5 Quick Tips for Trophy Steelhead

Rob Endsley with a Trophy Steelhead

by Jason Brooks

Big wild steelhead are starting to show in our Northwest rivers. This means it’s time to go fishing folks. Here are five quick tips to make your trip better.

Use bigger gear to fight bigger fish-Jason Brooks

  1. Upsize your gear – Once you set the hook and realize you have a big steelhead it’s nice to know you can handle that fish and fight it to the bank. Use heavier mainlines and leaders as well as a stout rod. This helps you land the fish as well as release a fish that isn’t exhausted.

Pink worms are very effective for big fish-Jason Brooks

  1. Forget the Bait –  Instead of using bait which tends to cause higher mortality, switch to other tactics such as spoons, plugs, spinners, rubber worms and beads.

Scents attract fish as well as cover unwanted smells-Jason Brooks

  1. Use Scent – Bait gets swallowed but scent attracts fish to your gear and helps cover any unwanted smells. Apply Pro-Cure Super Gel to leaders, weights, and swivels and soak yarnies in Pro-Cure bait oils. Yarnies can be just as effective as bait and wild steelhead won’t swallow them.

Bobber dogging is an great way to increase your catch rate-Jason Brooks

  1. Learn to Bobberdog – This technique allows you to fish all different kinds of water without making adjustments. It is simple, you’ll lose less gear, and it’s highly effective. Hawken Fishing makes an entire line of Aero Floats designed specifically for bobber-dogging. Spend some time learning this technique and you’ll be able to easily target trophy steelhead holding water. 

Ted Schuman admires a trophy steelhead about to be released-Jason Brooks

  1. Take a Camera – Big fish are in our rivers and if you land that “fish of a lifetime” then take the time to snap a few photographs to preserve the memories. Remember to keep the fish in the water until the camera is ready.

Jason Brooks – Outdoor Line Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Early Winter Steelhead Have Arrived!

Brenda Schuman and Katie Hovland with an early winter steelhead-Ted Schuman

Brenda Schuman and Katie Hovland with an early winter steelhead-Ted Schuman

Early Winter Steelhead – They’re Here!

by Jason Brooks

Reports of early winter run steelhead have been blowing up my phone lately. Most notably my buddy Ted Schuman of Winter Run Guide Service and has been teasing me with photos from a few recent trips. Ted has been concentrating on far away Olympic Peninsula rivers and prides himself on catching steelhead before most other anglers put away the Coho twitching rods. Not far behind Ted is Mike Ainsworth of First Light Guide Service who likes to double dip on steelhead and Coho this time of year. His son Hunter Ainsworth is often bobber dogging baits with his pops, a technique that works great for both coho and early winter runs in December.

Mike Ainsworth of First Light Guide Service and his son Hunter with a winter steelhead caught bobber dogging-Mike Ainsworth

Mike Ainsworth of First Light Guide Service and his son Hunter with a winter steelhead caught bobber dogging a few winters ago-Mike Ainsworth

This year is no exception. With the cold weather this past week it seems to have slowed the Coho bite just a bit and a perfect time to switch over to steelhead fishing. Snow in the mountains means clear water which is perfect for pulling plugs and bait divers. Ted’s hottest setup for early December winter steelhead has been backtrolling Yakima Bait’s Mag Lip 3.5’s or Luhr Jensen Jet Divers with coon shrimp. With colder water temps it’s a technique that keeps the presentation in front of steelhead longer and gets them to bite. It’s hard to argue with it’s effectiveness!

Yakima Bait's "Dr. Death" mag lip 3.5 is a top producing steelhead plug-Jason Brooks

Yakima Bait’s “Dr. Death” mag lip 3.5 is a top producing steelhead plug-Jason Brooks

A healthy dose of Pro-Cure bait oils or super sauces, especially Bloody Tuna Anise, Sandshrimp, or Anise/Krill applied to plugs and even on the bait diver helps draw steelhead in for the take down.

