Dry fly fishing for steelhead
- the ultimate fun

Fishing instructor, fly fishing tuition and fishing trips based in Scotland. Salmon and trout fishing advice, flies and articles.

Steelhead dry fly fishing in British Columbia

Harry Lemire playing a steelhead
Harry Lemire playing a steelhead

Steelhead fishing with a dry fly is fascinating. I have already mentioned Harry Lemire one of the finest anglers on the planet, to be able to call Harry a friend is a privilege and to fish with him is to attend steelhead master class and be taught by the professor. Well I knew it was not going to be easy because Harry was not catching many fish on the dry fly but I realised that whether or not the fish took I could bet that Harry’s fly would drift and skate perfectly. I put down my rod and listened as Harry talked through the critical moves cast by cast as his Greased Liner hovered and skated over the lies covering every inch of fishable water. High water conditions meant that this year was never going to be good for dry fly fishing.

A dawn mist hangs over the Bulkley, first rays of the sun sends shafts of golden light that contrasts sharply with the cold blue grey of water and mist. Tree tops sprout from a blanket of swirling vapour, I can hear a dipper’s hearty song close by but the bird is enshrouded by the moving curtain. Below me three huge submerged boulders, two of them are almost touching around 50 ft away and another lying parallel with the pair 15 ft nearer the bank. These look like perfect steelhead territory. My Gurgler fly hovers over the face of the two distant boulders, teasing and tantalizing fish I imagine. Towed by the line now Gurgler skates lightly over the smooth gliding water in a gentle arc towards the third stone, its tell tale wake streaming out behind like a miniature jet boat. Then a curious thing happens, I believe that a big fish just swirled at the fly, but its early morning, was it imagination or did a fish really move? I cast again gazing intently at the Gurglers gurgling, skating and hovering over the drift, whoosh a swirl, I saw it, it was a steelhead, I rose a steelhead! Three more casts and each time a fish moved in exactly the same place but it never took the fly. Three more casts and no response now. Harry said to change flies when this happened. Try a bigger fly, smaller fly, lighter fly, darker fly, small wet fly. I tried a few different flies and the quick answer from my scaly customer was no reply.

dry fly fishing for steelhead
Ally dry fly fishing for steelhead

Next morning, Gurgler is ginked up, I sit by the water’s edge, a new leader, down to a 2x tip this time, waiting for the light to change. My first cast towards the boulders, I can feel tingling in my spine, I can sense something as the fly hovers and starts to swing, no, no you cannot make predictions its imagination, one half of me is getting high and the other side is desperately trying to inject common sense, yesterday is gone, the fish has probably gone too. My heart answers maybe not! Gurgler is skating and sending a tiny rooster tail spray into a chisel hard V wake etched on the surface of the glide between the boulders. It must have been around here that fish took yester---’ “sploosh – whirr” a bolt of flying silver smashes the mirror surface the reel screams, rod bucks and line whizzes through the surface cutting like a knife. Another jump and another, each time I wonder at the strength and power of the sea run rainbow, these are not ordinary jumps, they are slow motion leaps or so they seem. My mind catches a point of light from every scale, thousands of sparkling water droplets are glued in my memory, each twist and somersault sends gallons of adrenaline through my viens, I’m shaking. Thirty yards distant through the boulder field another Olympian leap and then nothing. My line is slack a dangling string of what was triumph is untethered. Somewhat disappointed, I wind in line to discover that the steelhead liked the Gurgler so much that it kept it. Boulder fields, big steelhead and 2x leader it seems are incompatible. A lesson learnt and my first steelhead hooked on a dry fly was unforgettable.

Steelheading is the most demanding fly fishing that I know of. Most steelhead rivers have many miles of fishing available to the public and the main restrictions to access are natural obstacles such as rapids, waterfalls, gorges, cliffs or remote wilderness accessible only by helicopter. And there are many hazards, flash floods, forest fires and bears, everyone is very conscious of bears. Steelhead anglers go prepared for any foreseeable crisis; they have to, their lives may depend on it. Because it is affordable and challenging many younger anglers, fit guys in their twenties and thirties go steelhead fishing. They usually drive 4x4 trucks with boats on top or in trailers, wear Levi’s that they swap for fleece pants, thermal underwear and puffball sweaters under breathable waders and jackets. A more challenging and exciting form of fly fishing I have yet to find.

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Copyright 2007 Alastair Gowans AAPGAI and FFF Master and THCI, APGAI. All rights reserved.