5 Great Spots in the USA for Steelheads

If you have ever caught a steelhead, you probably became a bit addicted. The steelhead is one of the fish that many will get on a plane for. When there is a steelhead run, people will travel cross country to get a piece of the action.

Why do we love catching steelhead? Two reasons. They are fun to catch, regardless of how you are fishing for them. And they are great to eat, if you are someone who keeps your fish. They are like a salmon but milder.

I have spent countless hours researching and exploring good steelhead fishing spots across the country. From the Pacific Northwest to the Great Lakes region, there are plenty of options for those looking to hook a bunch of steelhead on the right day.

At the risk of making some of my fellow fishermen a little upset, I’m going to share some of my favorite steelhead fishing spots and provide tips for making the most of your time on the water.

5 Great Steelhead Fishing Spots in the USA

If you’re looking to fish for steelhead, the U.S. has some of the best spots in the world. Here are my top picks for steelhead fishing spots:

Deschutes River

The Deschutes River in Oregon is a beautiful and protected waterway, loved for its stunning scenery that ranges from Cascade mountains to high plateau. The Deschutes gives thesteelhead fly fishing Pacific Northwest outdoors junkies lots of outdoor activities like fishing and rafting. What makes it extra special, especially for steelhead chasers, is a high-action scene up and down the entire river. Anglers flock to the Deschutes for its clear waters and perfect steelhead habitat, making it one of the top spots for catching these challenging and exciting fish in the Pacific Northwest.

The Deschutes steelhead do a pronounced run from September through November. I like fishing closer to the mouth of the river as it meets the Columbia, not far from The Dalles. But the entire river can be productive at times, and there are lots of guides up and down the river to help get you on the right spot.

  • Steelhead season: Year-round, but the fall run is best in September and October, and the winter run in March and April
  • Fishing method: Fly fishing, drift fishing
  • Nearest large city / airport: Portland or Bend, Oregon

Kenai Peninsula

The Kenai Peninsula is a rugged frontier nestled between the icy waters of the Cook Inlet and the sprawling expanse of the Gulf of Alaska. With an intimidating backdrop ofKenai Steelhead towering¬†mountains and ancient forests, lies a wilderness that embodies the raw essence of the Last Frontier. If you haven’t been to the Kenai, you really should make the trip just to see the area. Bring your bear spray though.

The Kenai Peninsula is a haven for steelhead, giving them a great place to pass through as they are doing their run. And in the Kenai’s pristine streams, they find sanctuary and sustenance, their presence a testament to the resilience of the wild nature up here in the face of adversity.

  • Steelhead season: Best in September thru November
  • Fishing method: Fly fishing, drift fishing, boat fishing
  • Nearest large city / airport: Anchorage, Alaska

Bogachiel River

The Bogachiel River is a gem tucked away in the lush forests of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The flow is fed by the relentless rains of the Pacific Northwest, and it is surroundedbogachiel steelhead by some of the coolest wilderness in Pacific Northwest’s outdoor scene.¬† It is one of my favorite paddling areas and hiking spots in the country, in addition to being a really good steelhead spot. Of the rivers in this area, it is a little more wide open and approachable which is why I like it.

The Bogachiel’s clear and cold currents give the steelhead a great destination from where they start in the ocean. From their oceanic wanderings to their inland pilgrimage, the steelhead are abundant when they are passing through. That doesn’t make them easy to catch, though. After all, these are steelhead.

The Bogachiel can get crowded — it is a popular river not far from the Seattle metro.

  • Steelhead season: December through April, but best in December and January
  • Fishing method: Fly fishing, drift fishing
  • Nearest large city / airport: Seattle, Washington

Deerfield River

The Deerfield River winds its way through the picturesque landscapes of Massachusetts. It starts way up in the Berkshires, and then its waters cascade and tumble, carving a pathdeerfield river through forests and fields alike. I love how the Deerfield is pretty close to many people yet provides tons of solitude.

But it is not just the tranquility that makes the Deerfield River remarkable; it is also a good steelhead bite. The river’s flow is very tightly-controlled by a series of 5 dams, so expect varying conditions bases on what is happening at the dams. You’ll probably catch a few trout while you are working for the steelhead.

  • Steelhead season: Very good from August through November
  • Fishing method: Fly fishing, drift fishing
  • Nearest large city / airport: Boston, Massachusetts

Ausable River (Michigan)

The Ausable River, a shimmering artery coursing through the heart of Michigan’s wilderness. Its origins trace back to the dense forests and rolling hills of the northern Lowerausable river michigan Peninsula, where it begins its journey as a humble stream, gathering strength and momentum with each passing mile. What sets the Ausable apart is its pristine beauty and the sense of timelessness that pervades its surroundings. Lots of towering pines and rocky outcrops give you a great Northwoods experience.

The fact is that there are many Great Lakes tributaries that have good steelhead runs. Do a road trip sometime, explore some of the great Northern towns, and have your rod along for steelhead.

The steelhead have a very pronounced run on the Ausable in the fall and again in the spring. And in the Ausable’s swift and nutrient-rich flows, they find the perfect habitat for growth. They can get pretty big in this region.

  • Steelhead season: Best in October and November, and March and April
  • Fishing method: Fly fishing, drift fishing, kayak fishing
  • Nearest large city / airport: Detroit, Michigan

Gear and Tackle for Steelhead

Rod and Reel Selection

When it comes to steelhead fishing, go with the heavier rig, one that you might use for larger fish. I prefer a 9-10 foot medium to medium-heavy action rod with a fast tip. If you want a regular casting rod, you can’t go wrong with an Ugly Stick, a perfect weight rod for Steelhead and Salmon fishing.

For fly fishing rods, a 7 or 8 weight is really good. This length and action gives me the sensitivity and power I need to detect and fight these powerful fish. As for reels, I recommend a high-quality spinning reel with a smooth drag system.

Line and Leader Preferences

For steelhead fishing, I recommend using a 10-12 pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line. These lines are strong enough to handle the fight of a steelhead, but still have enough sensitivity to detect bites. As for leaders, I prefer a 4-6 foot fluorocarbon leader with a diameter that matches my mainline, or even a bit longer if you prefer. Fluorocarbon is nearly invisible in the water, which can make a difference in getting bites from wary steelhead.

Lure and Fly Choices

Match the hatch. It is hard to tell you what fly or lure to use because it depends so much on the particular river and the particular time of year. Stop in at a local fly shop to ask what has been working. They might not give you their best secrets, but they will share what to think about using.

If you need to bring something that might be a bit all-purpose, I really like the Aerojig lineup. Something like this (on Amazon) is a good all-around jig to fall back on, when you are not quite sure what is hatching.


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