Curing the Steelhead Blues
by Chris King
Last winter in California was a tough year to be a steelheader. After spending the better part of 2 decades on the water I find myself now answering phones and booking local trips at The Fly Shop®. This has turned me into a weekend warrior. Last winter it seemed as if every weekend was blown out as we received much needed rain coming out of a 6 year drought here in the north state. This winter is shaping up to be pretty similar. For us, winter steelhead fishing gets going after the first of the year. We have had very few windows of fishable conditions since then and another “atmospheric river” on deck for next week. It looks like this will be another summer of trout spey.
The pursuit of fish on the swing has taken me all over the world and I have taken my passion to the next level with a little help from the manufacturers of fly rods and lines in our industry. Our rods went from 14 foot 9 weights to progressively shorter and lighter offerings along the way. With a brief dabble in what we called switch rods, the trout Spey revolution has emerged. We now have dedicated two hand swing rods that are focused for trout. My favorite is an 11 foot 3 weight that is an absolute joy to cast and bucks like a prized bull with a 16 inch rainbow on the end. A day spent swinging this rod on the Upper Sac or McCloud is a day well spent. From soft hackles to lead eye sculpins, I can chuck it across the river and let her rip, waiting in anticipation for that epic grab.
Swinging flies is by far my favorite way to fish. Being tight to your fly, as opposed to dead drifting it, allows you to do many things. It allows you to vary the sink rate of your fly from top to bottom of the run. It allows you to vary the direction of your fly from swimming straight up stream to a cross current presentation to sometimes both in the same swing. And, of course, it gives you a direct connection for a positive hook set. Seeing a trout rise to a fly or watching your indicator twitch is exciting, but they both pale in comparison to the hard grab of a fish taking your fly while it’s under tension. Each and every time I make a swing, the level of anticipation I have is at a 10 out of 10. Being able to fish this style for trout anytime of the year allows me to pursue my quarry with my favorite method even when the steelhead gods and Mother Nature can’t agree.
This year I will be taking a few anglers with me to Alaska where in the third week of October I will be swinging flies for 4 – 8 pound plus trout on the Kvichak River, an incredible fishery in southwest Alaska. You’ll want to bring your 6 or 7 weight full spey for this trip as these fish act more like steelhead than river trout. I will also be teaching several clinics and extended day schools with the focus of Spey Casting here with The Fly Shop®. Give me a call if you would like to know more about the wonderful opportunities to branch out with your own passion for the swung fly.
(800) 669-3474 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Kvichak River, Alaska –
October 11 – 17, 2024 cost $6,150 / angler
I will be hosting a small group of anglers on the Kvichak River in Alaska to hunt for the elusive 30-inch rainbow. I have chosen this week as it is traditionally a week when all the monster trout of the Lake Iliamna watersheds make their way back down the river searching for the last morsels of the season.
After a summer of gorging on eggs up in their summer homes these fish will have been packing on the pounds and looking to add a few more as they anticipate a long winter under the ice. This time of year is prime time to chase the oversized trout by swinging flesh flies, streamers, sculpins and, in some cases, skated mouse patterns on top. This is a perfect situation to chase them with my favorite Spey rods.
Being late in the Alaskan season, this program on the Kvichak is a wonderful option as they access all of their fishing with jet boats and are not locked out by inclement weather. Much of the best fishing is right outside the front door. That means you can always return to the lodge for a quick warm up and a hot toddy if Mother Nature shows her teeth. And with the Kvichak being lake-born, we won’t get blown out.
3 Day Spey School on the Klamath River –
August 8 – 11, 2024 cost $2,300 / angler
The school is held at Gold River Lodge, on the estuary of the Klamath River, and is located in the center of coastal steelhead country. August and September are historically one of the best times to get out on the Klamath River with good returns of feisty half-pounders providing lots of action on the swung fly. Every steelhead returning to The Scott, New, Shasta, Salmon and Trinity Rivers passes directly in front of Gold River Lodge’s doorstep giving you the chance to be the first to put a fly in front of these anadromous fish. The broad, long riffles and gravel bars of the Lower Klamath are easy to wade making this the finest Spey classroom available anywhere.
Expert instructors are on hand to guide students through the course, and our high teacher-student ratio ensures a comfortable and personal atmosphere, with plenty of individual time and attention. An abundance of material is presented during the school and the practice sessions and lessons are presented in a fun and relaxed fashion – on the water.
Trout Spey Clinic –
April 27th cost $200 / angler
Swinging flies using a Spey or two handed rod is becoming more and more popular each season. The majority of fly fishers use two-handers to chase steelhead, sea-trout or salmon and extend their season chasing trout. Trout Spey is a great way to keep your skills up to snuff with the two handed rod when you can’t fish for their big brothers. These lighter rods are perfect for smaller rivers and creeks to target trout in a variety of situations similar to what you would encounter on a steelhead stream. The Trout Spey Clinic will get you up to speed to swing flies for trout using 3 – 5 weight two handed rods.
1 Day Spey Clinics –
November 8th and 9th cost $295 / angler
The Fly Shop® is excited to once again offer a Spey Casting Clinic on the Sacramento River in Redding.Your instructors will be Justin Miller and myself. As well as having guided anglers for over twenty years in pursuit of steelhead and salmon in northern California and Alaska, Justin avidly swings for “chrome” all over the world including Russia, Iceland, Argentina and Canada.
Each day’s program will start at 9:30 am at a broad gravel bar on the Sacramento River just south of Redding. The morning program will start with some informal discussions on Spey casting, followed by several hours of Spey casting demonstrations and one-on-one instruction.
We will break for lunch midday, which is a great opportunity to relax and pick my and Justin’s brain about all things related to anadromous fish. Specifically, we’ll discuss the important – and often mind-boggling – aspects of gear in Spey fishing, with a focus on rod, reel, and line combinations.
After lunch, the afternoon session will focus more on actual fishing applications when targeting steelhead or other anadromous fish such as salmon or sea-trout. Topics include, but aren’t limited to: heavy vs light flies, mending line, controlling your swing, presenting the fly to the fish, how a fish takes, and setting the hook when a fish takes on the swing, fighting and landing fish with a two-handed rod, and more.
If you are interested in joining me on my hosted trip in Alaska or attending any of the schools or clinics, please give me a call (800) 669-3474 or shoot me an email at email@example.com.
The Fly Shop®
FFI Master Certified Casting Instructor
Two Hand Master Certified Casting Instructor
Casting Board of Governors Member Emeritus