By Joe Princen
Hatchery Steelhead are similar to the big brother, the wild steelhead, but their feed and aggression levels can be much different at times. There is simply no denying the Hatchery Steelhead loves their snacks; Eggs, Prawns, Sand shrimp, Tuna belly’s and even Burkley Powerbait.
Without a doubt the most common form of success when targeting terminal hatchery fish inside a river system with light or heavy pressure is bait. The type of bait can set you apart on a day with heavy traffic. Being that one person from the bank or boat simply offering something with a slightly different color, flavor or scent can make your success much higher, buying the one product in the Isle at the sporting good store that hasn’t been used and mixing it with the most used product or most common prodcut/color is an example of standing out and being creative.
For eggs, I always keep multiple cures in my boat. Some sweet, some sour, some both and some with scent and some without scent! Some eggs that are semi wet and some that are very dry and gummi. However going through all these extra steps for a single day of fishing can be a pain in the ass, no doubt! But it can make the difference between that extra fish or two and maybe even the ONE of the day. Cured prawns are another favorite of mine for Steelhead, you can actually cure prawns from any grocery store and make them resemble multiple colors or scents.
Sample Egg Cure
(completely prepped, paper toweled and blood free eggs that are completely dry and ready for cure, if they have been neglected for a day or two, smell them you should smell hardly any scent and NO MUSTY SMELL)
1 Part Borax O’ Fire Red
1/2 Part Borax O’ Fire Rose Pink
1 Part Strawberry or Watermelon Jello (not sugar free)
1/4 Part (just a dusting) Pink Fire Cure
Let them cure on paper towels for a few hours at below room temperature, remove from towls, put in fridge for 2 days rolling bags. Remove bags from fridge after 2 full days and let eggs stand at room temperature on fresh paper towels egg side down and egg side up for 2 hours before rolling completely in new paper towels and zip locks or mason jars and freezing them with absolutely no air inside containers.
cut them to size, on new paper towels add scent if necessary and prepare your containers of bite sized baits before you hit the river.
Side Drifting and bobber dogging are bait tactics I’ll use for targeting terminal Steelhead. The question is were will I find these early fish? Typically early hatchery Steelhead will be in fast water sections like their late season brothers. These fish are early for a reason, they are moving. The typical slot water against the bank, in 3-6 foot deep areas of slow running speed current as well the typical head ins and tail outs of larger holes or long slot water areas you will find fast moving Steelhead. Areas of current seams that are converging hard together; look for the small break in the current just below these convergence zones. The reason you will see most of your success in these zones is because these fast moving early fish are slowing down in areas of hard current coming together giving them time to work up energy to shoot through these heavy seams. This gives you a chance to roll your bait directly in front of them at a slightly slower pace, which usually offers up a higher percentage of biting fish due to the force of the current finally giving you time to get your bite. In those slot water areas mentioned above target big Rocks, Limbs or deep slightly slower Buckets which all create a current break and a small sacturary for 2-3 moving fish to finally rest on these long hard stretches of current.
Hatchery Steelhead early season have very sharp teeth, they are known to cut through small leaders because they are so fresh and have a tendency to swallow objects such as bait because of their “piggy” eating habits inside a hatchery pen. Wild Steelhead usually bite hard on the actual presentation penetrating into normally just the object they are biting (not always).
This being said I use a 12-14lb fluorocarbon leader for hatchery fish for simply the abrasion resistance factor fluorocarbon leaders produce. Its outstanding compared to mono, and in addition its translucent presentation is a nice feeling of confidence when fishing a heavily pressured system. Another theory with Fluorocarbon leaders is how it actually fishes in the water is more “rigid” kicking your bait higher in the water, with less memory and at times easier for fish to grab (if you really look at the fine detail)
For hooks, the tinier the better when running a double hook setup, Use number 4 octopus hooks from Owner. Run them with a cheater in between them (were rivers permit double hook setups). The smaller hooks sink into the teeth of small-big fish with ease, with better landing ratios on pour hooksets. These needle sharp number 4 hooks should nearly set themselves after a hatchery fish chews on that bait!
Thanks for Reading a Brief Early Season Hatchery Fish Tutorial by
JP’s Guide Service. If you have any additional questions message me on facebook or If your interested in trying some of these techniques in the field and learn a little more about the different types of bait mentioned above please feel free to call or text me at 253 347 5300 / http://www.jpsguideservice.com