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Preparing for your first steelhead trip

How to Prepare for your First Steelheading Trip

The Bulkley/Morice Rivers happen to get one of the largest returns of steelhead in the world, and much of our water is picture perfect for spey fishing. This means we are very accessible to the person who wants to take there first steelhead, or spey fishing trip. Our guides are all incredible instructors and knowledgeable about our fishery. For those planning your first steelhead trip, let me offer some sound advice.

I can’t tell you how many people who plan their first trip to fly fish for steelhead go into those trips unprepared. Typically, they spend time and money at the local fly shop acquiring the gear – rods, reels, flies, new fly line, more flies – and not enough time paying attention to the most important thing – getting the fly to the fish.

First, and by far the most important - practice your casting. Many of the people who are taking their first Steelhead Spey fishing trip have fly fishing experience, but it’s all on trout streams or lakes. The big steelhead waters where we spey fish are a different ballgame altogether. There are numerous aspects to spey casting that I think are important when fishing for steelhead. All of them require practice. I recommend that as preparation for your trip you practice casting as often as you can for a month or so. 

When practicing your casting, the first consideration is distance. You should be able to cast 50 feet consistently, in calm or windy conditions. Find a local pond (local golf course is always good) or a stream if you have one. Even practicing your d loop on stillwater goes a long way in feeling comfortable with a spey rod. Just repetitively roll cast focusing on pulling and pushing with your bottom hand and watching your D loop behind you. Once you are comfortable and confident with this you will be well on your way to a successful trip. The guides will take you to the next level on moving water but you will feel much more comfortable with that month of practice.

Many people getting ready for their first steelhead fishing trip will want to get a new rod. My advice is that you not automatically go for the fast action rod. I think this is especially true for fly casters who are not accomplished at spey casting the longer distances needed for steelhead. This is because it takes more line in the D loop, to load a fast rod, and timing is much more critical. Timing and ‘feeling the rod load’ is often challenging for anglers just learning how to cast with spey rods. I recommend a medium to medium-fast action spey rod, and one that is no longer than 13 feet, or heavier than an 8 weight. Gone are the days of 15 foot 10 weight spey rods. 

In a more traditional action, timing is not as critical as the rod is quite forgiving. More importantly, you will be able to feel the rod load which is key when you are learning. There may be times when a fast rod might be preferred like windy conditions or when casting 80’ to reach a faraway slot but that will all come in time.

Therefore forget about the expensive polarized shades, the $15 fancy Rhea feather flies, the $1000 waders, and every gadget under the sun. Non of this is needed to catch fish, and most importantly, none of that really matters if you can’t get the fly to the fish. Spey casting is a lot of fun and will give you a much better shot of hooking and landing your first steelhead.