Nymphing for Steelhead on the Salmon River

Nymphing for Steelhead on the Salmon River offers some unique opportunities.

First, you have the ability to pick the location on the river you want to fish without having to be there crazy early. The cold temperatures certainly help keep the majority of fisherman off the river allowing significantly less competition. Second, both Czech nymphing and bottom bouncing egg flies can be extremely effective even during the coldest days of Winter. Steelhead continuously move around the river system, with fresh runs occurring throughout the Winter and early Spring as warm spells and melt offs increase flows. Third, you have an excuse to drink whiskey by a streamside fire. What’s better than that? We promise you, once you hook a Steelhead, you will be hooked for life. Steelhead are beautiful but powerful beasts that fill our Lake Erie and Lake Ontario tributaries from October to early May.

Nymphing For Steelhead


Fly Rod:

The most important part of being successful when nymphing for Steelhead is your fly rod. Ensure you can feel every possible bump when creating a dead drift. A Steelhead’s take while nymphing can be very subtle. A 9 or 10 foot 8 weight single-handed rod is the most common choice for nymphers but an 11-foot switch rod offers any angler the ability to switch tactics when needed. The Salmon River has its points that are small and narrow but also has stretches that are extremely wide and the 11-foot rod gives the fly angler the versatility needed to properly fish both.

Fly Line:

For a single-handed rod, use a weight forward fly-fishing line. Our favorite from Orvis is the Hydros Nymph. If you’re still trying to achieve a perfect dead drift but it’s out of reach, we highly recommend the Hydros HD Bankshot. This line zips off your rod. If you’re going to use a switch rod, we prefer the compact switch line from Cortland. It is a newer product from Cortland but our clients over the past two years have fallen in love with the line. It complements the Orvis Clearwater switch rods extremely well.


Unlike swinging for Steelhead, a nymph set-up is relatively simple. Starting at the fly line connection, your total leader length should be about the length of the rod plus 24”-30.” For cold Winter days, lighten the leader to 8-10lb. line in order for it to descend the water column quicker. Break your leader-tippet connection with a small barrel swivel, and tie on roughly 30” of tippet.

Fly Box:

Having a diverse fly box with multiple color variations to throw is critical to Winter Steelhead fishing. Stoneflies are extremely common during the winter and spring and can be extremely effective as well as Egg Patterns. Some of the Zero Limit Guide’s favorite flies include:
  1. Glo Bugs
  2. Boobie Flies
  3. Pheasant Tail Nymphs
  4. Crystal Meth
  5. Rubber Leg Prince Nymph.

Favorite Fly: 

You can never go wrong with using a flashback wiggly stone during the Winter and Springtime when fishing for Steelhead. A wiggly stone has a ton of action to attract a Steelhead from afar and they are simply just fun to tie. But if you don’t have the ability to tie one, try Senyo’s wiggly stone. You can find them on the Orvis website! Learn how to tie the wiggly stone here!


While nymphing, your goal is to achieve a dead drift. Essentially your fly will float downstream naturally with the speed of the water. As your line moves by you and downstream, ensure you follow your fly with the tip of your rod. You can also extend your drift by feeding slack to your fly. Ensure you let your line straighten out below you, allowing your fly to create a natural swing which can sometimes help get that strike! A great helpful tip is to walk your favorite parts of a stream during the summer as certain lines may have changed. You want to look for seam lines when chasing steelhead. The fish will be holding on the edges of the faster water where they can rest, as well as in the spots where there’s some structure to break things up. The cold winter temperatures will push Steelhead to concentrate in deep pools. Stay on the move. Drifting the Salmon River during the winter can be extremely productive because it allows you to cover a lot of water.

Catch & Release

When you make it out one of the next few weeks, ensure you’re not gripping and grinning when you do land a Salmon River Trophy Steelhead. The cold temperatures can cause a Steelhead’s gills to freeze in a matter of seconds. Ensure you’re practicing responsible fish handling and following local rules and regulations.  

Salmon River Fly Fishing Guide

If you haven’t fished the Salmon River or are looking to perfect your skills, give Zero Limit Adventures a call. Experience a drift down the river or wade some of our favorite Winter & Spring Steelhead fishing spots. Zero Limit Adventures is your Salmon River Fly Fishing Guide Service that will ensure you have an adventure of a lifetime. Contact us at (585) 766-2421 or email at [email protected].

Let us make your adventure, one for a lifetime!

The Zero Limit Adventure Team is well diversified to ensure we can fit your needs at all times! Each member has years of experience and passion to make your adventure memories last forever.