When the leaves start to tint with orange and yellow and the breeze turns crisp, anglers become obsessed with the pursuit of steelhead.
In Pennsylvania, the steelhead run peaks around Thanksgiving, and in Ohio it’s even later, coming after the New Year’s holiday. The first signs of these fish come much sooner, however! These behemoths from the depths of the Great Lakes start to show themselves in late September, and for many the urge to go after these fish is unbearable. Unfortunately, anglers that target steelhead in these early months often end up disappointed and frustrated!
One of the most challenging aspects of early season steelheading is the water conditions. Streams are often extremely low and clear throughout September and October. This makes the fish easy to spot, but incredibly wary. A key to finding success in this early season is to go early. Experienced steelheaders will find that most of their success comes in the pre-dawn light when the fish briefly let their guard down.
Another difficult part of early season steelheading is the number of fish in the tributaries. With each rain, more and more fish enter the waterways. The trouble is that in September and October there might only be one or two rain events that will bring in a run. This results in few fish being in the streams, and those that are in will be located in the lower portions of the drainages close to the lake. That means anglers have to walk to find fish, and when they do find a pod, anchor down and work it hard. Early season fish are often few and far between, so make those shots count when you find them!
This is tough to do because the fish are so big! Early season steelhead are full of spunk and vigor, noted by their powerful runs and acrobatic attempts to throw the hook. While anglers will want to use stiff leader and tippet in the 1X and 2X variety, the low and clear conditions call for something much lighter. Fluorocarbon leader and tippet in 3X and 4X will result in more hookups in this early season even if it means a few break-offs!
Getting out in pursuit of steelhead early is one of fly fishing’s greatest pleasures. Having the chance to catch these amazing specimens while wearing only a t-shirt is a unique and memorable experience. Keep these tips in mind to ensure that the early season season outing is full of fun and smiling pictures holding bright chromers fresh from the lake!