Fly-fishing for steelhead
Most steelheaders use fly rods to pursue rainbows in medium or fast water. Load the fly reel with 100 yards of fly line backing (20-30 pound test dacron line) then 100-200 yards of six- to 10-pound monofilament line. Fly line is rarely used because you are typically casting only 10 to 20 feet of line upstream and drifting through runs and rapids. Rainbows prefer to lie in current breaks near fast water.
The fly rods we see anglers using for steelheading are nine- to 10-feet long and usually seven, eight or nine weight. Remember, fishing the Root might yield a 20-pound trophy fish and the odds of landing such a huge fish are greatly increased if you have a stout rod. Also consider a fly reel with a disk drag and multiple retrieve. These reels can be pricey. An affordable favorite I've seen on many rigs of experienced steelheaders is the Martin, Model 72R. The disk drag will allow you to play a large fish with one hand while freeing up the other to help you keep your balance and wade downstream.
For tackle, try yarn, egg imitation flies, spawn and various streamers, nymphs and wet flies. We like to drift a homemade yarn fly, a piece of colored yarn tied to a size 4 or 6 steelhead hook. Varying amounts of split shot are added to make sure the yarn fly drifts through the run near the bottom, in the zone where the steelhead lie.
As a general rule, fish yarn early in the season and when sight-fishing for trout near their spawning beds. I prefer brightly colored yarn unless the water is very clear, which is rare for the Root. Productive colors included chartreuse, orange and hot pink. You can combine one of these bright colors with a softer color in infinite combinations. I pre-cut one-inch pieces of several yarn colors and compose new flies as I go. Some folks use a vise and pre-tie the yarn on the hook shank. I use a snell knot and slip the yarn through the loop as I fish to find combinations that produce strikes.
Popular flies for steelhead include Woolie Buggers, stone fly patterns, mudler minnows and Woolie Worms among others. Local patterns vary, but I've learned that darker patterns work well on the Root. Fish nymphs, streamers and wet flies later in the spawning run, in deeper pools and especially after the suckers enter the river. Suckers will dominate your catch when fishing yarn once they move into the river.
Whatever your methods, you're bound to have action if you can find fish in the river and you are persistent. The Root River and other Lake Michigan tributaries offer wonderful opportunities to teach kids the thrill and satisfaction of hooking, playing and landing a silvery, magnificent steelhead.