Our Man In Canada
March 19th, 2001

Flies for Steelhead
Lake Huron and Georgian Bay Streams

By Scott E. Smith

Because of the span in latitude between Lake Huron's most northern and southern streams, the timing of steelhead and salmon runs cannot be generalized more specifically . . .But similarly, the traveling angler can follow the steelhead runs from the earliest fish in the Nottawasago and Saugeen in March, to the latest in the St. Mary's at the end of May and beginning of June, and enjoy a long stint of steelhead fishing in both spring and fall. The only limiting factors in these seasonal endeavours will be your pocket book, your employer, and in some cases your spouse. (All of which must be factored into your timing plans unless you are willing to deal with the consequences.) Also unlike Superior streams, which are blessed with a virtual open season for steelhead and salmon in most streams (excepting December 25), open season regulations vary from stream to stream in Huron's drainage.

Fly Patterns

Olive Caddis Larvae Nymph
Generically speaking, caddis larvae are a good bet almost any time on Huron streams for steelhead and salmon. If there is one fly that you should carry in volumes, and in various shades and sizes, it is the Olive Caddis Larvae Nymph. A simple but very effective pattern is created with just two basic ingredients: dubbed olive hare's mask fur for the body, and a peacock hurl thorax. The best hook for the job is a curved, heavy scud hook, such as the TMC 2457 or Daiichi 1150; these are sharp and very strong hooks - necessary ingredients for any steelhead and salmon fly. Tie this simple pattern in sizes 14 through 8 in various shades of olive and green, and even in bright chartreuse. Substituting ostrich hurl or hare's mask dubbing tied loosely for the thorax material will give greater variety. If you simply cannot tie such a basic pattern without being overly technical (those of you who are sometimes referred to as techno weenies by your friends), rib the abdomen with gold wire, or even net some samples from your favorite stream to copy if you desire. I have found some suprisingly bright-coloured caddis larvae under rocks, and yes, even in the bellies of trout (old habits die hard).

The Gold Ribbed Hare's Nymph, and the multitude of variations of same, are also very important for this fishery. A good adaptation of this fly as tied by Michigan writer Bob Linsenman, is a Hare's Ear Nymph tied with olive hare's mask dubbing for the abdomen and thorax, and gray filoplume for the tail. Bob claims that the filoplume tail undulated nicely to represent the swimming motions of many mayfly nymphs. Hexagenia nymphs are also important in many of the streams with dams, reservoirs and other areas with silty bottoms.

Stoneflies are always a good pattern for steelhead in freestone sections of streams, and are particularly effective in early spring when the first steelhead enter Huron's tributaries. Tie general stonefly imitations in a variety of sizes and shades of brown and black.

Author and Chrome Steelhead It is important to remember that the nymphs of all species of aquatic insects live in the stream for several years (in the case of some stoneflies up to three years), and hence they are present in a variety of sizes in the stream. To express this in simpler terms, this means that just because you are fishing a stream in April where a giant salmonfly hatch occurs in June, doesn't mean that you should be fishing a three-inch-long nymph, even though the adult is that size when it hatches. The predominant size of salmonfly nymphs in that stream at that particular time may be a one-inch-long specimen. Subsequently you need to carry your favourite nymph patterns in a variety of sizes.

Although dry-fly fishing for steelhead and salmon in Ontario is a new venture, there is a small subculture of anglers that are actively pursuing this endeavour. Steelhead anglers in many streams, particularly in warmer periods of both the spring and fall runs, are taking fish on both dead-drifted traditional ties and waking or Bomber patterns. There is room here for many pioneers and adventurous souls. What you need to know is that Huron steelhead will take a dry fly, so keep some dries in your box during the run.

Streamers are also useful in these moderate periods during late spring and early fall. Spawned-out steelhead in the spring are particularily ravenous in the large tributaries where the return to the lake may involve traversing fifty or more kilometers of stream. Fall steelhead and salmon are also interested in streamer patterns; particularly fall steelhead, which are feeding heavily on salmon eggs and salmon carrion. Other species that spawn in the fall will also smash a bright or gaudy streamer out of aggression, especially male brown trout, Chinook and coho salmon. Good streamers for Huron streams include the Woolly Bugger, Muddler Minnow, Marabou Matuka, Zonker, Strip Leech and a number of West Coast steelhead patterns, such as the Skykomish Sunrise, the Polar Shrimp and the Fall Favorite. ~ Scott E. Smith

Credits: From Ontario Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide by Scott E. Smith. We thank Frank Amato Publications, Inc. for use permission!

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