The author's top winter steelhead scent additives-Jason Brooks

The author’s top winter steelhead scent additives-Jason Brooks

December is just the beginning of the winter steelhead season but don’t forget that several runs of late Coho are still coming into some of the Southwest Washington rivers. It is a great time to get out and double-up, especially since several of the rivers are restricted to just one hatchery Coho a day but two hatchery steelhead.

Katie Hovland with her very first ever steelhead, an early winter run-Ted Schuman

Katie Hovland with her first steelhead, an early winter run-Ted Schuman

In the last few day’s Ted has hooked ten “metalhead’s” in just three trips down the river, including a very bright first steelhead for Katie Hovland who was fishing with Ted and his wife Brenda this weekend. Don’t wait around until the new year before breaking out the bobber-dogging or plug rods. Steelhead are showing up and it’s time to hit the water!

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer

Using a Side Planer with Plugs

It’s December 8th and we’re getting a steady stream of hatchery steelhead reports pouring in from around Western Washington. A handful of the big name rivers that routinely pump out hatchery brats this time of year are doing just that.

When it comes to hatchery brats we typically talk about jigs, jigs, and more jigs. Hatchery winter steelhead keg up just below the hatcheries giving bank anglers a great opportunity to don the waders and stroke some steelhead on a jig and float from the beach. It’s easy and it’s hard to argue with it’s effectiveness.

What about the fish that don’t hit a jig though? There’s more than a few fish in the river that simply don’t want to mess with a jig. They’ve been there, done that. That’s where a plug comes in handy and really the only way to fish a plug effectively from the bank is with a Luhr Jensen Side Planer.

This is a great way to come in behind the morning masses and mop up a few fish behind everyone else. And if you find some room on the river in the morning to deploy this killer system that’s fine too!

Here’s Forest Foxworthy showing how to setup the Luhr Jensen Side Planer:

Hatchery winter steelhead simply don’t see that many plugs nowadays, yet they are deadly effective. Run a Hot Shot 35 or a K-11 behind one of these bad boys in a hatchery terminal area where you just know that hatchery brats are keg’d up and you might be surprised.

Thanks for stopping by and good steelhead fishing to you this winter!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Luhr Jensen Tech Tip – Using the Jet Diver

Our good friend Carmen Macdonald at Luhr Jensen just produced a great video describing how to properly rig and use a Jet Diver. These divers are widely used in salmon and steelhead fisheries throughout the northwest, the Kenai River, and Alaska’s Nushagak River. If you’re serious about salmon and steelhead fishing you’ll at some point need to use one of these great divers.

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Brooks Top Three Winter Steelhead Scents

By Jason Brooks

DSC_9207-3

Winter steelhead is one of the most popular fisheries in the northwest, mostly because we start catching them around Thanksgiving and continue clear into springtime. It is the longest run timing of any or our anadromous fisheries and gives anglers the most opportunity at catching fish. With just about every type of technique available from pulling plugs, throwing spinners and spoons, drifting yarnies, and float fishing jigs, eggs, sand shrimp, pink worms, and let’s not forget the “old school” technique of driftfishing they all have one thing in common in that you can add scents to make them more effective. I apply scents to every technique I use, and here are my top three producing scents for winter steelhead.

#1. Anise/Krill

The combination of sweet anise and the baseline food source for steelhead in the ocean, krill, is a killer combo. Steelhead love sugar and have a “sweet tooth” just ask any die hard steelheader what their “secret” egg cure ingredient is and you will learn it’s a sugar based cure. In fact, before Bad Azz bait dyes came along the standby was raspberry or strawberry Jell-O, again a sweetened color dye. Then adding krill into the mix only makes this one even more productive.

