By Vic Attardo
Following right behind, or with, the migrating salmon on Great Lakes tributaries, the one thing that steelhead see a lot of is eggs, both natural and home-skeined.
Recently released salmon eggs, egg sacs made from natural eggs, egg flies and even plastic eggs: It’s enough to scramble a steelhead’s brains.
Key offerings that entice steelhead at various phases of the season are nymphs, streamers, and patterns mimicking other aquatic forms. Certainly, steelhead will fall for dull or naturally colored bugs and minnows, but there’s another trick in the trade, the use of gaudy offerings, particularly flashy, bright, contrasting eggs.
In addition to their effectiveness, there’s an incentive for the fly tier to use eggs. Eggs are a lot easier to tie, less time consuming if you will. And for me, the range of colors is the real plus.
Look at any veteran angler’s egg box, and you’ll see colors and bold contrasts that just don’t exist in real life.
Imagine if a salmon egg really was the hottest fluorescent orange or red, or a yellowed egg had a bright red dot in the center like a sign post on a pale highway. That egg, or eggs, just calls out to a steelhead with its excellent vision. Such an egg would soon end up in a steelie’s stomach.
Turning this around, an angler using a bright egg fly is waving a flag. There are times when a natural egg color is an important offering and certainly they should not be kept hidden away in the forgotten corners of your fly boxes.
But bright, flamboyant eggs get noticed throughout the steelhead’s migratory run, its long-winter holdover, and vigorous spawning activity. In other words, there is not a time that a bright egg is not a worthwhile choice, and it may be the only option under certain conditions.
If there is one thing that steelhead anglers can count on during the season, it’s falling water temperatures. From late fall through winter, water temps range from 38 to 32.
In terms of presentation, that translates to one thing: It should be slow and deliberate.
While it’s possible to slow down a swinging presentation to late fall and winter speeds, it takes a seasoned hand to manipulate a streamer at the required pace. Also there are plenty of water structures where steelhead hold, where it is far from easy to slow a streamer down enough to make an effective coldwater presentation.
On the other hand, bright, flamboyant eggs with a weighted rig can bump and crawl to an appropriate speed, perhaps the only speed steelhead will positively react to.
That makes working an egg fly an important tactic.
I know it’s common practice to rise before dawn, acquire a revered place on the water and proceed to fish until you drop. But that’s not always the right approach.
On a bright day the water temperature is likely to increase one or two degrees. This smidgeon could be a boon, in effect “waking the steelhead up,” with all that biologically entails.
I first got interested in the possibilities of afternoon fishing when I had enough of brutally cold mornings but was willing to try again during a windless bright or at least cloudless day.
I waded to a spot I always liked, even after hearing that the area had gone fishless that morning. Probably no one had worked this patch for several hours. It could be argued that the fish here had gotten a rest from the morning’s bombardment so they were willing to open up for a well-placed and slowed-down fly.
But I would also argue that the slight water temperature increase was enough to nudge steelhead into striking – and “nudge” is probably the best word I could use here.
Suffice it to say, wading later in the day, instead of just earlier, I had robust success. Ever since, I make it a point to pace myself for a good bout of late-afternoon fishing.
In the last two hours of the day, when any steelhead laying about in the river had seen enough lures and flies to make them wary, a little egg fly is often just enough to persuade them to open up.
Many times, I’ve sauntered down a boat ramp when the fleet of drift boats was back in the barn, and I successfully dropped a bright, flamboyant egg before a willing fish. These steelhead must have been disturbed so many times during the course of the day, they waited till the lights were dimmed and then my egg fly became a favored morsel!