A note from Capt. Lael Johnson:

“When I make a cast, there is always a fish I think about that might be in this run, bucket, or tail out. The fish I’m thinking about looks like this, and the hope that he’s out there keeps me going, rain, sleet, snow, or hail looking for the perfect fish. It’s tough to find an unmarked, large chrome steelhead with no scars from seals or nets, and this fish was flawless, and it fought with all of its size and strength.

He ate right above a large root ball next to some fast water and gave me the fight of my career. I just got a 15-foot rod, and @islanderreels set me up with an MR3 that had been turned into a fly reel to balance the rod. I wanted to break the rod in, and I would have been happy with a six-pounder, but this is the first fish that setup found. With a steelhead this size matched with a fast water speed, I needed everything this rod and reel had to get that fish into the net. You don’t need a 10wt flag pole to fish for steelhead, but if you’re chasing something like this, it’s good to be prepared.

Thankful we got a season for an opportunity to have something like this happen!”

Tips & Tight Line Tricks

Where do I fish?

Photo By Ben Matthews

Locate places in the river where the water is at a slower speed than all other surrounding water. Make sure you are capable of fishing this type of water where there is little room for the fish to pass you without seeing your fly. Doing so requires understanding water speed and the bottom’s characteristics while also getting your fly to swing within three feet of the bottom. Of course, this needs to be matched with the proper cast, sink tip, fly size, and overall presentation to get your line to come tight. At best, for those new to the sport, at least your not casting in “wish and a prayer water” where the fish can pass you without even seeing your fly. Good luck, and keep swinging!

The grab? What do I do?

Photo by Ben Matthews

There are many ways to react after the grab, and I’m not going to tell you every possibility; there are a bunch. What I do want to put in your mind is this….

You went through all this work of traveling, searching, casting, and possibly poor weather. If the fish wants the fly, Don’t take it away from him! If you are confident enough to strike, ensure you are setting the hook against the full weight of the fish, and after that, let them run! Steelhead are trout, but don’t treat them like that; no trout sets as soon as the line comes tight.

Captain, we are ready for landing

Photo by Ben Matthews

Landing a fish is when you get a chance to lock in that experience with a photo, and there is a best practice when getting the job done by tailing a fish or putting it in the net.

  1.  Don’t drag a fish on any rocks or bank it to make this moment happen, do this right, and try to stay deep so if the fish jumps or rolls, it won’t hit its head.
  2. Keep your rod low and bent toward your buddy or landing spot, not straight up in the air. Keeping the rod down and aimed at your target gives you control in the fight.
  3. If you are going for the tail yourself or have help, if the fish is not ready, let them go for another run. Dont exhaust the fish, but there is no need to try when they are spicy and not prepared, that’s the moment you might pull a hook and see them swim away.
  4. Be ready for the photo, and care about the fish more than your memory!

Angler Story of the Week from Captain Lael Johnson, be sure to follow him on Instagram at @flygyde. Johnson is the founder of the FYSH Foundation, a non profit organization “helping others find peace through fishing and the enjoyment of the outdoors.”

Check out the articles below:

Costa Behind the Guides: Lael Paul Johnson

5 O’Clock on the Water: How to Make the ‘Liquid Smoke’ Cocktail With Lael Paul Johnson


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