Pro Cure Steelhead and Salmon Scents

#2 Sand Shrimp

This is almost a “no brainer” with little need for explanation. Sand shrimp are a popular steelhead bait and of course a scent that uses real sand shrimp, like Pro-Cure’s Super Gel, can turn your spoon, plug, or jig into a fish killer. Steelhead love sand shrimp, plain and simple. And don’t forget Pro-Cure makes a water soluble oil with sand shrimp. When I cure my eggs I heavily drench them before I add my powdered egg cure, let them sit for a few hours and then cure up my eggs. It creates yet another perfect combo bait.

sand_shrimp

#3 Anise Bloody Tuna

Fairly new to the market is a scent that you would think only a salmon would love, but steelhead love it too. I can’t fathom why they like this one but I can tell you it flat out works. Again, the anise just plain catches steelhead and the bloody tuna is a potent oil that triggers the predator instinct in fish.This is a great scent for yarnies as it slowly dissipates into the water and when a fish grabs hold of it they don’t let go.

brooks_pro_cure_scents

Jason Brooks, Northwest Outdoor Writer

River Cooking with a Camp Chef Stryker Series Stove

Today I had the pleasure of taking northwest outdoor writer Jason Brooks and his son Ryan steelhead fishing on a local river. It’s February here in Washington and we are in the middle of the wettest winter in history. Today it would clear up just long enough for us to think it was a good idea to stay out longer before another deluge would settle in.

After hooking a couple steelhead we decided to pull over for lunch during a very brief clearing and Jason pulls out this completely awesome little Camp Chef Stryker series stove. While I ate my uneventful peanut butter sandwich and venison pepperoni sticks Jason quickly boiled up some water and added it to a Mountain House freeze dried meal. It took exactly TWO MINUTES for the water to boil with this stove!

Oila! Ryan and he dove into their warm lunch on this cold and wet Pacific Northwest day. I wasn’t envious one bit.

Camp Chef Stryker Stove

The entire stove including the fuel canister fit right back into the small pot and it tucks away nicely in a dry bag or storage compartment in the boat. It even has it’s own ignitor so you don’t have to worry about packing a lighter or matches.

Camp Chef also makes a propane model but like me Jason is a hardcore hunter and wanted the compact butane model for his high country hunting trips.

The exact model of this one is the Camp Chef Mountain Series Stryker 100 Isobutane Stove.

 

Camp Chef Stryker Series Stoves

 

They retail for around $65 to $70 and you can bet I’ll be ordering one soon. This is just the ticket for tricking our two kiddos into fishing with me again, and again, and again!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

 

5 Tips for Catching Trophy Steelhead

 By Jason Brooks

IMG_6813-001-2

With longer days and warmer weather the winter steelheader knows this is the time of year for big fish to arrive in our rivers. Those that might have not caught a truly large steelhead will learn a few lessons as soon as they hook the fish. Unfortunately this is not the time to learn those lessons. And if you have caught that magical fish of a lifetime then you might want to remember these lessons as well before you head back to the river.

The author about to release a wild steelhead, keeping it in the water at all times-Jason Brooks

The author about to release a wild steelhead, keeping it in the water at all times-Jason Brooks

Go where the big fish are.

By doing a little research or hiring a reputable guide you can find a handful of rivers that produce big steelhead. Don’t think you can just head to any old steelhead stream and catch a giant fish, even if rumors abound that a twenty pound fish came out of “hatchery brat creek”. Wild fish need wild places so head to a remote section of the Olympic Peninsula with a handful of river maps in your tackle box.

Rivers with wild fish are in wild places-Jason Brooks

Rivers with wild fish are in wild places-Jason Brooks

Leave the bait at home.

This time of year and the rivers you will target should have a run of big wild fish which means we need to protect them. By using techniques that don’t require bait you are more likely to not mortally hook one of these majestic fish. But by all means use scents when it’s legal to do so!

It might seem strange to not use bait but use scents, however it’s how you use the scent that makes the difference. I rub Pro-Cure Super Gel’s on my leaders as well as smear it on my plugs and spoons and soak my slinkies in Pro-Cure bait oils. The idea of using scents is to have it disperse downstream of your presentation so the fish is anticipating something coming and also entice the strike.

Using scents can entice a strike-Jason Brooks

Using scents can entice a strike-Jason Brooks

Knotless nets and fish stay in the water.

