​Fly Fishing vs. Spin Fishing for Steelhead: Which Will Work Best For You?

By: FishUSA Staff

October 21, 2022

It's the age-old question; which is a more effective technique for targeting Great Lakes steelhead? I'm here to tell you, it's a horse a piece, each one has major benefits.

Fly fishing can be an absolutely killer technique in low, clear water. Sizing down your tippet, fishing the faster-moving pieces of water, and using small weightless flies can be a dynamite tactic. The reason fly fishing can be so effective is because of the subtleness of the technique. Traditionally, most flies for steelhead are a weightless attractor that flows freely with the current, typically imitating a small nymph, egg, or dead minnow. The trick is, getting your flies to drift naturally, imitating all of the natural forage. Fresh fish, also referred to as a “Chromer” cannot resist an imitation of a dead minnow. When those fish are first coming out of the lake and entering the stream, it's hard to beat patterns like the White Death and Karl’s Little Precious as well as the famous Woolly Bugger. Once the fish start to reside in the river for a period of time, their diet quickly starts to change to the natural bugs and eggs that are most plentiful at that time. A black stonefly with a gold bead-head takes a copious amount of steelies throughout the season. But, the fly that steelhead are most willing to gulp is the egg pattern. Eggs are plentiful throughout the tributaries during steelhead season. Steelhead feed on the eggs, giving them a shot of protein that helps them propel themselves through the rapids. But, they are also highly competitive creatures, they are willing to eat each other's eggs in order for their eggs to survive. Egg patterns like the Blooddot, Scrambled Eggs, and even trout beads can be absolute hammers in the midseason.

Using an indicator is incredibly important to being successful on the stream. Not only does the float indicate bites, but it also indicates the speed of your flies in a drift. Meticulously watching your indicator can speak volumes, it can tell you when your flies are to the proper depth, bottom composition, and especially drifting speed.

Fly fishing is spectacular in fast water situations because you do not have to reel in in order to make a new drift. This is a massive advantage to using a fly rod vs. spinning rod. You can punch through the current, make your fast drift and recast with ease to make a new drift. Fly fishing in the deep pools can be effective also, but that is where spin fishing/float fishing shines.

Deep slow pools are a float fisherman's dream, being able to fish a bobber and make very long drifts. Also, having a vertical presentation and being able to control the speed of your float means all the difference. Spin fishing is how many of us started, and it has proved successful throughout the decades. Egg sacks may be the fan-favorite choice for steelhead. Cure your eggs how you like them the best, tie them in some mesh and you are fishing! Egg sacks may be an absolute go-to, but a marabou jig can outshine eggs on some days. Marabou is many anglers' choice of material because it has “life”. Once wet, marabou has a slow, undulating movement under the surface that steelhead just cannot deny!

Float fishing, as stated before is at its most effective in streams with deeper pools. Float fishing, being more of a vertical presentation, requires depth to be most efficient. One of the main reasons to float fish is to be able to use a tactic called “trotting”. Trotting your floats means to kick your bait out in front of your presentation while drifting downstream. To get the maximum amount of bites throughout the day, it's key to keep your presentation stealthy by not letting the fish see your mainline or terminal tackle.

Float fishing with a fixed float is absolutely deadly if you can get your “Trot” dialed down. Having your float, your split shot, and your barrel swivels all on your heavy, easy-to-see mainline is the most important step. Then having your light fluorocarbon and small hook as your leader towards the end of your rig keeps your bait stealthy. Trotting is giving your float a small amount of resistance so the speed of the stream “kicks'' your bait in front of your rig. Steelhead traditionally sit with their head upstream and wait for food to move downstream so they can eat it right up. If you had your float rig drifting downstream and not “trotting” your float, the fish would see your float, split shot, and your main line before they would see your light line and small jig or egg sack. We also refer to trotting as “backing it into their face”. So slowing down your float and your split shot enough to make your bait go down stream so the fish sees your hook before your rig.

Hopefully this is a great season for all fisherman no matter what technique you use. Make sure to check out all of these great products on FishUSA.com

Jake Schneider