Nearly 2.3 million catchable sized trout have been recently planted in lakes all across Washington.
Now that opening day of the lowland lakes fishing season has passed the crowds are starting to subside but the fish are still readily biting. I spent this past weekend on one of my favorite lakes with great success. Here are a few lures that worked for us that will work for you too!
A feisty trout is a lot of fun to catch-Jason Brooks
These are my top five lures for getting these early season rainbow trout to bite:
-1/4 ounce Silver UV Cripplure by Macks Lure -Brown Smile Blade Fly by Macks Lure -Black and Silver 1/4 ounce Roostertail by Yakima Bait Company -F4 Flatfish by Yakima Bait Company -Kokanee Cut Plug by Brads
The Author’s top trout-catching lures-Jason Brooks
I’ll either flat line the spinners and spoons or I’ll place a ¼ ounce to ½ ounce split shot a few feet in-front of the other lures to get them down a bit. When you’re fishing any of these lures for trout be sure to troll slow.
To rig the new Kokanee Cut Plug tie two size 8 Gamakatsu painted octopus hooks and then slide a rubber bobber stop by Beau Mac on the leader, which comes with a small bead. The bead acts as a bearing for the cut plug and really lets it spin freely. By using the rubber bobber stop you can adjust the set-back of the hooks to catch those short-biting fish. And last but not least be sure to add a bunch of scent to the cavity of the Brads Super Bait. The scent cavity is designed specifically for adding scent and it works great!
Rigging the new Kokanee Cut Plug-Jason Brooks
Using a Super Gel or bait oil by Pro-Cure attracts trout that might otherwise not want to move around in the colder water. Top-producing Pro-Cure scents for me are Rainbow Trout, Crawfish, and Trout and Kokanee Magic.
Adding scents to your lures increases your catch-Jason Brooks
There are 2.3 million reasons why you should hit your local lake for trout in the coming weeks. The opening day crowds are gone and there are still plenty of hungry fish around.
Spring Chinook are highly prized no matter how hard it is to catch them-Jason Brooks
by Jason Brooks
With record high water and water clarity the color of mud it’s been hard to get excited about spring Chinook fishing. That is until you realize that it’s already mid-April and the fish are in the river. Regardless of the water conditions this is our chance to catch the worlds best eating salmon before they head to their natal streams. The main Columbia and most of its tributaries are flowing high this spring but here are some tips on how to fish for Springers while we can.
Double up on in-line flasher’s like Big Al’s from YBC attracts fish in muddy water-Jason Brooks
Double up! Its no secret that trolling Big Al’s Fish Flash with a trailing herring is a top producer for springers. With low visibility use two of the in-line flashers to create even more flash. Buzz Ramsey of Yakima Bait Company explained that the fish are attracted to the flashing of the rotating flashers so in very low visibility waters he will put two of them end to end to create even more flash.
Brined and Dyed baits with UV finish on a shorter leader will catch more fish-Jason Brooks
In low visibility water the double flashers draw the fish and if you use the standard 48 inch leader the fish simply won’t see the bait. Instead shorten the leaders to 24-30 inches.
Ultraviolet light is radiated from the “electromagnetic spectrum” of light that “glows”. You and I can’t see it but the fish can. Many lures come with UV enhancements and on dark days using lures, flashers, and bait dyes with UV can attract fish. In high water this can make a bite turn on. Use cures such as Pro-Cure’s Brine-n-Bite Complete with UV on your herring and UV dyes such as Bad Azz bait dye don’t hurt either.
High water means fish will be on the move so trolling can be more productive for suspended fish-Jason Brooks
Trolling in high water can put you in front of more fish, as the fish are on the move and can be scattered. During normal flows it’s common to sit on anchor for the outgoing tide and on smaller rivers anchoring on seams and current breaks can work well. With the extreme high water we have right now, however, the fish are on the move and trolling can produce more fish than “sitting on the hook”. Keep in mind that the fish are not always right on the bottom and in slack waters they’ll suspend so it’s a good idea to stagger the rods at different depths while trolling.
Regardless if a storm is coming or a sunny day is forecasts, get out and fish!-Jason Brooks
Get out and fish! Regardless of tides, high water, rain, wind, or any other excuse that you’re using to stay home, the Spring Chinook season is very short so get out and wet a line!
Buzz Ramsey is no stranger to springer fishing on the Columbia River and regardless of the conditions you’ll find him out there on the river on a daily basis trying new color patterns and techniques. All the hard work paid off with this nice springer for Shirley Sanchotena on a recent outing.
