When I arrive at the stream and find a good flow and the perfect color, I may use the same flies but increase the sizes a bit. Instead of a size #14, go with #12—same with the dropper, bump it up to #14.
Also you may want to increase your tippet diameter. I suggest fishing with the heaviest tippet that conditions permit. Steelhead are big and strong, so use every advantage you can. I’d also increase the amount of weight to get my flies to the desired depth. You want your flies in the strike zone as long as possible, and the correct amount of weight will make that happen.
Another good technique in moderate flow is to use a strike indicator. This not only helps detect subtle strikes, but also allows you to control the depth of your flies. Once again, keep your flies in the strike zone as long as possible, that way your entire drift is effective.
My personal favorite steelhead technique is fishing streamers, when conditions are right. When the water is a little high and stained a B.H. Woolly Bugger can do amazing things. I fish them in many different colors, my favorite being white, then black, then olive, in that order. When fished properly under the right conditions, there’s no telling how many hook-ups you may have. I have caught more steel on this fly than any other in my box.
Although this fly can be fished in any water conditions, adjusting your presentation to the conditions is important.
For moderate water conditions, I like to dead drift just like a nymph. Because of the size, color and materials used for this fly, its natural presentation is effective.
In low water I like to strip the fly in traditional fashion. This will make up for lack of flow, and usually triggers strikes from your bigger, more aggressive fish.
When the water is fast, I like to slow-twitch this fly during the dead drift, adding extra movement which entices the fish nicely.
I also have good success fishing buggers on the swing. The extra speed you achieve at the end of the drift, triggers very aggressive strikes. If you don’t fish buggers often, try it! You won’t be disappointed; this is a great weapon to add to your steelhead arsenal.
Another tip, is to make sure you have a good fly selection. Be prepared for the different conditions you may encounter. Egg patterns and Crystal Meth flies work great, but think outside of the box. Throw some different patterns in the mix—try black Hares Ears, Copper Johns, in any color wire you can find. Maybe even try the Steelhead Hammer. (Great pattern! Look it up online!) There are a ton of good patterns out there via the world wide web, use the information at your finger tips.
Now for a couple tips for fishing the Erie tributaries…The first and most important tip, “don’t get stuck with the crowds.” If there are a lot of people, that‘s a good indication of pressured fish, who often get lockjaw. Make sure you stay mobile and leave your options open. If you’re willing to walk, you’ll find and catch fish!
Remember to fish the river thoroughly, even cover water the other anglers pass up. Just because you can’t see fish or there’s not a group of people fishing that area, does not mean there are no fish holding in that location. Take your time and make a few casts and you might be surprised. Fish the pocket water and the riffs, if it looks like it could hold a fish, try it!
One of my last tips is for high muddy water, which can be a horrible sight for anglers arriving to the river, especially if you have driven hours to get there—give it a chance. Stay on the bank and look to fish the slack water. Steelhead will move up-river in short bursts, then will duck out of the current to rest. Metalheads will often hang close to the banks and will use anything that will break the current for relief. Fish behind any structures that are visible and close to the bank. Use large, bright, highly visible flies. This might save the day and help you get some steel on the line.
There are many good tributaries stretching from Ohio across Pennsylvania and into New York State, and up through Canada. As you make your way around the lake, be willing to try different techniques. You don’t know what’s going to work until you try. Adjusting to conditions and overcoming the obstacles thrown at you by Mother Nature, will make you a better steelheader.