This is almost a no brainer with Washington’s regulations though I still see the green or blue nylon knotted nets in drift boats. Those nets literally rip the slime off of the fish which compromises the fish’s ability to fight off bacteria and infections. Along with using a soft knotless net you should keep the fish in the water at all times. Sure I see the photos of one fin in the water to “keep legal” but really the head of the fish or at least the gills plate should remain in the water. And be careful of hand placement as putting pressure under the pectoral fins can compress the steelheads heart.

Use a knotless net when practicing catch and release-Jason Brooks

Use a knotless net when practicing catch and release-Jason Brooks

Bring a camera!

A real camera, not your cell phone. You finally land a fish of a lifetime and it’s now time to preserve that memory or even use the photos to make a replica mount of the fish. Take a lot of photos from all sorts of perspectives, including close up shots and use a “fill flash” to lighten shadows of ball caps. Along with the camera make sure to take measurements of your fish so you can do the math calculations on just how big your fish really was. Here’s a formula that’s been developed by biologists to determine the weight of a wild steelhead:

Girth Squared x Length/775

Use a camera to capture the fish and angler to share the memories-Jason Brooks

Use a camera to capture the fish and angler to share the memories-Jason Brooks

Upsize your gear.

If you are still using 8 or 10 pound test leaders and 12 pound mainline you will really wish you weren’t the second you realize you have a monster steelhead up and running. Truly big fish are not as leader shy as some hatchery brats. And big fish means big gear. As soon as we get a warm spring day I switch all of my mainline to either 15 pound monofilament or 20 to 30 pound braid. My leaders are at least 12 pound test and a buddy of mine uses 20 pound test when we fish a certain river on the coast known for log jams and huge fish. I also trade my lightweight side drifting rod for my fall salmon rod. I keep a finger on my line to help feel the bite but I want the backbone of the medium to medium heavy action rod to turn that big fish away from the logs and rocks and hopefully force it in to the bank. Plus the sooner you can land a big fish the sooner you can let it rest and get it back into the stream. Fighting a steelhead to near exhaustion is no different than bonking it on the head with a stick.

Use the right gear and bring in the fish before it reaches exhaustion-Jason Brooks

Use the right gear and bring in the fish before it reaches exhaustion-Jason Brooks

Good luck and go find that steelhead of a lifetime!

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer

Keys to Successful Bank Steelheading

Bank angling for winter steelhead, a Northwest Tradition

by Jason Brooks

Bank bound anglers often feel they are at a hindrance to those floating buy in drift boats or having the wake of a jet sled slap the shores as they zoom by. But just because one is on foot doesn’t mean they are at a disadvantage as long as the bank angler utilizes some basic knowledge and prepares for the day of fishing. Here are a few keys to becoming a more successful bank bound steelheader.

Hooking and fighting a fish from shore can be very fun and productive

Hooking and fighting a fish from shore can be very fun and productive

Know the river and the land that surrounds it. With the internet and Google Earth as well as many other mapping systems like Hunt by “onXmaps”. A little research before you head to the water will benefit the angler on foot. Access points to some secret holes or runs can be found by simply clicking through the county auditor’s website and learning which bank areas are open to the public and who might own the private lands to ask for permission. River’s change course each winter with the heavy rains but Google earth will show you the bends and long straights with a tail out.

After you have done a search and found several access points to a river you want to fish, it’s time to put the boots on the ground. Take an entire day to explore the river and check out all potential access points and areas to fish. The first time you visit a river it should be to explore. Even if you find that secret run or deep slot, fish it for an hour and then make yourself move on and keep looking around. You will thank yourself the next time you drive to the river and find a person in your best spot and then not have to go try and find a new one as you will already know where to go.

Fishing the bank is very rewarding

Fishing the bank is very rewarding

Once you learn a river or two or three…you get the idea, then it’s time to get smart about your gear. When I bank fish, and yes, I still like the ease of hiking into a river and fishing instead of fighting the lines at the boat ramps. I usually take two rods, both are the same though. The idea is to have a back-up rod and reel outfit in case your primary one breaks, it happens, as my car door is notorious for eating rods in the parking lot. My “go to” steelhead outfit is a 9 ½ foot medium to light action spinning rod with a 3000 series reel spooled with 20 pound braid. This set-up allows me to fish multiple ways and a variety of water conditions.

