Over the past three or four steelhead seasons, I've been fishing nymphs less and less and picking up my spey rods with ever increasing frequency. This season seems likely to be the one in which I go all in; I haven't played with my nymph sticks in some time, and at this point it seems unlikely I will. Those of my friends and fellow bug chuckers that are die-hard nymphers might suggest I'm being pig headed, pretentious, or even a little bit foolish. Steelhead, they would rightfully argue, are much more likely to take a well presented nymph than they are swung flies, and no one in their right mind wants to drive several hours to the river only to be blanked.
But maybe that's the point. As awful as may be a skunking at the end of three hours in a minivan, I need a new challenge, and though steelhead are great fun to catch on nymphs the act of nymph fishing has become a little too familiar. While fishing a swung fly on a spey rod is no more challenging than nymphing, the nature of it is to me still something of a mystery. Still, I catch fish. Of course, I can't be sure my catching fish on a swung fly has anything to do with my prowess as an angler because truth be told - for all their shimmering iridescence - steelhead aren't the brightest fish in the river.
They're f##king dumb.
Make no mistake, steelhead are among the Dumbest of animals - that's dumb with a capital D. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Like a toddler who has only just discovered the family pet's tail, steelhead will put almost anything in their mouths provided they can catch it without too much fuss.
Consider the following photo, which I submit as proof ...
Look closely. Notice anything odd?
See that little bit of white peeking out from in between the hen's jaws? That little bit of white isn't a feather, a clump of marabou, or tuft of rabbit fur. It's foam - cylindrical foam painted with indelible markers and shaped into what most of us would think of as a bass bug. The last fish I caught on this particular fly was a smallmouth of maybe 13 or 14 inches. Hardly a trophy. Hardly a difficult fish to catch. And like that smallmouth, this steelhead took the fly in 18 inches of water as the foam bug shimmied its way across the tailout of a run.
Don't let them fool you.
Steelhead are Dumb.