Chasing Late Winter Steelhead

Chasing Late Winter Steelhead!

It’s a cold one! My truck thermometer reads a chilly 29 degrees this morning. As I sit here waiting for first light, I find myself wondering why on earth I’m getting ready to go freeze my fanny off to chase steelhead?Lately, I haven’t had many opportunities, or time, to get out and fish. But by a twist of fate, I found myself with a few free hours this morning, when I could finally sneak away. It’s a short window of opportunity too, with 50 mph winds and 100% chance of rain forecasted for this afternoon, not to mention all the work sitting on my desk. With the web site Weather Underground predicting up to a 1/3 of an inch of rain, coupled with the already high water from last week’s storms, this next system could blow the rivers out again, which in reality, is the main reason I’m finding time to sneak away!!!I don’t know about you, but I let the high water fool me into not fishing last weekend. And of course, on Sunday, I started getting phone calls and emails from friends who had some pretty stellar outings. Sometimes it seems I can’t win for losing. So, I figured the only way to combat the issue was to sneak out this morning before the rain could put the kabosh on any future fishing plans.I’m sure you’ve heard the news of another decent push of winter steelhead at the coast. As I read the forums, I’m surprised at the number of people who think this is unusual. Even without the brood stock programs, February and March have always held the possibility of some outstanding fishing. Even better, the crowds have usually begun to dwindle as anglers begin chasing spring chinook in earnest. It’s always been a special time at the coast. In fact, I’ve had some truly spectacular days all the way into late April and early May.Another thing that keeps running through my mind is how last year every fishery (except tuna!) seemed to run 3 weeks to a month late. Could this be happening again? The robins have showed up early, I have trees that look like they are ready to bloom, and my yard really needs to be mowed. Who knows, but could the run timing be reversing itself this year? Or are we going to have another year of late arriving fish? Only time will tell, but so far the run timing seems a bit strange.Anyway, here I sit, parked in front of a gate on one of my favorite coastal streams, waiting for the grey light of dawn. I’m hoping, praying, maybe even needing, the redemption of just one chrome fish to help regain my perspective during this crazy season.

This morning, I’ve committed myself to fishing a bobber and jig. Mostly committed. I tied up a dozen jigs last night, dreaming of the precious metal they might help me coax from the river, but being the over zealous fish addict I am, I brought a drift rod just in case. But I really want to get them on jigs. 


Cerise Colored Jig

Cerise Colored Jig

Well the light is finally breaking. It’s time to get my rods together, my waders on, and to hike down to the stream. Wish me luck out there. Hopefully I’ll be back soon to report a successful morning of finding a bright fish or two.

I’m back, and yes, I do have a report. I was only able to fish for an hour and a half before time indicated the need to head back to my office, but in that short time I managed to land two nice steelhead.

I’m pleased I was able to use one of my new jigs to land a steelhead this morning. The reality of how it happened was even close to the scenario I had imagined while tying the jigs, cool!

Close up of jig caught steelhead

Close up of jig caught steelhead

I’m still happy I brought the extra rod and gear, because I used it to drift fish a fast run where I’d tried fishing the bobber and jig without success. The spot looked so fishy, I just couldn’t walk away when a fish didn’t immediately jump all over my jig, and on the very first cast with a corky and yarn, a bright little hatchery fish inhaled the offering.

Pretty hen fish caught first thing in the morning

Pretty hen fish caught first thing in the morning

A jig and a corky and yarn.

A jig and a corky and yarn which are both exceptional ways to catch winter steelhead.

While neither fish was chrome bright, they were still beautiful fish, (aren’t all steelhead beautiful?) and made a good account of themselves on the light gear. Both steelhead were hatchery fish, but since I hadn’t planned on keeping fish this morning, and with an early deadline for getting back to work, it just didn’t make any sense to bring fish home. So, I released both fish, hopefully to make another angler’s day as bright as mine!

