Chasing the Dream
Chris King

Winter steelhead on a swung fly is one of the top thrills you can experience with a fly rod in hand. Every winter we look to the skies and hope for that perfect amount of liquid to bring our rivers in Northern California to the right level, color and depth that encourages the salt-cured, sea-run rainbow monsters to return every year during this magical time.

Chris King with a California coastal steelheadThe grey, green water of winter is something every steelheader longs for. It is those early misty mornings that bring a skip to your heartbeat as the light starts to hit the gravel bar and you get a peek of what the river will give you on the drop after a storm. Your brain calculates variables such as the high tide the night before that carried in a fresh run of silver bullets, what fly to pick for the conditions, length and density of tip, and leader strength and length.

Chasing winter steelhead is not for the numbers-minded angler. It is for those who look for the jolt of adrenaline that comes from a freight train crushing your fly on a tight line. It is for those who would rather hear the high-pitched squeal of line being peeled off the reel, which wakes them from daydreaming about the surrounding redwoods and  all the amazing things and events they have witnessed and endured in their lifetime. It is for those who find tranquility in feeling the flow of the river brush around their legs as they make cast after cast and step after step down the run.

The time for us to live out these dreams in Northern California happens from the first winter storms in January through March. The rivers on our western border swell with the much-needed rainfall they receive and invite steelhead to return to their native streams for their spawning migration. During their migration they find resting spots along the way where anglers who are in the right spot at the right time can swing a fly to encourage them to take.

Several of our guides share this passion of the pursuit of winter’s ghosts on a Spey rod. These trips are conducted in the “Lost Coast” region of Northern California, and the scenery alone is worth the trip. Launching flies into the giant runs of these coastal rivers with the Redwoods as your backdrop is an incredible experience. For the lucky, connecting with one of these rare specimens is worth the travel, the biting wet cold, leaky waders and numb feet, and the sore shoulder from the thousands of unsuccessful casts.

Our guides have a line on where these fish are located in their migration and which rivers are in the best condition for swinging flies off a double-handed rod. Many of them have the steelhead bug themselves, and spend a large part of the winter chasing these fish on their time off as well as on guided trips.

Chris King with a California coastal steelheadIf you are looking for that epic journey in an environment that is one of the most beautiful regions in California, give us a call, and we can help put together a great experience for you on California’s Lost Coast chasing the elusive winter steelhead on a swung fly.

Of course, we still run nymphing trips as well during this timeframe on both the coast and our inland rivers. With the recent rainfall, the Trinity and Klamath rivers will be kicking out great numbers of steelhead for those who prefer the most productive method of fishing with a fly rod. Now is the time to book your winter steelhead adventure.

Chris King
FFI Master and Two Hand Certified Casting Instructor
The Fly Shop®
(800) 669-3474 / (530) 222-3555 /