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Fly-fishing for steelhead is an obsessive venture at Western Rivers Flyfisher. Come September we’re still pursuing trout, yet there is a creeping diversion in our focus, our purchases, and the flies we spend nights tying. By this time of year we shift from trout rods to spey rods, use our trout lines and rods a little less often and spend a fair amount of time balancing out Skagit, Scandi or mid-belly spey lines for steelhead depending on our preferences. Since I opened Western Rivers Flyfisher in February off 1987 fly-fishing for steelhead has been a part of our DNA. Although little has evolved in swing flies for these migratory fish, the equipment has drastically improved over the past several decades. Here are some new items that have been added to my growing list of essentials as I prepare for the upcoming steelhead season.
Several years ago I sold most of my spey rods; they’ve changed a lot since I began spey fishing with 15’ and 16’ rods. For a number of years I’ve been looking for a Scandi rod to compliment my favorite Winston 13’3” 7/8 BiiX. My line of choice on this versatile rod is the RIO 7/8 Power Spey. Over the years however, I’ve started to see the advantages of having a Scandi line as well. I’m sure down the road rods will continue to evolve, but I can’t imagine they’re going to get much better than the one I’ve finally settled on; the SAGE 7126-4 ONE. This rod is incredibly light, yet deceptively powerful, smooth, sensitive in the hand and ideal for most of the waters one would swing a fly in, Scandi or Skagit. Although I’ve got a fair amount of park time on this rod already, I can’t wait to get that first pull and chromer on the line. Like my Winston BiiX, it’s a rod that will make you want to go fish.
The line I’ve chosen to match my new rod with is the AirFlo 450gr Scandi Compact. I and my staff have fished and sold a number of different Scandi lines and we’ve found these lines to be our preference. If you’re new to the game you may try this line in a 480gr, but for my tastes the 450gr Scandi Compact really makes this rod purr. For those who prefer Skagit systems, you’ll find the ONE 7126-4 will manage these lines as effortlessly as it does the Scandi lines. If you want to balance this rod out with a Skagit system, the RIO 550gr Skagit Flight with a set of MOW tips will balance this rod out quite nicely.
On the clothing front, one can’t take lightly what to pack when it comes to staying comfortable in steelhead country. The weather this time of year runs the gamut and having the right layers will go along way towards making your time on the water that much more enjoyable. Most of my stuff has withstood steelhead country’s changing weather for years. Some of it shows. I have four Patagonia Guide Shirts that are over a decade old, yet they look like they’ll make another decade of trips before they need to be retired. I have a R1 Jacket that has a similar story. After hundreds of days on the water it’s getting a little transparent so I broke down and added a new one to my pile. My favorite recent acquisition along the lines of insulation, however is the Patagonia Shelled Insulator Pant. These lined pants are ideal in steelhead or trout country, in or out of a pair of waders come this time of year. On those days when the temps dip down into the teens, I throw on an extra layer of Capilene. After a long day of fishing, especially if you’re camping, the shelled outer layer makes the pants wind resistant, tough and will easily hold up to years of chasing fall and winter fishes.
Another Patagoniaproduct that I’ve become very fond of is the Stealth Atom Sling. This cleaver pack holds all you’ll need for a day of swinging flies. For those who fish a spey rod it conveniently rides on your back out of the way, but can easily be slipped onto your chest when you need a fly change, a different head, some fresh tippet or a good cigar. The Stealth Atom Sling has been a great addition to my steelhead gear; simple, with ample pockets, a water proof pouch with plenty of room for your steelhead fly boxes. Of all the packs, vests, or combinations there of I’ve used or sold, this one really fills a nice niche.
Not all that’s new that I covet is going to end up in my gear bag this year. One item in particular I would have really liked to add to my collection of old Hardy Salmon Perfects that I fish is one of the new Abel Speyor Switch Reels. For those traditionalists you’ll find these two sturdy and beautifully machined click and pawl reels impressive, which isn’t surprising given they are hand made in California by Abel. The simple, yet amble drag system can easily be switched to right of left hand. They come with either a solid or ported reel face. Personally I thing the solid faced reels are pretty sweet. And like all Abel reels you can purchase them in a wide variety of solid colors or hand painted fish prints; one of this companies trademarks. These spey reels are the first new reels that I’ve really gotten excited about when it comes to steelhead reels and to be honest, there’s a lot of really great reels out there, these are a little old school, which for an old schooler sets them apart from the others.
I love new stuff, but I’m not compulsive when it comes to purchases. I prefer quality over quantity recognizing that in the long run there are significant savings and enjoyment in such purchases. So since getting into fly-fishing I’ve always spent the extra money for good gear. This is one of the aspects of fly-fishing that attracted me to it over three decades ago. Today, I still appreciate that fact and that there is still fly-fishing essentials that are being produced that will stand the test of time, and in some regards like the new Abel Spey Reels, be coveted by the next generation. There aren’t many things in the world today that you can say that about. That in and of itself is pretty cool.