Mousing for Steelhead

As many of you know, steelhead fishing has been very good this season.  Last week, Bill from Chicago booked me for two days.  The first day we did well on the traditional steelhead routine, netting several nice fish.  Toward the end of the day Bill says, “Had a great day, but what about tomorrow, can we do something different?”

I tell him that we can try for drop backs and trout in the holes, maybe throw some streamers, we could head to the lower river or we could even try another river.

He asks me, “What about dry flies?”


“Can you catch steelhead on the surface?”

I say, “Very rarely and not here,” but I do tell him that a few are caught in the summer and even mention Matt’s fish from last summer.

Bill asks if I’ve ever tried these fish (spring spawners) on the surface. And again I say, “No,” and add, “Bill, these fish often spook when they see an indicator.”

He follows up with, ”Well if you were going to try, what would you use?”

“Bill, it just won’t happen but to answer your question, it would be low light and I’d probably swing a big mouse, but again, surface fishing would be a waste of time.”

Then Bill asks the final question, “Can we try a mouse in the morning?” and I can only say “Yep”.

In the morning, we launch before sunrise at M37. Snow, and with the snow, a thunderstorm starts booming just south of us.  It’s dark, that early morning flat dark, that even flashlights struggle with. In the south, lightning flashes and splinters the sky.  I find a shallow gravel area with a very active group of steelhead and hand him the mousing set-up.

“Cast to the far side and swing the fly just a foot or so in front of them.”

On the first cast a small male swings out with the fly and drops back into the dark water behind the gravel.  It reacted just like it was spooked from an indicator, just what I figured.

Bill makes a few more casts with no reaction.  I’ve lost interest and am looking at a boat that stopped above us when I hear a splash and Bill start swearing. He’s got a small male steelhead, head-shaking on the surface.  I yell, “Great fish, nice fish,” or something and then say, “What, did your fly sink?”

“No, I was swinging it just like you said and it just crushed it.”

We quickly land a five-pound male, with the big mouse stuck right in his face.  I get some pictures and start to think, this is cool, even though the mouse sunk, this is still a big ass fly to catch a spawner with.

I ask Bill, “Where was the fly when he took it?”

It was floating like a cork, swinging across.”

I look at the fly, “Sure thing, nice,” and stop before he catches onto my skepticism.

A hundred more swings with the mouse and nothing. They don’t react, don’t move, and they don’t even spook.  I switch him to an egg/nymph and he immediately hooks and loses the hen.

We jump in the boat and head down stream.

I find another great group but they’re a little deeper.  Bill grabs the mouse rig and starts swinging.  No response for the first dozen casts and then the biggest male just tips up and just pinches the fly with the top of his snout and Bill is into another fight. This time, I saw the fish take it.

I can’t repeat the words, but after ten minutes of struggle, we land a pig. High fives and loud expletives.

I am now a believer. I saw it, it was real, the fish took the fly and we landed it.

Unbelievable, we are on to something that will change everything.

For the rest of the day we never had another interested steelhead. Not one that even looked at the mouse.

Today, I went out with two new guys and no opportunities to try a mouse, in fact, it was hard enough to get them with regular stuff.

This has left me in an interesting state of enthusiasm yet filled with a list of questions.  How big a fly, best presentation style, can this only happen in very low light, or when they are really excited (thunderstorm/spawning)?

I cannot wait to try this again but looking at my schedule I don’t know when.

Still when you think about it, this was very cool, very cool indeed

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