Chasing Wild Winter Steelhead with Russell Miller from Sage Fly Fishing


Russell Miller is the Marketing Coordinator for Sage and RIO Fly Fishing products, as well as a member of Team USA Fly Fishing. In the latest Filson Life, follow along as he recaps the extremes of the wild winter Steelhead season in the Northwest. If you’re an angler, now is the time to get ready for the spring fishing season. Visit the Filson Flagship store in Seattle for a great selection of rods and reels from Sage, and head over to our events page to sign-up for upcoming in-store events to learn more about fishing in the great Northwest.



To put it simply, springtime on the coast is magical. The air is warm, you can smell new life budding out everywhere, and wild steelhead are running in and out of the rivers. It also means that the winter steelhead season is coming to a close. For me, each steelhead season starts on Seattle’s “S” rivers. Legendary rivers like the Sky, Stilly, Sauk, and Skagit occupy all of January’s efforts to find one of these very special fish. These rivers all close at the end of January to protect what is left of these once epic, historic runs.


These same rivers are the birthplace of sustained anchor casting and served as the stage for the two-handed spey casting revolution. To swing a fly here is a treat unto itself. An encounter with a fish etches lasting memories of the day, but the times when you get your hands around the wrist of a wild steelhead are truly worth celebrating.


From February on, it’s Olympic Peninsula time. Short coastal river systems with their headwaters in a National Park have helped to protect these runs of fish and turned the OP into the premier winter steelhead fishery. Forks is one of the wettest places in the PNW and you have to be ready to brave the elements to swing up a fish here.



It’s a world of extremes. Water levels will go from 3,000cfs to 30,000cfs, sunny days darken quickly and 4” of rain can fall in a day; it’s the real deal. Not only are the elements challenging, but the highs and lows of swinging are something only a true junkie could relate to. When you find yourself in a push of grabby fish, it’s the best feeling in the world. When you are not in them you begin to question everything. 


With one more trip on the books for “winter”, I cringe to think its almost over. Looking back through my photos from the past winter, I relive the days. Photos of clouds moving through the trees or my buddy at the tailout of a run allow me to step back into that moment. I can taste the air, hear the chatter of eagles, and get lost in the gentle sounds of a good run.



The fish are great and the reason why we get out of bed, but everything else about swinging flies is what keeps me coming back. A good friend once said that, “Chasing wild steelhead is not about numbers, it’s all about moments.” No truer words have been spoken and this has been another great season spent with good friends.



Learn more about these fish and how to protect these last wild stands through these great organizations.

Wild Steelhead Coalition
Steelheaders United
Native Fish Society