Fly fishing in fresh water for salmon is probably the greatest challenge there is when it comes to landing these ocean-going fish. Even though salmon steelhead fishing is notoriously difficult when it comes to getting them to bite on a fly, most fishers consider one catch in a whole day of well worth the effort and the bragging rights that come with it. Of course, novice fishers will not understand the big deal about landing one steelhead on a freshwater fly cast, but you can rest assured that experienced fishers will understand the real feat you accomplish.
These game fish are often caught casting in the ocean, but in most ways these ocean dwellers are vastly different animals than the ones that are found in freshwater. Spawning salmon, including steelhead and both the Atlantic and Pacific varieties, eat only occasionally if at all while migrating, so the food instinct is not something the fisher can count on to make them rise to the fly. The gear (including bait and tackle) needed to have a successful freshwater experience is thus totally different than that used either for true freshwater species or for saltwater fish.
When you look at flies used for freshwater casting, you will probably wonder what the heck they are modeled after. Most freshwater fishing flies take on the shape of various insects or larvae that the fish will bite on, while casting in saltwater will mean fish-imitating bait. The flies used as bait for salmon steelhead fishing in freshwater don’t look like anything at all. They are not designed to impersonate a food source of the fish, since most of them going back upstream aren’t eating anyway. Instead, they are created with the idea of either annoying the fish or arousing its curiosity in mind.
One exception to the rule is fly fishing for kokanee. Kokanee typically live in deeper fresh water, but like all species they do have a spawning instinct that tells them to move when it is time to mate. They can often be caught on flies that do resemble prey species, as they will eat when spawning. The most successful flies are nymphs, especially when attached to a lighter line that allows the fly to rise in the water, imitating the behavior of real nymphs. Kokanee can also be caught year round in fresh water habitats through trolling with bait such as roe and wet flies on a downrigger set up.
Once you do get one of these finicky fish to bite on a freshwater cast, you will understand why a landing s prized so highly. The rods and reels used for freshwater are often the same as those used for freshwater species (composed of graphite, and if you are salmon steelhead fishing you will probably want a stronger model), but no freshwater fish ever fights quite the same as having one of these specimens on the line. Be ready to fight these fish for every inch; even the small kokanee can take up to half an hour to land on a fly fishing set up.
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