Though few have had the honor of catching one, every fisherman or woman that calls themselves a Steelheader has a very clear picture in their mind of what that ‘once in a lifetime’ Steelhead looks like. That mammoth Buck with a tail wrist too big to get your fingers all the way around, its head and flanks clad with war paint. Often times these marauding behemoths will refuse offerings that their smaller brethren fall victim to on a regular basis.
After an absolutely stellar first half of the season we’re approaching the time of year when some of the biggest and baddest Steelhead in the region enter our rivers. While it is certainly possible to land a trophy fish on any given method, there are a few that seem to produce more big Steelies than others.
Spoons: Bent metal may have accounted for more monster Steelhead than any other technique. Lures such as the “Li’l Cleo” and “Stee-Lee” among others have been catching big fish for several decades. A stout casting rod and low-profile reel paired with 15# test line is a good setup to start with. Spoons can be fished in similar water to spinners, but they particularly shine in tailouts.
A straight across or slightly downstream cast will put the spoon in position to ‘swing’ across the target water back to the bank. Size of your spoon will depend upon the current speed and depth of the run. The best Spoon fisherman will develop a sense for when the lure is just off the bottom where the fish will lie.
Pink Worms: as the popularity of these wiggly plastics rises, it’s becoming increasingly inaccurate to refer to them as “pink.” Large tackle manufacturers and small-time garage based business are producing them in an ever expanding array of colors. They are incredibly versatile as they can be drift fished, rigged under a float, side drifted, or even bobber-dogged. Most bobber riggings involve a 4-6” worm with the tip snipped off just above the collar and threaded on to a white 1/8oz or 1/4oz jig head. Fish them just like you would a jig, making sure to balance out the float with the weight and jig.
Pink worms are known for drawing savage strikes from big Steelhead. There is just something about these faux Nightcrawlers that drives Steelies absolutely crazy! Drift fisherman usually add a cheater, corkie, or some other type of drift bobber in front of the worm to get a little floatation.
Plugs: along with tossing spoons, backtrolling plugs for Steelhead may be one of the most time-tested and proven techniques out there. Sure, other methods may tend to put up bigger numbers of fish, but nothing will get your heart pumping like seeing (and hearing) a mint bright steelie nail your plug and come cart wheeling out of the water before you can even put your coffee down.
Diving plugs have long had a reputation of catching the most aggressive fish in the river. The concept is simple; deploy a wall of plugs at the top of the hole at a distance of approximately 50-70 feet and back them down slowly (tip: the colder the water temp, the slower you should go) all the way through the bottom of the run. Always make sure to fish them just a bit further down into the tailout than you think a fish will hold. The reason being is that often time a fish will usually encounter the plugs higher up in the hole, but slowly drop back as the wall of plugs pushes them. When the tailout is reached, the fish will be forced to make a choice to either strike, or retreat to the next hole. Therefore it seems the larger, more territorial fish are caught with this technique.
Each of these tactics have one thing in common. Erratic action. Bill Herzog once likened spoon fishing versus other methods to throwing an old soup bone over a fence in an attempt to entice a Rottweiler to come grab it. He may not even bat an eye and just go back to sleep. Now if you throw a snarling, frantic cat over the same fence, you’ll probably get a more positive response. I think the same could be said about any of these methods. Disclaimer-don’t throw any cats over your neighbor’s fence.
The rivers should be a little on the high side, but still very fishable this weekend, so get out and chase that fish of a lifetime. Also, I’ll be at the Sportsmen’s show this coming Wednesday checking out all the new gadgets and gear so be sure to say hi if you spot me!