There are two primary fishing techniques used on the tributaries, natural drift and swinging flies.
Natural drifting your fly is an effective technique for fishing the tribs. To get your fly to drift natural or “Drag free” cast up and across and mend your line as it drifts down stream. You can also cast directly up stream or across the stream and get a natural drift, but you will need to adjust you mending accordingly. Egg patterns, hex nymphs and caddis larva all are good imitations of the naturals the fish see during the day. Using a strike indicator will help you to gage the speed of your drift. You want your drift to be at the same speed or slower than the current. Use a leaf or chunk of foam to gage the speed of the drift. Keep a close eye on the indicator and strike at any hesitation or unnatural behavior. This technique is similar to inland nymphing for Trout.
Swinging streamers, spey flies and classic Steelhead patterns is another effective technique for fishing the tribs. To swing your fly cast down & across just like when you fish a wet fly. Once you line is on the water, watch the tip. It should be swinging across the current at the same speed or slower than the downstream drift. Keep the rod tip low over the water, and pointed straight down the line to avoid dragging or impeding the drift of the fly. Hits will come as a tightening of the line, and the rod tip may be pulled into the water.
It is also important to remember that many strikes will occur at the end of your drift. A cool trick is to twitch your rod tip at the end of your drift. The twitch can be a simple downstream pull of the rod tip or a wiggle of the rod tip or a few short strips on the line. This motion adds a last bit of action to the fly at the end of your drift. Many times a fish will follow your fly as it swings and this last twitch can get them to hit. After the swing is done take a step or two downstream and repeat the cast. You will cover a lot of water this way, and present your fly to every fish in the run.
Keeping the fly down deep is very important no matter which technique you’re using. The fish are intent on spawning, and only feed occasionally. If you have any hope of getting a reaction, you must get down to their level. Sink-tip lines, split shot, Loon deep soft weight and weighted flies are needed in order to be effective anglers. Adjusting the weight for the differing currents and water levels is just as important as having the weight. Don't be happy with pinching on a split shot on and fishing away. Change your weight or combination of weights until the fly is drifting into the strike zone, 3"-12" off the bottom. If you can’t tell how far off the bottom your fly is, adjust the weight so the fly ticks the bottom every 2 or 3 feet. You can see this buy watching your strike indicator or the tip of your line.
How do you know if the Steelhead has taken your fly? The answer is simple, if your drift stops, one of two things has happened. Either your fly is in the mouth of a fish, or it is caught on the bottom. If your drift stops, set the hook first, ask questions later. Hopefully, a fish has taken your fly and the hook set will be followed a big rush of adrenaline. If it is a rock or log, you might lose a fly but if you don’t set you will miss many fish.