By Captain Dave Steeves
It’s the most wonderful time of year. No, not Christmas…it’s steelhead fishing in November. Each November, I head to upstate New York with a group of buddies to chase chrome. Chrome are Steelhead that are bright silver in color and enter the tributaries of Lake Ontario in the early Fall. These fish are bright and colorful and fresh to the river. They’re ferocious fighters pushing any angler and their gear to the limit!
We wake up every morning at 4 am to prep and head out for a long day on the water. We fill the thermos, layer in merino wool and GoreTex. Chasing chrome is not for the faint at heart. Wading in 30-40 degree water and braving the elements (wind, snow and rain) for 10 hours can be both mentally and physically challenging. Chasing chrome is fun, challenging and rewarding. Landing just one fish a day is considered a successful day! Believe me, there’s plenty of days when you don’t feel a fish but it doesn’t matter. Chasing chrome is a passion and addiction that all steelhead anglers live and breathe together.
It’s so important to be on the river early. It pays dividends. During the low light hours, fresh chromers will move and transition into the river. It’s during the first half hour after sunrise these fish are most aggressive and eager to eat. As the sun gets higher and more anglers work the river, the fishing gets tougher. We call this pressure. Steelhead are smart. They don’t like pressure. They prefer solitude. They seek undercut banks, submerged logs and boulders for shelter and protection from us and other predators. These are great areas to target. We call this structure.
Our most recent trip to the Salmon River was challenging but rewarding. We fished hard for two days. We didn’t hook or land a ton of fish but we landed our biggest fish. We did better than most anglers because we were persistent and flexible with how we approached the fish. We were the first ones on the river, we covered a lot of water and adapted to the conditions. Both days we fished, the river saw a lot of pressure. The water was low and clear so we stepped down our leader diameter and test. Once we dropped from 6 to 4 pound we started getting more hook-ups than the anglers around us. We changed flies and colors often and paid close attention to each drift. We fished with confidence.
There weren’t a lot of fish in the river. In fact, everyone we talked to complained about how tough the fishing was. That’s steelhead fishing for you.
I caught two of my biggest steelhead on a size 10 Rushers Nymph in the color Chartreuse. Both fish were hooked in the same exact spot on Friday and Saturday afternoon, contrary to the early morning bite theory. We estimated they weighed between 15 to 17 pounds. They were landed on 4 lb. test using a 10 foot, 7 weight fly rod with a floating running line. We don’t use the purist of fly fishing methods, but its effective. We call it the chuck and duck approach. We add split shot to the 10 foot leader system to help keep constant contact with the bottom. It’s important to tick the bottom keeping the fly in the strike zone. Too much weight you’ll snag and not enough weight, you’ll drift the fly over their heads.
I’m already thinking about next years trip. We call this trip “a poor mans Alaska.” It’s only a 6 ½ hour drive from the Cape. It’s inexpensive and offers world class steelhead fishing from Fall through the Spring. We stay in a lodge five minutes from the river for only $35.00/pp a night. I highly recommend drifting the river in a drift boat with an experienced guide if it’s your first time. They charge $300/day and it’s a wise investment to help you catch your first chrome. Good luck and tight lines!