Fly Fisher, Guide, Author
Trey Combs has been fly fishing, guiding and writing about steelhead for more than 50 years. His first book was “The Steelhead Trout,” Amato Publications, 1971. In this book he described for the first time the ocean migratory habits of steelhead. His next book, “Steelhead Fly Fishing and Flies,” Amato Publications, 1976, documented the culture of steelhead fly fishing.
At the time and if compared to the library of literature about Atlantic Salmon, steelhead was a most threadbare culture! The book was in print for 30 years and went through many printings. The color page in the book featuring the flies by Syd Glasso changed steelhead fly tying overnight, the flies tied on upturned eye hooks while bodies were no longer chenille, but rather dubbing carefully spun and clipped. This was the steelhead bible for two generations. “I can’t tell you how many dog-eared, badly worn copies I’ve signed!” says Trey.
Listen to Trey Combs's Show...
A Lifetime of Fly Fishing for Steelhead
Trey Combs has been fly fishing, guiding and writing about steelhead for more than 50 years. He's an expert on this fish and has now written his fourth book on steelhead. Join us to learn about the history of steelhead fishing and all that he has learned about fishing for this extraordinary and challenging fish.
Just a few of the questions asked and answered during the interview:
- What inspired you to write your book Flies for Atlantic Salmon & Steelhead?
- What is your prediction for the health of steelhead runs?
- What is the cause of the devastation of steelhead runs on the Thompson River?
- What was the first steelhead fly?
- What do you consider to be the most versatile fly rod for steelhead?
- What is your recommended terminal tackle setup?
- What is your favorite steelhead fly to use in British Columbia?
- What is your favorite fly for low water?
- What caused you to start using more black flies?
- What is the most effective way to present your flies?
- How does your presentation change from spring to fall
- Why do you like to keep your fly broadside in the current?
- How do you use The Muddler for steelhead?
- What changes do you make to The Muddler so that it performs better?
In 1991 he wrote a book, “Steelhead Fly Fishing,” that Lyons Books published in 1991 in New York. He remembers Nick Lyons telling him the hardback printing would last a couple years. The entire printing was gone in several weeks, and they had no books to sell for Christmas. The upshot was the book became the bestselling book in the history of the publishing house. When he fished in Norway in 2019, many of his fellow fly fishers on the Reisa owned a copy of the book.
During this period, he was traveling and fishing constantly fishing the flats for tarpon, bonefish, and permit, and offshore blue water gamefish. He'd begun taking clients to Costa Rica in 1985 for fly fishing for Pacific sailfish at Bahia Pez Vela Lodge. Nick Lyons published “Bluewater Fly Fishing in 1994, the first and still only book done about offshore fly fishing. That book was about nearly 20 years spent fishing offshore starting with Loreto, Mexico on the Sea of Cortez. Back then huge bull dorado, aka mahimahi or dolphin fish, were seen daily and the fishing could be fantastic. He would fish off both coasts of North America, South America, and Africa.
Additional trips to Papua New Guinea, Australia, and New New Zealand gave him plenty to write about. He’s caught 5 different species of billfish all legal by the rules of the International Gamefish Association. He missed getting a blue marlin though he’s hooked more than a dozen, all Pacific save for a single Atlantic blue off Venezuela.
For 14 years he was part of long range fly fishing trips, the first trips all on Royal Star; later on Shogun. These specialized 100-foot boats are all at Fisherman’s Landing in San Diego. They’re called “long-range” because much of the hull holds fuel, enough for a boat to motor from San Diego to New Zealand. The majority of charters were to “the ridge,” a series of fish-rich sea mounts off the coast of Baja California. For 11 years he was the lone fly fishing charter-master and I was soon specializing in striped marlin. They concentrated off Magdalena Bay, 20-50 miles offshore, and as they concentrated on this fishing, he realized it was the largest concentration of adult marlin on planet Earth. He saw more than a thousand of these marlin hooked on flies, while he saw many thousands take a fly or popper.
Clients caught so many world records, must have been hundreds, including a number of his own. One day he caught a world record wahoo, a fish of about 50 pounds. Normally one cuts off a couple inches of fly line plus the attached leader and fly and stows it to be sent to the IGFA after the fish had been officially weighed on land. Rather than do that he went in the galley and got a beer. But then his number was called—they rotated through all the fly fishers—and he made a single cast and hooked a huge wahoo. When on deck it weighed 75 pounds before being stowed in the spray brine hold. Think it went in the record book as 64 pounds and is still the all time record on a fly. But he’s also held records for black marlin and striped marlin.
He made a good living at this long range business, but while delivering a foal, his back popped and his left side went numb and stayed that way for six months—setting in motion terrible back issues. Today he takes morphine for this.
His best fishing for Atlantic Salmon took place in Russia’s Kola Peninsula where over several trips he fished six different rivers and grassed some lovely fish. But these salmon had him traveling to Finland twice, one time to Lapland where he also fished a Swedish river.
Today the Klickitat River runs behind his house in Klickitat, a depression era sawmill town. Pretty quiet and peaceful there!