Shirley Sanchotena and Buzz Ramsey are all smiles with Shirley’s Springer caught during high water that bit a herring on a short leader trailing two Big Al’s Fish Flash-Jason Brooks
Jason Brooks The Outdoor Line Blogger 710 ESPN Seattle
Well, “show season” aka “winter” is fast fading in the rear view mirror and after several full days of seeing the latest and greatest the fishing industry 2017 has to offer, I’ve boiled down the vast array of choices to these top of the line items that will get you off on the right fishy foot this season!
Daiwa Four-Carrier J Braid: A whole lot of anglers who’s opinions I sincerely respect are moving toward a spool of 65lb braid with a 20-foot top shot of 25 lb test mono for their mooching and trolling reels. The Daiwa J Braid in particular has less flexibility and stretch than most braids and more abrasion resistance making it a great choice for salt or river salmon fisheries!
Silver Horde’s Two Face Spoons: Kelly Morrison of SIlver Horde noticed that most of the “hot spoons” that anglers had the pleasure of fishing have had one thing in common: some type of paint finish on the “back” or concave side. Silver Horde has capitalized on this trend by finishing both sides of the very popular -and effective- Kingfisher Lite and Coho Killer series of lightweight trolling spoons.
CANNON Terminator Kit: Are you still carrying around a box of crimps and a pair of specialty pliers that you rarely use for anything else? Here’s the thing: as soon as you crimp your cable, you’ve damaged it and the clock is ticking. Here come the wire frays and then “POP” another expensive ball, release and rigging has just become habitat. With Cannon’s nylon Terminator, the wire is cushioned in the channel of the loom and you’ll enjoy significantly longer wire life, saving you money and fishing time!
Pro-Cure Downrigger Dynamite: There’s little question of the deadly effectiveness of Phil Pirone’s proprietary blend of amino acid bite stimulants which is the backbone of the industry’s leading Brine-n-Bite herring brine. Realizing that artificial trolling lures could benefit from the same chemistry, a mixure of herring, anchovie and sardine was spiked with amino acids and BOOM! You’ve got Downrigger Dynamite. Give it a drag. It will get you bit…
Daiwa LEXA 300 Linecounter: It’s simply about time that someone came up with a line counter that’s out of the way, easy to see and palms like a genuine low-profile reel. Introducing the Daiwa LEXA 300 LC. High speed slick with a butter smooth drag, don’t underestimate the power of it’s oversize gears and 21-pound drag system. As great as this reel is, I can’t wait to see the LEXA 400 LC ’cause it will be the best reel at Buoy Ten this August!
Gamakatsu Big River Open-Eye Siwash Hooks: Now available in a wider variety of sizes, you’ll be able to find these replacement hooks to fit any size spoon, plug or lure you care to rig. Benefitting from Gamakatsu’s magnificent curvature and shape of their popular Octopus hooks, these Big River Siwash are a definite upgrade for the questionable “original equipment” hooks that are all to often furnished with our favorite lures.
SIMRAD NSS 16 evo 3: All I could say was “Wow” when I saw the speed and layout of this behemoth! Processor speed is no longer an issue, nor is screen space as custom splits are a fingertip selection away. In addition to the Simrad DNA of a fully integrated Auto-Pilot, there’s a “Hot Key” that you can program to your favorite function. The screen is the brand new SolarMAX™ HD display technology that delivers exceptional clarity and ultra-wide viewing angles, combined with an all-weather touchscreen and expanded keypad for total control in all conditions.
There’s lots to get your attention this season and there’s no reason to wait! Try out some of this gear now so it will be familiar to you come our busy summer seasons and we’ll see you on the water!
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Winter blackmouth season is upon us here in Puget Sound and it’s time to talk about a few lethal rigs to catch these immature king salmon. In the winter months the bait size in Puget Sound is generally a lot smaller than during the summer months and “matching the hatch” can be critical to getting them to snap. Small herring, sand lance, and hooligans make up the bulk of the baitfish in the sound during the winter blackmouth season.
Green Crush/Ace Hi Needlefish Combo
This is a go-to rig anytime there’s candlefish around. I’m a big fan of Luhr Jensen’s “Green Crush” and “Blue Crush” flashers because they have UV on one side and full glow on the other. No matter what the lighting conditions these flashers will give you some “pop” down below in the blackmouth zone. The “Blue Crush” works just as well as the “Green Crush” for me. Pick a winner!
Any time I’m fishing Ace Hi’s or hoochie’s I run a minimum of 50 pound fluorocarbon leader. Flourocarbon is a lot stiffer than monofilament and the combination of that stiffness and the heavier line transmits a lot of action from the flasher back to the Ace Hi. The short 30 inch leader helps with that also. These lures don’t impart their own action so you’ve got to get them shake’n and bake’n with the flasher. Don’t worry about spooking fish with the heavier leader. If the flasher doesn’t spook ’em, the leader sure as heck isn’t going to.
