Most wade fishermen like to use the classic swing
techniques that cover the most water, get the most exciting grabs and are
suitable for fishing the relatively shallow water of the riffles that are
found near the parking accesses. Swinging
streamer style flies is by far the most popular technique for winter
Steelheaders. Swing technique
allows you to cover the most water and it is the best way to get grabs
from those fish that hold right at the drop offs.
Fishermen in drift boats however have access to some of the deeper
slots that hold the fresher traveling fish and consequently use indicator
nymphing techniques along with swing techniques when in the shallower
stretches. There are two
kinds of swing fishermen, those that fish the drop offs at the head of
riffles and those who swing through fish sitting on or just below reds.
Now don’t jump to the conclusion that those fishing near the reds
are ripping the lips off of females that are trying to spawn.
Though that is sometimes the case, the responsible fishermen are
targeting the males that are sitting just downstream from her.
The key is to not swing to the males you can see, but swing through
the slots and depressions downstream from the redd, providing there are no
redds located there. If you
think you might disturb the hen, then don’t cast.
As mentioned above, one of the most successful techniques for
locating fish is to look for slots and seams down stream from spawning
areas as the scent being emitted from the spawning beds attracts lots of
fish. Experienced American
River Steelhead fishermen have learned to walk the bluffs that rise over
known Steelhead holding water and look for fish down below.
Steelhead often develop a white fungus on their heads after being
in fresh water for awhile, so if one spots what looks like a white rock
moving upstream it is a very good chance that it is a Steelhead.
To swing for winter fish, most fishermen use a
conventional 9 foot 8 or 9 weight rod.
For “half pounders” a five or six weight rod is adequate. The spey rodders prefer 7 and 8 weight 13 foot rods or 10
foot switch rods. A Typical set up will be some kind of sink tip
arrangement with about a five foot leader.
Sink tip set ups can consist of a conventional sink tip line (sink
rate to be determined by the water depth) or floating line with a sinking
leader such as Rio’s Powerflex.
Leader material is usually 8 lb. fluorocarbon and set up with two
flies. The anchor fly is a
heavily weighted nymph or streamer with a glow bug dropper tied about
eighteen inches below it. Some
fishermen reverse the order. Earlier in the season you get more grabs on
the nymph and later in the season you get more grabs on the glow bug.
Some substitute comet style traditional streamers for the nymph or
just fish the streamer all by itself.
For dead drift indicator fishing, the rigging is similar except that a
floating line is used along with the two fly setup.
A nine foot leader tapered to 3X with a 3X (8 lb) fluorocarbon
tippet and two flies about eighteen inches apart is the most popular set
up. As with the swinging set
up, the two fly rig also consists of a heavily weighted nymph and a glow
bug. I personally like to go
with a more realistic nymph on the dead drift rig and a more flashy nymph
on the swinging rig. Extra
weight is added to the knot just above the anchor nymph as you are usually
fishing fast and deep slots when dead drifting, and because of that you
need a large strike indicator to support it.
Long time guide Bill Lowe says “if
I’m going to be indicator fishing I want an indicator that floats well,
casts well, is highly visible, and easy to adjust. Using the 1-1/2
times the water’s depth rule as a guide-line, I’ll start with the
indicator attached just into the butt-end of the tapered leader and then
add tippet to get my desired length. I’ll then add 1-1/2 feet of
tippet, followed by the top fly, then another 1-1/2 feet of tippet to the
dropper.” Heavy adjustable hard foam strike indicators such
as Micro-Balls, Pop-Tops and Tipper Indicators. all come in sizes that
will support the extra weight and also make it easier to load the rod for
roll casts. Large yarn
indicators, though easy to see, are terrible to cast.
Half Pounder set ups are similar to those for
traditional trout fishing. Half
Pounders are actively feeding during their visit so typical double fly
nymph rigs under an indicator work well.
Early season (September) Half Pounders, will actively feed on
evening Caddis and a little later in the Fall they take advantage of the
Baetis that are starting to show so traditional dry fly rigs are effective
A good number of American River fly fishermen use swinging
techniques on Half Pounders too. A
two fly nymph rig will consist of a nine foot tapered to 4X, then a
separate twelve inch section of 4X fluorocarbon tippet that is tied to a
heavily weighted anchor fly. To
its bend tie in another eighteen inches of 4x fluorocarbon and then your
dropper fly. Split shot is
placed above the knot that attaches the tapered leader to the tippet.
This is big water so don’t be shy about using lots of weight.
As with the winter steelhead rig, heavier strike indicators such as
¾” Micro-Ball Indicators and Pop-Tops, or
medium (½”) and large (1 ¼”) Tipper Indicators both support
lots of weight and make roll casting easier as they help lode the line.
Dry fly fishing doesn’t require a sophisticated set up.
A nine foot tapered leader tapered to 5X with a foot or two of 5X
mono is adequate. For
swinging you can use a sink tip line, but most just use a floating line
with a nine foot tapered leader with 4X mono for the tippet.
Split shot can be attached at the knot where the leader is tied to
the tippet. I like to tie in
the fly about two feet from the split shot, though this can vary depending
on the weight of the fly. On
longer tippets you can use heavier flies.
Flies are pretty straight forward. Popular streamers for winter Steelhead are Wooly Buggers and
Articulated Leaches in Olive, Black, Purple and Rust in sizes #6 and #8.
Comets (various colors with black being the traditional favorite)
size #8 and #10. and the
double beaded Black Knight.
Streamer fly success is mostly about presentation, color, size and
movement and not necessarily the actual shape of the bug.
Glow Bugs patterns are a part of every double fly rig and popular
styles are “Fox’s Fertilizer” and Hanley’s Furled Alevin for later
in the season.
swinging a Bird’s Nest or a soft hackle can be effective.
Fox’s Pupah in tan and olive is a popular fly for swinging on the
American and most other rivers in the valley.
Flies for dead drift indicator rigs include heavily weighted
versions of flies such as the Prince Nymph and the Double Down
Caddis (larva) as the an anchor fly. The important thing is that it be heavy.
The dropper should resemble whatever bug is the most common that
time of the year so for Caddis pupa a good call would be Fox’s (Rick)
“Radical Caddis”, or Vinci’s “Gas Caddis”.
For Mayfly the good old Pheasant Tail in sizes #16-#18 or Sloan’s
“Mity Mite Baetis” are popular, and last but not least “Shafer’s
3D Nymph” is very successful on the American.
Steelhead fishing in an urban area means that there is lodging available priced to accommodate anyone’s pocket book. Same goes for dining. Being that Sacramento is loaded with historical sites, ones non fishing spouse could be well entertained for the day visiting the many museums, shopping and dining establishments around town. If you want to fish for Steelhead in an environment with a little different ambience than you would normally associate with the sport, the American River will provide an experience that can be found nowhere else.