Hooking a fish from the bank, nothing feels better

Hooking a fish from the bank, nothing feels better

The tackle box is where you can really get into trouble when it comes to bank angling. You need to pack just the right gear and right amount and carry it all throughout the day. This is where using a universal rod and reel like the one mentioned above really pays off. I will pack six spoons, three in ½ ounce and three in ¾ ounce so I can adjust to water speed. Since I am fishing braid I also bring along four adjustable ½ ounce floats, six or more jigs, a dozen “yarnie” pre-tied drift fishing leaders, another dozen leaders just plain, some pink worms and a few bare jig heads. I am not a big bait fishing fan when bound to the bank as you then need carry the bait and keep it fresh, but I do carry scents, such as Pro-Cure Super Gel in Anise, Sandshrimp, and Salmon Egg. By using the yarnies with scent I am essentially using a standard bait drift fish rigging. Don’t forget the swivels and weights, I prefer slinkies in various shot amounts depending on the water conditions. All of this goes into a backpack and takes up little room and is lightweight.

Grant Blinn with a shore caught steelhead about to be released

Grant Blinn with a shore caught steelhead about to be released

With the above mentioned rod and reel, and gear I can fish several methods and all water conditions. From throwing spoons, drift fishing yarnies and pink worms to float fishing jigs and “whacky” rigged worms and even a spoon under a float in a boulder garden, as well as bobber-dog a long run. I have stood at the top of a seam and bobber-dogged until my line on my spool was down to the last wrap. Now that it working the water!

The author, Jason Brooks, with his son Ryan and two winter steelhead on the bank

The author, Jason Brooks, with his son Ryan and two winter steelhead on the bank

Strap on the boots, check the river levels and head for the bank. By preparing and being armed with knowledge of the river you will be more successful. Just don’t smile too much as the boats go by, knowing they have to fight the lines at the launch.

Jason Brooks
Northwest Outdoor Writer

The Versatile Drift Boat

by Jason Brooks

If you ask me what is the most versatile watercraft to pursuit salmon and steelhead I would have to say it’s the drift boat. With its distinctive up curved ends and flat bottom designed and built to float in skinny northwest rivers it also handles bigger waters such as mainstream rivers, estuaries, and bays. Add in the fact that they are extremely economical with very little maintenance and it’s no wonder that their popularity is making a huge comeback.

A drift boat is a great way to enjoy a relaxing  day of fishing -Jason Brooks

A drift boat is a great way to enjoy a relaxing day of fishing -Jason Brooks

It all started on the McKenzie River in Oregon, or at least that is the legend of where the drift boat originated. In fact some people still call them McKenzie drifters, or just plain McKenzie boats. First made of wood the early boats proved to be useful for getting down a river. If you hit a rock or damaged the hull you could patch it with some basic hand tools, back when most people actually still used hand tools and made a lot of their own boats. Nowadays with modern fabrications the wooden boat is all but gone, though you can still find them for sale on Craigslist. They are more for nostalgia as wood boats are a bit heavier and tend to not row as easy. So the modern argument for this old design is fiberglass or metal when it comes to hull materials.

Aluminum boats are thought to be "cold" -Jason Brooks

Aluminum boats are thought to be “cold” -Jason Brooks

I see it posted several times on internet forums, usually around the time the Outdoor Trade Shows or Boat Shows start up. Someone will get the itch to buy a drift boat and ask fellow fishers what they should get, a “glass” or metal boat. I sit back and read the replies from the internet experts until I can’t take it anymore and chime in my opinion. I start by saying that if the person who is thinking about buying a drift boat has never rowed one to first take a guided trip. It is well worth the money to see if you really want to invest in one of these boats. This usually leads to my next bit of advice, take it or leave it, but I think anyone who wants to get into their first drift boat should buy a used one. Now, before the advertisers of this site get too mad, I am only advocating this for the first time buyer, as soon enough the person will want to upgrade and look to have a boat manufacturer make a custom boat for them.

