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

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

Dickson’s Flyfishing Report

By Dennis Dickson

And so it goes.

Well, I am back to writing weekly fishing reports again. I hope you find them informative if not entertaining.

The Puget Sound river season is coming to a close early, again. The bright news is, The Queets on the Olympic Peninsula is posed to have another stellar year. If you have a large steelhead in your horizon, you might want to hook up with Mike ASAP. His dates are booking fast. 425 330 9506

Me? I get to guard the home front conducting the Casting classes & Lakes Schools for the next few months. You can read all about it in the Flyfishing Made Easy program. Teaching 300-500 fly anglers a year. Guiding isn’t All we do!

So the river reports:   The Skagit in the Rockport area is fishing the best. (5000-6000 cfs. @ Marblemount). Hatchery winter steelhead was short lived at best but the Dolly fishing has held up. Its hard to beat Cop Car for taking these fish, but anything big and wiggly will get a bite.

So many fly anglers have gone to swing fishing with tips but I maintain it is still the most misunderstood technique for taking winter fish. Here is an updated article I originally wrote some 10 years ago called Flylines are what catch fish.

Next reports will be relayed from Mike out on the coast.

Speaking of which:

Dickson Flyfishing will host a second seminar at Cabelas Topic: Swing Fishing for winter Steelhead, Olympic Peninsula and beyond.

We have decided to make this one into a workshop with 10 different displays covering everything from fly-tying to spey rods & equipment. We will have plenty of experts there to answer your questions, plus lots of hands on do-dads. Mike will be on hand to show his Queets River video, while I will host the show. Here’s the Scoop.

Where: Cabelas @ Tulalip

When: February 23 Time: 5-7 PM

Come as you are. It’s free!

Best of fishing,
Dennis & Mike Dickson