Basic Steelhead Fishing

Basic Steelhead Fishing

by Travis Milward- Northwest Fishing Excursions

The only thing I can think about in December is Steelhead!

It’s that time of year again, snow is falling, ski areas are opening, Christmas is in the air, but more importantly steelhead are entering numerous rivers and streams local to you!

Still a steelhead virgin? Never had the chance to have a heart-throbbing, two-toned, majestic acrobatic freight train of a fish tugging on the end of your line? STOP, take a minute and read this article, soak it all up and learn how to be a more productive steelheader day in and day out no matter how tough and adverse the conditions.

There are two types of steelheaders, those who get it and those who want to know how to get it! As frustrating as these chrome beauties may seem, they are actually quite contrary to your belief and instant success can come to those who are willing to adhere to some general guidelines.

Since this is Steelhead University, and we are the GO TO RESOURCE for everything there is to now about steelheading, we have made it easy for you to cut to the chase. Click on any of the links below to get dialed in quick with what we use and how we use it, as well as other tips and tricks to help make you a more consistent fisherman.

What to Wear

Gear to Bring

Catch and Release the Right Way

For different methods of fishing check out our Education Section

For different species techniques check out our Articles Section


Layer-up, it’s cold out there!!!

It might not seem that significant to you right now in the confines of your home or office, but trust me, a guy who has had more purple toes then Barney, you will want to invest in a quality set of cold weather fishing apparel. If you’re serious about winter steelheading, and can swing it, I recommend you try and get some of the items listed below.

A good set of breathable waders are the thing to have now if you are going to fish very often from the bank or drift boat, for that matter. They not only allow you less restrictiveness than neoprene, they also keep you warmer by keeping moisture out. A good pair of felt sole boots is also a must for walking along the slippery river rocks that we so commonly find in the northwest. The felt helps grip rocks so you won’t take an ice bath in the 36 degree water! For the outer shell, I prefer Gortex for the durability and comfort but you can get away with any pvc- type material shells made for the commercial fishing industry.

Underneath my waders I prefer to sport light warm materials such as micro fiber fleece pants and wool or wick away socks. I also throw on a nice warm fleece hat and fingerless gloves when the temps get down into the 20s. These clothing items help make the long days of early wake up calls and freezing temps more tolerable as you battle for northwest steelhead.


Gear up!

The 3rd Thursday in November usually means family, friends and neighbors getting together to feast on a Thanksgiving turkey dinner and watch football. For me I’ll settle for leftovers as I am methodically organizing my fishing gear for the return of Winter Steelhead. In preparing for Mother Nature’s truest of fish there are a few things you won’t want to leave home without.

-Pliers
-Scissors
-Hook File
-Latex Gloves
-Pre Tied leaders in the 6ft length (from bank #1 from boat dual#2s) at least 30
-Various lengths of pre cut lead and slinky’s
-Good amount of snap and barrel swivels
-Bobber Stops
-Mix bag of jigs from 1/16th to ½ oz
-Pink Worms with a threader
-Yarn in pink, white, chartreuse and black
-Corkies
-Spin n Glows
-Spoons & Spinners
-Camera
-Tape Measure
-A tub of cured roe as well as fresh sand shrimp
-Plugs like hot shots and tad pollys

Some of you might pack around more and some might have less, this is just a basic run down of what you should think about having in your tackle box or vest.

Top fishermen know that having everything organized and prepared puts more fish to the bank or boat. Simple math tells us that the more time your gear is in the water the better chance you have of catching fish, you never know when your fish might bite!

Attention to details like keeping your hooks sharp, checking knots for strength, and running your fingers down the line to check for abrasions will also coincide with better long term results. The little things do, and will, make the difference especially when fishing is tough. Remembering the little things could make a 2 or 3 fish lost day a 2 or 3 fish banked day. And that’s what we’re all after right?


Practice catch and release the right way!

Fisheries nationwide need us, the sportsmen, to practice ethical and less harmful ways of protecting our native runs of steelhead. Starting in 2005, WA State Fish and Wildlife made it illegal, on most streams, to take a native fish completely out of the water, after finding in their studies that steelhead have a 90% better chance of survival after the catch if left in the water when released. Most people, me included, were used to taking the fish to the boat, unhooking and snapping photos for the trophy wall. NOT ANY MORE. Without knowing exactly what harm I was doing to the fish, I began to research better methods of CnR (catch and release) for steelhead. I came up with a few ways to make this easier and more feasible while still allowing for picture taking.

1. Get a good quality net that is knotless and made for catch and release.
2. Use barbless hooks and swap out trebles for si-wash hooks.
3. Avoid using diver and bait (steelhead swallow this offering).
4. Use bigger hooks for side drifting/drift fishing.
5. When taking a picture, beach the boat, net the fish and keep it half way in the water, only having the fish out for a few seconds, if that.
6. On rivers that allow harvesting, take a tape measure and let the fish go, steak tastes better anyway.
7. Pick up any trash and tackle that you see on the river.

Practicing these general rules will indeed help us sustain a more consistent run of native fish for us and future generations

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