Published April 06, 2008, 12:00 AM

Steelheading 101: The gear you’ll need

Steelhead fishing is done while standing in a stream. You drift a yarn-fly, a spawn bag, an insect imitation or other bait near the bottom in relatively fast-moving water. You can use a fly rod with fly line and leader or a fly rod and fly reel loaded with monofilament line.

By: news tribune, Duluth News Tribune

Steelhead fishing is done while standing in a stream. You drift a yarn-fly, a spawn bag, an insect imitation or other bait near the bottom in relatively fast-moving water. You can use a fly rod with fly line and leader or a fly rod and fly reel loaded with monofilament line.

Here’s a look at gear you’ll need. We asked for advice from Greg Bambenek of Duluth and Dale Krocak of Duluth, each of whom has been steelheading for 36 years. We also asked Jeff Dahl, owner of the Superior Fly Angler in Superior, and John Fehnel, owner of the Great Lakes Fly Co. in Duluth, for their thoughts.

The standard steelheading rod and reel is an 8½-foot-long, 8-weight graphite fly rod rigged with a single-action reel with a good drag system, Bambenek said. Like many anglers, Bambenek uses 8-pound-test Maxima monofilament line for spring fishing.

Krocak recently converted to a bait-casting reel on a 9-foot, two-power Loomis rod built for summer-run steelhead on the West Coast. He uses it for conventional “strip and flip” stream fishing as well as casting.

For a fly-fishing approach to steelheading, Dahl suggests a 9½-foot, 7-weight fly rod, and a reel to match.

Gamakatsu hooks remain the standard for their sharpness and durability, Dahl said. Standard sizes for steelheading are 4s and 6s. He also likes the Daiichi hooks for the same qualities. For fly-tying, Dahl prefers Tiemco hooks.

These have been the standard for fast-water steelhead fishing for decades. Anglers tie up their own, using a snell knot. When wet, a yarn fly imitates a fish egg floating downstream. Bambenek likes to tie two colors of yarn into one fly.

“I really like the combination of half-chartreuse and half-pink,” he said.

Bright colors such as chartreuse and pink work well in somewhat murky water. In clear water, Bambenek prefers softer colors such as champagne or egg. He usually carries about 10 colors of yarn with him on the river.

Anglers have tried numerous methods to weight their lines, but Bambenek has come back to the No. 7 split-shot pinched directly on his line. When making a drift, you should feel the split-shot ticking the stream bottom.

An abrasion-resistant line is necessary. Bambenek prefers 8-pound-test Maxima line. Or anglers can use a fly line matched to their rod. For fly-fishing, Fehnel recommends a leader of 6- or 8-pound-test.

This comes down to personal preference, and you can spend a lot of money on waders.

“People are spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on waders,” Bambenek said, “but if you hit one snag, they’ll leak. I’m just using the thin [3 mm] neoprene, boot-foot waders.” Get waders with felt on the soles to improve traction in streams.

You’ll need a well-equipped vest so you can re-rig at midstream after breaking off. The essentials, according to Bambenek, include small scissors on a retractable line (for trimming line and yarn flies), one pocket for fish attractant such as Dr. Juice (he’s the creator of the fish attractant), one pocket with a plastic box of yarn in various colors, another box of hooks and sinkers, and a retractable measuring tape.

You can get a short-handled net and clip it to the back of your vest, but Bambenekdoesn’t use one. He releases all his fish without removing them from the water. To measure them, he carries the retractable tape measure (see above) or just puts a piece of electrical tape on his rod and measures the fish against the rod while the fish remains in the water.

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