I tie two 3/0 Mustad Ultrapoint hooks back-to-back and very close together for this rig. Next I’ll run four Silver Horde glow beads as spacers to push the hooks toward the back of the Ace Hi “Needlefish”. I like these particular beads because they’re football shaped and it’s takes fewer of them to get the job done. Plus they glow for days.
The best needlefish colors I’ve found so far have been green splatterback and blue splatterback. The chartreuse, purple, black, and white Ace Hi “Needlefish” patterns work great also though. And if you ever get into a situation where there’s squid around run the orange splatterback pattern. I’ve terrorized the kings on that pattern when they’re gorging on squid!
Blue Crush/Coho Killer Combo
Tom Nelson and I refer to the Coho Killer spoon as the “fish detector”. Like the needlefish pattern mentioned above the Coho Killer is also an excellent candlefish imitation and it imitates small winter herring too. Don’t let the name fool you though. This spoon will flat-out murder the blackmouth in the winter months and summer Chinook will hammer this spoon also.
I run a longer 42 inch, 30 pound monofilament leader for this rig because the spoon has it’s own action and doesn’t need any help from the flasher. The flasher brings ’em in for a look and the action of the spoon seals the deal. Monofilament is much more limber than fluorocarbon and lets the spoon dance around freely behind the flasher.
Like most lures the Coho Killer works pretty good right out of the package. A few minor tweaks to this nasty little lure will turn it into a freak show down on the bottom though. The first thing you want to do is accentuate the bends in the lure. By increasing the lures two bends the Coho Killer turns into a blur at trolling speeds and this tweak also makes it switch direction every so often.
Next you’ll want to remove the hook from the tail of the Coho Killer and add a split ring to the rear hook ring. Then add a swivel and a 2/0 Mustad Open Eye Siwash hook to the split ring. This setup allows a hooked salmon to twist and turn when it’s hooked without applying a bunch of torque to the back of the spoon. These spoons are exceptionally lightweight and the addition of the swivel reduces the chance of seriously damaging the spoon every time a fish is hooked.
The top Coho Killer colors for winter blackmouth are Irish Cream, Cookies and Cream, White Lightning, Mexican Flag, and the green, blue, and purple splatter back patterns. The glow and UV patterns work best in the winter months when blackmouth are hugging the bottom in deep water and the chrome plated patterns seem to work better in the summer when salmon are suspended.
Coyote Flasher/Kingfisher Lite Spoon
This is the same rig as above but with a Kingfisher Lite spoon. As I mentioned earlier both the “Green Crush” and “Blue Crush” flashers work excellent as attractors. Run blue on one downrigger and green on the other and see which one is performing better. I started running blue quite a few years ago after noticing that everyone else was running traditional green. Guess what? It worked!
The smaller 2.5, 3.0 and 3.5 Kingfisher Lite spoons do a great job of matching the size of small herring and hooligans in the winter months in Puget Sound. Small herring abound in the sound itself and hooligans can be plentiful in the San Juan Islands in the winter time. Hooligans are small smelt that are between 2 and 4 inches long in the winter and blackmouth love them.
The Kingfisher Lite spoons that seem to get bit the most are Cookies and Cream, Irish Cream, Mexican Flag, Kitchen Sink, Herring Aid, Resurrection, and Yellowtail. Yellowtail doesn’t look remotely like anything you’d find in Puget Sound but the blackmouth don’t seem to care. That’s definitely one of our top spoons for blackmouth year-in, year out. Nelly’s got a couple of these spoons on his boat that have little to no paint left on them.
The Kingfisher Lite spoon also swims a little better by accentuating the bends. Here’s a video from Tom Nelson that shows how to give a little bend to these great spoons to make them fish better.
The Attraction of Scent
John Martinis caught this 16 pound blackmouth on Possession Bar on November 1st, 2016. A 3 inch “Herring Aid” spoon did the trick!
I like to add Pro Cure herring gel to all these lures to help seal the deal. If I’m putting scent on a flasher I will always apply it to the bottom end of the flasher on the glow side. There’s no sense in dulling down the shiny side of the flasher with a bunch of gel. Herring scent is the name-of-the-game in most situations unless I’m trolling around rocky structure that might hold shrimp. In that case I’ll go with a shrimp-based scent like Pro Cure Shrimp/Krill or Shrimp/Anise. Another scent that works great is Pro Cure’s Bloody Tuna Anise. On occasion I’ll cut a small herring strip and add it to the top hook of my Ace Hi Fly just to make it a little more enticing.
