Destined to become a steelheader

by Ray Blades | March 31, 2015

Ray Blades Growing up along Lake Ontario’s north shore, with easy access to creeks, streams, and rivers with abundant steelhead runs, especially during the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was inevitable that I was to become a steelheader.

A youth spent bottom-bouncing night crawlers quickly turned into a passion for fly fishing and everything steelhead. High-stick nymphing Montana stoneflies led to, for the lack of a better term, drift-swinging Woolly Buggers and other streamer-type patterns. An up-and-across cast would set up a drift that would get the fly deep for the swing across at the end of the manoeuvre. While most anglers were keeping watch on floats, the steelhead grab on taut line was unmistakable, and, for some, life altering.

It was by trial and error that my knowledge of steelhead and how to fly fish for them grew. Over the years, that passion has not died but grown stronger. And I try to devour anything on the subject of fly fishing for steelhead. Here are a couple offerings worthy of your attention.

Striking steel
I had the pleasure of fishing with Michigan steelhead guide Kevin Feenstra last year on the Muskegon River — see “Michigan’s mighty Mo,” pg. 94, in OOD’s 2015 Fishing Annual.

You’d be hard pressed to find a nicer guide to spend a day with. I’d actually like to spend a week with him on his home water. I’m sure I’d return much the wiser. Anyway, if I can’t spend a week with Feenstra, I can do the next best thing and use my river downtime watching his new DVD, Striking Steel.

The DVD is an extension of his personality: reassuring, entertaining, and informative. Feenstra highlights his insights into reading water, daily and seasonal weather changes, and the tactics and fly patterns he has developed to connect with fish. He also demonstrates several of his established patterns, including his Shrew sculpin pattern that has served me well, both in Michigan and my home waters.
MSRP: $34.95 USD (View the trailer here.)

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Wild steelhead
If you are at all interested in the history and lore of fly fishing for steelhead, you need to get your hands on Sean M. Gallagher’s book Wild Steelhead — The Lure and Lore of a Pacific Northwest Icon.

Is it pricy at $150? Yes. But, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. It’s a two-volume, hardcover set, with a slipcase, and 673 pages of more than 1,000 photographs and illustrations on quality stock — and quality content is there to match.

Gallagher takes us on his own personal steelhead journey, one of an angler, conservationist, and historian. One of the great threads that weaves its way through the narrative is his relationship with his mother, an avid angler and the person, among others, responsible for his steelhead journey.

Although not a how-to book, you cannot help but learn from the tales told. The heart of the book is a series of “around the campfire” chats with anglers who pioneered the sport from California to British Columbia. Most of the history and tales would have been lost if not for Gallagher’s efforts to put them to print.
MSRP: $150 USD

Wild Steelhead