Fishing Techniques for Bank Fishing Steelhead

There are so many techniques you can use when steelhead fishing from the bank, but in the past decade, the bobber and jig has become one of the go to techniques. It’s a simple way to fish, and as a bonus, it can be amazingly effective!

There are many different ways of rigging the bobber and jig, but I prefer a simple approach. I use 10 or 12 pound Maxima Fluorocarbon for leader, attached to the main line with a Double Uni Knot. I use 30 pound Power Pro Spectra (braid) for my main line, and a Double Uni Knot passes through the guides very easily, while also retaining high breaking strength. The benefit of using braided line is it floats, so mending the line is incredibly easy to accomplish.

I use ¼ ounce Thill Turbo Master Floats. These floats allow you to easily adjust the depth you are fishing, and because of the wire extending below the float help to stabilize such a light bobber, even in uneven flows.


Thill Turbo Master Float and Cerise Jig. Deadly steelhead combo!

Thill Turbo Master Float and Cerise Jig. Deadly steelhead combo!

Now tie on your favorite color of jig. I know there are a lot of choices for jig colors out there, and I even use a few of them myself, but when it really comes down to it, two color combinations see the most use. I generally either fish a cerise/pink, or a nightmare jig. Both of these colors cover so many different fishing scenarios, but most important, I have faith in them! I tie my own jigs, so I’m able to choose the color combinations when I’m tying, and I think having two contrasting colors is a good idea. The nightmare jig excels at this. For the pink jig, I use shell pink and extra hot cerise (super charged hot pink!) marabou feathers to provide a bit of contrast.

Many other jig colors will work as well, as long as you have faith in them. Combinations of pink, flame, orange, white, cerise, black and blue are all common steelhead colors. Just pick something you BELIEVE will get bit, and you’re on the right track!

Set the distance from the bobber to the jig so the jig will generally be about 6 inches off the bottom, and your ready to fish. Make sure and cast well above where you think the fish will be lying, so the jig can float down into the fishes view naturally. Try to get a drag free drift.

Using a long rod helps, by allowing you to lift as much line off the water as possible. When fishing a bobber and jig, a belly of line will almost always form at some point during the drift, because of different current speeds between you and your bobber. When this happens a mend is needed to remove the belly of line. Mending is accomplished by lifting the line off the water, all the way to the bobber, and then setting it back down upstream of the bobber, so the current can’t as easily form a belly in the line. If you don’t mend the line to remove the belly, the current will begin dragging your bobber and jig at a faster rate than the current lane they are floating in. To see a mend in action, go to youtube, and type in “mending jig and bobber” in the search window, and you can watch how this task is accomplished. If you haven’t done it before, mending can be frustrating at first, but like anything, with a little practice it’s very easily accomplished.

Your bobber will tell you when you’re not getting a drag free drift. When your bobber is riding straight up and down, you are getting a drag free drift. If you have developed drag, your bobber will be leaning to one side or the other. This is when a mend should be used to remove the drag. The bobber will also tilt to the side if your jig is dragging on the bottom. When this happens, you will generally see the bobber dancing a little bit as the jig bounce over the rocks on the bottom. This is when you should shorten the distance between the float and the jig. Again, when everything is working right, and you’re getting a drag free float, the bobber should be standing straight up and down.

Tools for jig fishing steelhead

Tools for jig fishing steelhead. An assortment of jigs, Turbo Master floats, Maxima fluorocarbon line, and a long limber rod to cast with.

A long rod is an essential tool for fishing bobber and jigs. I use G. Loomis STR1162-2S, which is a 9′ 8″ rod rated for 6-10 pound line. This rod has the length needed to achieve a drag free drift, and to be able to easily control and mend your line, while being supple enough to protect the lighter lines often used fishing for steelhead from breaking.

I use a Shimano Symetre 3000 spinning reel with 20 pound Power Pro braided line. The spinning reels allow the line to come off the reel much smoother without any tension from a revolving spool so you can more easily achieve a drag free float.

Colored up buck caught on a cerise jig

Colored up buck caught on a cerise jig

Now get out there and find some of those late winter steelies!