make the first cast. Usually their first cast is at least the length of shooting head plus the sink tip or leader they are using. That means the fly is fishing at least 30 to 40 feet out from the angler on the first cast, leaving the water closer in completely un-fished! Just because your fishing a spey rod doesn’t mean you have to instantly start launching casts out into the middle of the river. I know the urge to bomb it out there is strong, but don’t forget about the water right out in front of you.
This winter I’ve seen several steelhead caught with no more than half the skagit head out of the rod tip, and 2 fish caught on the very first cast of just the sink tip! Sometimes this is the only fish of the day. If we hadn’t started short, we would have never found these fish. Which can be the difference between success and a skunking.
When steelheading it’s important to remember that the fish can be just about anywhere. Sure, each run has it’s sweet spots or “buckets”, but steelhead (especially winter) are on the move. Obviously there are times of resting or holding, as well as times when they are more likely to be moving around than others. But, in general they are on an upstream migration until they reach they’re spawning grounds. I’ve heard a couple legendary steelhead guides say things like, “they are where you find ’em”. To me this means that where one fish decides to stop and hold isn’t necessarily where the next fish will hold in that same run. So next time you head out to the river and step into your first spot, remember to fish all the water in the run you can. This starts by not forgetting to fish the short cast, you never know where you might find your fish!
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