The fiberglass boat can be lighter than aluminum -Jason Brooks

The fiberglass boat can be lighter than aluminum -Jason Brooks

Here is my reasons why you should consider used for your first drift boat and why a guided trip is a must prior to the purchase. If you have patience and look at sale sites for any length of time you will find those ads by people who offer up a practically new boat for half the cost. Ones where the person decided to get a drift boat and spent the money only to float a river and find out that rowing can be harder than it looks. Either it scared them to have no control over the fact you have to go down the river, or they were too sore to care to row ever again. Also, drift boats hold up pretty well, even boats that have some road rash or a few dents float just fine. You can find really good deals on boats that are 10 years old or older, and really the design of the boat hasn’t changed in 50 years so age isn’t much of a factor. The main difference between a new boat and a used one are options. When buying used you are stuck with what the previous owner purchased. This can work in your favor as a bare bones boat is lighter and easier to row than one that has lots of bells and whistles.

New boats are nice and once you own a drift boat and become proficient at rowing one you will get the itch to order your own boat. This is mostly because each person is slightly different when it comes to fishing styles. I like to drift fish and float eggs under a bobber, but another buddy of mine likes pulling plugs and throwing hardware. So for me multiple rod holders, bait trays, motor mount, and other accessories are a must. For the guy who likes to pull plugs you want it set up with pole holders, a heater for those cold days where the front passengers are just sitting idle watching the rod tips thump.

Heaters make for a comfortable day when it's cold -Jason Brooks

Heaters make for a comfortable day when it’s cold -Jason Brooks

This brings us back to the argument of “glass” versus metal. I really don’t have a preference but I do own a metal boat and one of my buddies owns a fiberglass boat. Both are great boats and ironically my boat actually floats higher in the water than his does. Most think that the material matters, and to some degree it does, but so does design. His is a 16 foot by 48 inch bottom. Mine is a 16 foot by 54 inch bottom. That extra width at the bottom of the boat is what allows mine to float or draft higher and slip through in shallower waters and makes it react to rowing a bit quicker. His is “warmer” as my metal boat becomes an ice bucket during those early spring steelhead trips.

Being able to row around debris and in skinny water make the drift boat versatile -Jason Brooks

Being able to row around debris and in skinny water make the drift boat versatile -Jason Brooks

Okay, if you just read all of this and are scratching your head at what the heck I am talking about; “how it rows, reacts faster, floats higher”. Here is what drift boaters are talking about. The boat is designed to float with very little displacement, or otherwise known to float high in the water by its flat bottom design. With the stern and bow raised is allows the water to push the boat up as the water flows underneath. As you row backwards you pull the boat up and away from where the bow is pointed. If the boat is heavy or narrow and sits lower in the water there is more drag or resistance and you need to row harder, either faster or by digging you oars deeper into the water. Fiberglass boats are slick and have less coefficient of friction on the bottom because of the materials they are made from. Fiberglass that is coated with a gel coat has very little resistance in the water, where metal boats have tiny grooves or pores which tend to cause more friction in the water. To overcome this metal boat owners put a coating on the bottom of the boat and with new Kevlar materials these coatings can stand up to a few years of use. But they must be up kept, one of the downfalls of a metal boat. Fiberglass boats do wear out and can have soft spots or leaks from hitting rocks or gouges from sliding over gravel bars.

Drift boats require very little maintenance -Jason Brooks

Drift boats require very little maintenance -Jason Brooks

All drift boats have some basic maintenance requirements, but not many. This is another bonus for owning one these boats. If you put a motor on one you must also license it. Keep the motor off and stay away from Federal or navigable waters defined by the Coast Guard and there is no need to license it in Washington (check your local laws). With the motor you can easily fish close to shore in bays and estuaries and also motor up the deep holes and slot in rivers to float them again. But one of my favorite reasons to own this versatile boat is that it is quiet and allows you to really pay attention to fishing and relax while floating down a river.

