How to Catch More Great Lakes Steelhead

One of the many benefits of fishing is that it allows you to meet so many talented and passionate anglers. This summer, I was lucky enough to meet stellar fisherman and Postfly Ambassador, Hunter Klobucar. While we spent our time fishing for brook trout, Hunter’s specialty is East Coast Steelhead. As the crisp winter months came and my Instagram feed became filled with picture after picture of Hunter’s Steelies, I decided to get the low down from him on how to catch these awesome fish. Here are some East Coast Winter Steelhead basics to get you started!

What is the best time of year to fish for East Coast Steelhead?

Well, that is extremely dependent on the rainfall. Precipitation dictates the water conditions (height, flow, watercolor, turbidity) and the most ideal water conditions are typically when the water levels are dropping after a big rain--this brings a perfect green/turquoise tint to the color of the water. Usually, you’ll find these conditions in late October to the end of December into early January.

How do you locate these fish?

Approach the stream as you would for any other trout—work the water starting close to you and fish your way across to the other side until you pick up fish. If the water conditions are lower, look for dark shadows or the moving tails of the fish. The fresh steelhead blend in really well with the rock of the streams so pay really close attention. I've found that you'll catch the big steelhead in big holes, faster riffle runs after those holes and they love to situate themselves right below waterfalls.
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What are your key tactics for catching steelhead?

If I had to say anything it would be to make sure you cover water. Start on a stretch and hike miles up and down—you can make an entire half day out of this and it can be really successful. Make sure to hit pockets that most people would walk past, you’ll often pick up a fish that was overlooked. Another favorite tactic for low and clear water is to use 4lb Fluorocarbon, put a small single egg or a fly with some subtle movement and drift it with no weight. Let it drift naturally to the fish that you see. You may have to make a long cast upstream to get the fly to drift down to the correct depth, but it's worth it. Other important tips are to constantly be sneaky, make good repeated drifts and always read every part of the water.

What is your ideal setup for steelhead?

I normally use a 7-8wt 9’ rod with plenty of backing. I couple that with fluorocarbon, egg patterns, stoneflies, woolly buggers, sucker spawns, crystal meth and a yellow Kaufmann Stone stonefly (all typically size 10). You can also get a lot of great Steelhead-specific patterns with a monthly Postfly Box subscription, that is where I have found a lot of my most productive flies.

What do you think of fishing trout beads?

Peg beads, but peg them correctly. Trout beads are a very effective way to catch fish. I peg an inch to an inch-and-a-half away from the hook or fly to ensure the hook set will be in the fish’s mouth every time. The reason you will get foul hook situations is either that you are too slow on your hooksets or because your peg is too far from the hook or fly. With my setup, it gets them in the mouth every time.
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Steelhead put up a serious fight, what is your best advice for getting them into a net?

Always keep your rod bent and stay tight to the fish at all times is my best advice. Don’t leave any slack in the line or the fish will most likely pop off. If the fish is running upstream, apply opposite pressure to turn the fish and vice versa. If the fish takes a big run, let it run and have the drag do the work. A lot of people break off because the fish will make a big run and they will keep reeling and apply too much pressure. Let the fish play itself and tire itself out. The more fish you catch the better you’ll be at getting them to the net.

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