Steelhead fishing is such a thrilling thing anglers can do, mostly in the winter. It’s fish from the salmon family and one of the best sport fish in North America. But steelhead fishing requires a few techniques that you should know when you are planning to get out for catching winter steelhead.
Steelheads probably have the highest ability to fight because they are completely acrobatic, strong, and energetic. In most areas like the Pacific Northwest, steelheads run two times each year. Some of them return to the rivers in the summer, where others migrate their living place during the colder season.
So, all you need to plan well before finding and catching more steelhead. Here we’ve revealed few tips for successful steelhead fishing with the right gear selections.
Make yourself prepared for steelhead fishing
It’s necessary to learn about the river’s current fishing conditions and its steelhead runs before you’ve planned to get out.
First, you need to learn about steelhead’s run time on the river. In a few places, hatchery steelheads return earlier in the season. You may find them for a longer time in a river with wild broodstock hatchery programs. Remember wild steelheads run later and right in the season.
Always check the water levels before going out fishing. Steelheads move on high water levels but fishing in that condition is more challenging for the anglers. The best time for steelhead fishing is right after a rain when the water levels start to drop.
Finding a safe access point is a must before planning for steelhead fishing.
Where to catch steelhead?
Steelheads inhabit the west coast from California to Alaska, and in many areas, their numbers are being increased through hatchery programs. They have also been introduced and enriched in the big lakes region.
Remember, steelheads are not so easy to catch, and mindset for days when you can’t catch a single one.
Targeting the zone for steelhead needs more specific research than you think? So, be patient to read the river system thoroughly to determine the right timing in the water. You will find a few rivers where steelheads run a single time a year, and a few others with both summer and winter runs.
Steelheads are mostly found in gravelly zones a few feet deep. These rocky zones hold more fish than any coverless area in the river. If your river has these zones, toss your bait close to the rocks to get one instantly.
Also, try fishing where the water slows down after a fast-moving zone. Often, the species rest there to be prepared to run through the rapids in front.
What is the best time to fish for steelhead?
It all depends on the timing of the river. All you need to research about the river deeply to experience the best time for steelhead fishing.
You can catch steelhead all over the year as different runs happen throughout the year. So, learning the particular runtime in the river you want to fish may boost up the game mostly.
Anglers think differently about the best time for fishing. Fly fishing anglers believe that the best time for steelhead fishing is all over the day. Whereas, bait and tackle anglers believe, that the evening and dawn are the best time for catching the big ones.
Now focus on the timing of each run, which is more important to catch more steelhead. Summer run fish starts to migrate in early March and will grow in a few coastal, small streams, and rivers in late spring to early summer.
Summer steelhead stays in the rivers until reproductive maturity and returns into the spawning beds again. So, in this long period, they are available for fishing in some areas.
Winter run begins in the last of the fall and moves take up into spring. In-home range, the winter steelheads spawn sooner. They are a bit larger on average than summer fish. So, targeting winter steelhead assures some big catches for the anglers. During the winter, I recommend carrying a good ice fish finder to help you track your fish, water columns, and GPS location..
Using the proper tackle for steelhead fishing
It’s much more important to use the proper tackle while fishing steelhead. Remember, you are going to fight one of the strongest fish out there.
Get an eight to ten-foot, slow to a medium-action fishing rod that is rated for 8 to 12 lbs test line. Also, get a quality fishing reel that has a smooth drag system.
Now, spool the reel with the line, and tie it on a barrel swivel. Then tie about 4 feet of 6-pound tippet.
The recommended bait for spin fishing steelhead is egg sacs. Use fresh egg sacs for better fishing success.
Get a nine to the ten-foot fishing rod with a matching reel.
Spool the reel with a line that is two sizes lighter than the fishing rod weight.
Using lighter lines helps to get your fly to the bottom where the fish will be.
Note: Always consider a long and soft fishing rod to use a lighter tippet successfully.
Adjust your gear and techniques to the water levels
If you want to fish near the bottom where they belong, adjust your techniques for different water levels is a must.
High water level:
- Look for steelheads in the clear waters near the bank or behind rocks
- Use heavyweight leader and larger lures to cast in the right place and handle the water flows
- It’s better using drift fishing or plunking, and slower your presentations to provide fish enough time to strike
- Use bright color lures like orange, pink, or so
Low water level:
- Find fish near the head of the hole, or in the deepest part of the run
- Use lighter leader and tiny lures with dark colors like red, blue, and black
Note: For both water levels, use a heavier line and adjust the required leader size.
How to safely release a wild steelhead?
The following tips will give your catch the highest chance of survival:
- Quickly land your catch
- Never use barb fishing hooks
- Keep the steelhead in the water
- Revive it before releasing
That’s all for now. If you follow the above steelhead fishing tips correctly, your fishing will undoubtedly improve. Always be safe while fishing by staying vigilant of your surroundings, fishing with a partner, and avoiding alcohol.
Andy Allan, a well-known fishing enthusiast and hiking professional, runs the blog. Andy is a Georgia-based outdoor enthusiast. He has hiked throughout the United States and parts of Australia.
He is also well-known for his passion for fishing, particularly for bass, steelhead, and salmon. Andy discusses his adventurous life, fishing and hiking equipment reviews, and blog posts on hiking and fishing tips and tricks in Outdoors Activity.