Jason Brooks
Northwest Outdoor Writer

 

Successful Steelhead Fishing

By Jason Brooks

The cold days of January creates clear waters on the drop and for the steelhead angler it is time to hit the rivers. This time of year brings in fresh fish that are nickel sided and black backed ready to bite. Mixed in the bag are hatchery brats and wild fish, both are a quarry anglers dream about and prepare for. It is this preparation that makes the difference from a day spent on the river hoping to hook a fish and a day on the river catching a lot of fish. Here are a few tips and pointers to rekindle the winter steelhead excitement and help you put more fish on the bank.

Steelhead Fishing in the Snow, photo by Jason Brooks

Steelhead fishing in the winter means fishing in extreme elements. (photo by Jason Brooks)

A guided trip is always worth the money. Not only do you get to use the industries top equipment but also learn from those that have already been out fishing the rivers. A prime example is Eli Liske of E&S Sportfishing (www.essportfishing.com or 253-332-1240) who’s been out fishing for several weeks now and lately has been catching steelhead on just about every coastal river he can get his drift boat down.

This brings up another point and that is with each rain the rivers change. Guides have a network of information on which rivers are fishable, which ones have hazards, and which ones are not worth your time. Eli had a day off this last weekend so he took his son, Aiden, out to yet another river known for big wild fish and they were rewarded with a few nice fish including one that took a plug. If you want to learn a new technique or just improve your fishing by learning advanced methods then hiring a guide will increase your knowledge in quick order.

Aiden Liske with a plug caught winter steelhead, Photo by Eli Liske

Aiden Liske with a plug caught winter steelhead. (Photo by Eli Liske, E&S Guide Service)

The internet is friend and foe all in one stroke of the keypad. If you like to frequent fishing websites and chase internet reports then you might become a little frustrated. But if you use the internet for things such as river flows, google earth maps for access, and recipes on bait cures then you will be rewarded with more time to fish and success on the river. The thing to remember on using the internet is to use it as a tool to learn as well as for entertainment, such as YouTube videos, scenic photography, and post of other angler’s adventures. More than once I have had a hateful reply to a blog I wrote because it gave away someone’s “secret” fishing hole, yet if I wrote about it then it wasn’t a secret because obviously I found it. If you do have a true secret spot then don’t share it, not even the photos.

J.R. Hall with a southern Olympic Peninsula winter steelhead. (Photo by JR Hall)

J.R. Hall with a southern Olympic Peninsula winter steelhead. (Photo by JR Hall)

Bank bound anglers are fairly restricted to both access to the river as well as techniques used. If you are a bankie then learn to fish smarter. Know the river by exploring it and all the access points and know which techniques will work and which ones won’t. This can be due to several limiting factors such as water conditions, bank conditions like overhangs or boulders to stand on, and even other anglers in the area. Reiter Ponds and Blue Creek are good examples. These areas are mostly fished by anglers floating jigs tipped with prawns, and a few drift fisherman. Don’t go there expecting to swing spoons or spey cast streamers.

Another friend, JR Hall of JR’s Steelheading Adventures (www.steelheadnwynoochee.com or 253-320-8806) on his days away from guiding is often found walking the banks of one my favorite rivers on the Olympic Peninsula. We both own drift boats and I asked him one day why he was bank fishing. He simply stated that sometimes he just likes to not worry about a shuttle and the hike along the river, spey rod in hand, allows him some solitude. This river has great bank access and he lands multiple big fish each trip with nobody even knowing he is fishing as his rig doesn’t have a trailer and there are day hikers in the area accessing the National Park.

Photo 4 by Jason Brooks

To truly be successful as a steelhead angler you must understand that winter steelheading is more than just filling the freezer. Yes, there are terminal and hatchery fisheries like those on the Wynoochee and Humptulips (both are doing well since the New Year began by the way) where you can catch a few steelhead and more than likely take home a limit for the smoker or barbecue.

But as our winter starts to warm into spring and the big wild steelhead enter the waters take a time to reflect back on this fish’s life. A journey full of challenges that it must overcome to make it back to the spawning grounds. If you are honored to land such a fish then take care of it with proper handling and releasing of the fish. It will return yet another year and reward the successful steelheader once again.

Jason Brooks
Northwest Outdoor Writer