One man’s approach to Steelhead fishing |

One man’s approach to Steelhead fishing

Ralph Wood of Grass Valley has a unique approach to fly fishing. He transports fishing rods under the windshield wipers of his 1989 Toyota Tercel.
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When you go in search of steelhead trout with Ralph Wood – a Grass Valley fly fishing guide – you don’t have to worry about getting his car dirty.

Its floorboard is covered with a layer of pebbles which fell off the clingy, wet soles of clients’ fishing waders. It looks like a miniature, dried-out stream bed.

Wood doesn’t bother to dust the dashboard. Instead, he’s cleaned off a little spot which shows the speedometer (and about 240,000 miles on the odometer).

The little, two-door, 1989 Toyota Tercel gets curious looks when Wood, often puffing on a cigarette, drives from one fishing hole to another.

He simply sticks his (and your) fly rod under a windshield wiper and drives off (even on the highway) with the rods sticking up in the air like a couple of CB antennas. It’s too much trouble to take them apart every time.

Such is the man who recently got me out of the office and onto the Feather River.

That’s right, it’s steelhead season. From now until March (when the river’s not blown out by high flows) you can fish spots such as the Feather and the lower Yuba and the lower American rivers for the prized steelhead, a sea-going rainbow trout.

“What do I like about steelhead fishing? What I really like is, I like the strikes. Setting the hooks and feeling the weight of a steelhead on the other end and seeing that line go streaking upstream or downstream,” Wood said. “There’s always that chance that you can get an 8- or 9- or 10-pound steelhead.”

And even if you’re a duffer of fly fisherman (like I am) fly fishing for steelhead isn’t so hard.

Actually catching them is a different story. I’ve never done it on a fly rod.

But the rig you use to fish for them isn’t fancy. Think bobber fishing to catch sunfish in a pond.

Instead of a worm, your lure is a “glo bug” – a salmon egg-shaped fly made of pink, orange, red or chartreuse yarn (or plastic).

Steelhead eat salmon eggs. The ocean-going trout swim upstream a little later in the year than salmon do, so they can dine on the eggs salmon lay in their redds, the nests the fish make in the gravel river bottom.

“They come up for the caviar feast,” Wood explained.

You put some split shot a few inches above the glo bug so it sinks to the bottom and bounces along like a loose salmon egg.

You also put a floating indicator – sort of a highly visible bobber – above the rig, and watch it for telltale signs of a steelhead’s strike (such as the indicator stopping or submerging or moving upstream).

You can get an indicator which moves up and down on the leader. By adjusting it’s height, you can put your glo bug right near the bottom. (But if you lower it too far, you may get snagged. If you go too high, you won’t get any fish.)

If you want to improve your chances, you can also tie a sinking fly, or nymph, called a “dropper” to the end of the glo bug such as green rock worm or stonefly or mayfly imitation.

Casting this rig isn’t fancy. All you have to do is hurl it forward upstream of a salmon redd. “Chucking hardware” is the way some fly anglers describe it.

Most steelheaders us 9- to 10-foot fly rods, from 5 to 8 weight. Floating line is best with a glo bug rig.

Tim Omarzu writes for The Union. Contact him at 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; 477-4237; or

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