Fly Rods and Steelhead
Rick Stahl
Steelheader Contributor

 I pity the man that comes easy to the sport of steelheading. This is the guy we've all heard about, the one that buys a fiberglass fly rod and on the first day, before he has figured out how to use it, lands a trophy steelhead of over twenty pounds.
 On one hand you might think that the poor fellow would be hooked for life, but really, where does he have to go after a fish like that? Imagine if he caught that fish on a dry fly! The lost soul may as well hang up his chunk of fiberglass and pick up golf.
 The true and proper way to become obsessed with the square tail takes years of pounding empty water and miles of river trails. The best steelheaders I know have been quoted that the fewer steelhead they catch, the more they fish.
We'd all like to catch a few fish every time out but I think that would take away from times we actually do land one. I mean what if every few casts resulted in a violent take from a hot steelhead? They would be no better than maybe a Pink or Chum salmon. No, steelhead are fish of a thousand casts and rightly so.
Most good steelheaders are well rounded fishermen. With this I mean that when they can't fish for steelies they will fish for other species of sport fish. In fact the best rods I know came to steelheading after going through the learning process with other fish.
My first squaretail came innocently enough in my eleventh year. I was fishing for cutts in a small stream close to my home with a nine foot fiberglass fly rod and a jar of single eggs. I fished with no weight, a floating line and a short leader. The technique was simple, pierce the eggs onto the small hook, pendulum swing them into the current and allow them to drift naturally with the current.
This particular stream, as with most small streams, was filled with weeds and obstructions. In those days cutts were plentiful and the limit was liberal. I was cleaning up on the little slash throats when suddenly the rod was nearly jerked from my hands. I couldn't allow the fish to fight too much as he would surely tangle in the weeds. I did the only thing I could and yarded on the fish until it lay ten feet up the bank. Promptly it received a headache from the closet rock I could find.
Gleaming and proud I rode home that night with a stringer full of cutthroat and the biggest trout of my life jammed in the rat trap of my bike. I had no idea that I had just caught my first steelhead, as far as I was concerned, this was a large lost rainbow trout, which some how found its way into the creek. It wasn't until a few years later that I realized what I had caught and killed and it wasn't for a few more years that I caught another.
Steelhead now hold a very special place in my heart. I had to graduate from specie to specie and fishing method to method before I finally settled on fly fishing for steelhead as the pinnacle. It began with a bobber and worm for squaw fish and crappie, to a spinner for trout and then onto a fly. Next came a bar rod for salmon, followed by a drift rod and then again a fly. Somewhere in there I came onto sturgeon and lowly carp as well as large mouth Bass.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that steelhead are harder to catch than others. In fact when in the right conditions, they are probably one of the easiest fish to catch. I think for me what makes them so special is the method that I get to use and the beautiful places they call home. There simply is nothing better, in my mind, than feeling the hard
aggressive take of a hot steelhead. Especially after having fished a beautiful river, often for many fruitless hours and enduring the mental game of not hooking fish.
  True, I still spend more time searching for others species of fish but I cannot think of another that will ever fulfill the spirit and mind the way that the steelhead does.

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