The standard rig when I started fly fishing for steelhead along the tributaries of Lake Superior nearly 30 years ago was anything but advanced. A nine foot fiberglass fly rod with a heavy Martin Multiplier reel loaded with 15 pound Maxima was the weapon of choice. Flies consisted of small tufts of glo bug yarn snelled onto a salmon hook. Heavy split shot was added to get the fly deep in the heavy flows. Hey, at least we didn't use a strike indicator. It was all touch.
As Rick Kustich demonstrates in his new book Advanced Fly Fishing for Great Lakes Steelhead much has changed. Rick has made the transition to two-handed rods -- either spey or switch -- and swinging flies for the silver torpedoes transplanted from the West Coast into our Great Lakes. His book is his third focused on Great Lakes steelhead and the books serve somewhat of a road map to the evolution of the amazing Great Lakes fishery and the anglers who chase the fish here.
I've followed a path similar to Rick's in my evolution as a steelhead fanatic -- but without his skill. Today, I fished for several hours on the Rocky River swinging five-inch long flies in an unsuccessful search for big steel -- although I did pick up one skip jack and one sucker (unbelievable); and I got to enjoy watching a bald eagle circle overhead. I used some of Rick's tips as I worked on my double spey cast. As Rick notes in his book, swinging big flies for big fish has deepened both my passion and my appreciation for the region's rivers.
Advanced Fly Fishing lives up to its title; it isn't for newbies. He touches on the basics but wades deeper into sink tips, spey casts and tube flies -- all items that were rarely seen just a few years ago on Steelhead Alley. Writing about spey casting isn't easy -- or at least this reader has yet to find someone who describes it clearly -- but Rick does better than most. He keeps his descriptions simple, noting that there a ton of videos and books available to those who want to go deep into spey casting.
The book is full of great tips that are worth remembering when streamside -- including that steelhead hold in water moving at the pace of a brisk walk. But there are a few factual errors that make the reader wonder about the accuracy of his overviews of the best rivers on the Great Lakes. The Cuyahoga last caught fire in 1969, not the early 1980s. And while I wish it were so, the Vermillion doesn't clear earlier (it clears much slower) than other Ohio rivers.
But don't buy this book if you're looking for a guide to Great Lakes rivers -- Rick wrote that one back in 1992. Read this one to elevate the quality of your fly fishing experience and to explore the finer points of swinging big flies for big fish. You'll be glad you did, and you'll have a lot more fun on the river, too.