B.C. Boat and Sportsmen's Show
Fly Fishing Steelhead a “Spring Primer”

by Tony Nootebos owner, Harrison Bay Guided Services

With the beginning of March comes the peak of the Steelhead season in the Fraser valley and most of our local rivers have large returns of both Hatchery and Wild Steelhead. The Vedder River is by far the most popular Steelhead River in the Fraser Valley, and although it is crowded on occasion it produces more fish than any other tributary to the Fraser River in region 2. The Vedder or Chilliwack River as it is known as in its upper reaches are a great place to begin your search for your first Steelhead on a fly!

Although Steelhead can be taken on a fly 12 months of the year it is the late winter and warmer spring months that provide the best chance at a winter run fish. In the dead of winter the water is a few degrees cooler and the fish are less likely to move around and chase moving bait, but as the water begins to warm up the Steelhead become much more active and are more likely to chase a fly. It is during the months of March and especially April when your best chance of success will occur. By April the typical crowds of winter Steelhead fishers begin to thin out allowing better access to the most productive runs and in many cases the most aggressive of the winter run Steelhead. As long as you can cast a fly 25 to 40 feet and get it down to the desired depth, you will eventually hook up with Mr. Ironhead.
Lets recap! We know British Columbia’s Fraser Valley has a great winter Steelhead fishery, the large majority of fish return to the Vedder / Chilliwack River system, and the best time to target them on the fly is March and especially April. Now let’s talk about how to get set up for your quest of Steelhead on the fly!

There are many choices when it comes to fly rods, reels, and choices of fly lines, the price of a complete set up will vary from $250.00 right up to $2500.00. For our local rivers a single handed fly rod in an 8 or 9 weight will do fine. I prefer a fast action rod that allows me to cast into the wind and throw heavier sink tip lines. Personally I use the 8 weight Sage XP in a length of 9 ft 9 inches, but there are many other good rod manufactures offering comparable rods in a variety of price ranges.

Fly reels like rods come in a variety of sizes and styles but the most important factors to consider are spool size and drag smoothness. There is nothing and I mean nothing more frustrating than hooking up with a nice Steelhead only to have your reel jam on you breaking off what may have been your first trophy! I recommend a large arbor reel that will hold an 8 weight fly line and 150 yards of backing with a drag system that provides smooth service even in cold freezing conditions. The large arbor of the reel provides a smoother drag and does not allow the fly line to coil or retain its memory as much as smaller more traditional fly reels.

The Fly lines you choose can make all the difference between a good day on the river and a frustrating experience with your inability to get the fly to the desired distance or depth. If you plan to become efficient in the art of Fly Fishing for Steelhead it is important to have a variety of fly lines or fly line options in your arsenal. I recommend buying what is called a Quad Tip, Four – Piece Floating/Sinking-Tip System made by Scientific s, it will provide you with the tools to handle just about any condition on our local waters. The Quad Tip set up consists of the following.

A small diameter running line to attach the tips
1 x 15 foot floating tip (slow moving or shallow runs)
1 x 15 foot Type1 slow sinking clear tip (slow moving or waters less than 3 ft deep)
1 x 15 foot Type3 moderate sinking wet tip (medium flow with waters to 5 ft)
1 x 15 foot Type5 extra fast sinking wet tip (medium to fast flowing waters to 8 ft)
This fly line system will cost roughly $150.00 but it will be well worth the investment!

Choice of fly is probably the least important factor in realizing success on a fly rod, although there are some flies that out produce others, on most days there are several flies that will fool a Steelhead. Even though there are times that a winter fish will go for a dry fly, 99% of winter fish are taken below the surface, and because of those odds most people rarely fish Dry flies in the winter months. Personally I like to fish weighted marabou or rabbit strip patterns in a variety of colors including pink, orange, white, and black with sizes # 4 and # 6 being my preferred choice. In April the use of minnow patterns can be popular and quite effective especially in the lower river. On more than one occasion while Cutthroat fishing with minnow patterns I have had Steelhead grab the fly leaving me out matched with my 5 weight!

The entire River has many different runs, riffles, and pools, but most of the fly fishers choose to fish the lower river from the Bailey bridge at Vedder crossing down to the Keith Wilson Bridge where the river meets the canal. There are many sources for information on Fly Fishing the Fraser Valley, but Fred’s Custom Tackle in Chilliwack is a great place to start. Located right in Vedder Crossing only a stones throw from the River is the 2500 square foot shop offering a great selection of everything for the fisherman including an awesome selection of Steelhead flies, great advice,, and an up to the minute fishing report. You can hire a teaching guide to get you started, or just pick up a map of the river showing where the hot spots are. You can reach them at 1-800-663-779

Come and enjoy what beautiful British Columbia has to offer, visit the Fraser valley for your next world class fishing adventure!
Tight lines
Tony Nootebos @ www.harrisonbay.com
Harrison Bay Guided Services
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