A Note on Shakers
These three rigs will catch blackmouth throughout the sound and in some situations that can include undersize blackmouth. If you continue encountering these small blackmouth either leave the area or switch to bigger gear. 4 inch spoons, whole herring, and at times 4 and 5 inch plugs will greatly reduce the number of shaker encounters. Not only are we responsible for taking care of the resource but you’re not fishing effectively if you’re towing around a small shaker on your gear all day.
Fish any of these rigs near the bottom where there’s bait and blackmouth around and you’ll catch fish. These are all time-tested rigs that have filled plenty of punch cards for both myself and Tom “Nelly” Nelson.
Good luck to you this winter blackmouth season and don’t be afraid to share your fish pics and stories with us over on the Outdoor Line forums. And if you’ve got any tips or additions to any of this I’m all ears!
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.
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.
#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.
#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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Good luck and go find that steelhead of a lifetime!
Jason Brooks Outdoor Line Blogger Northwest Outdoor Writer
This year’s edition of The Outdoor Line’s annual Sitka trip was a very special one. We had some Alaska “first-timers”, (I was going to say “Greenhorns” but…) some of our wives made the trip for the first time in several years and 2014 marked the Alaskan arrival of the 710 ESPN flagship, the Weldcraft 280 Cuddy King.
The trip began back in late May with the barge trip from Seattle to Sitka. It’s a bit freaky seeing your boat and truck sail away but it’s a gas to fly into Sitka and find your ride safe and sound thanks to Alaska Marine Lines!
We were very fortunate to arrive in time for some flat, sunny weather and a solid chinook bite. Jack Reyes mugs for the camera on the first fish of the trip. Little did we know that the bite would remain…but the nice weather would not.
Team Outdoor Line’s Brandon Robichaux can’t help but grin on his first day in Alaska..and his first Alaskan chinook!
Phil Michelsen handles a hot king and finds that the Daiwa DXS Series Rods and Saltist reels are more than a match for a big Alaskan chinook!
I even get into the act and all my work getting Great White ready for this trip comes to fruition!
710 ESPN’s Michael Grey of the “Wyman, Mike & Moore” show experienced Alaska for the first time and his very first Alaskan chinook turns out to be a very memorable experience!
My summer on air partner John Martinis joined us in Sitka for the first time and I believe that it won ‘t be his last appearance on this trip!
In between weather systems we managed to refine our halibut anchoring techniques. Here, Phil Michelsen, Michael Grey and John Martinis admire out day’s catch with chinook to 26 and halibut to 100lbs!
Speaking of refining techniques, Pro Cure’s Brine & Bite has forever changed the way I handle my herring. With one jar of Brine & Bite powder, you can cure up to 8 trays of bait that stand up to some trolling, mooching and shine like nothing I’ve ever fished before!
My dear friend Larry Stauffer and his wife Dana enjoyed a consistent chinook bite and we enjoyed having our wives join us for a few days of Alaskan angling!
My wonderful wife Kathy handles this hot king and I can’t begin to describe how special it was to have her join me on this trip!
Kathy and Dana share a laugh and a special moment after this double on mid-20 lb chinook!
Larry, Dana, Kathy & I with our days catch. We’ll be remembering this trip in pictures -and barbeques- for months to come!
ESPN’s Brock Huard joined us for his second season in Sitka and his passion for fishing and ability to learn is amazing to watch! I’m pretty sure he is as hard-bitten as I am with southeast Alaska!
While it’s nothing short of wonderful to share this time in Alaska with family and friends, we’re working on a bit of a promotion that may allow us to host a listener on this trip next year so stay tuned for that!
Meanwhile, we’re working on sharing what we’ve learned in Alaska about chinook salmon fishing right here. Want technique tips? Stand by! We’re going to deliver some tips that will deliver more fish in your box this season!
An interesting question came up on my Facebook page the other day that’s often talked about amongst us steelhead fanatics. What’s the most important factor in getting a winter steelhead to strike…sight or smell?
I would say without a doubt that sight, and more importantly presentation, is the biggest factor in getting a winter steelhead to take a swipe at a lure.
Lets talk about presentation first. Whether your chucking spoons, pitching drift gear, floatfishing jigs, flyfishing, backtrolling plugs, hucking pink worms, or slinging bait most winter steelhead are going to want your offering brought in low-and-slow. Flyfishing guide Dennis Dickson has been preaching about this for years and after catching a couple of thousand steelhead myself I fully agree with him.
Now that you’ve got the presentation down the next step in the process of hammering winter steelhead is sight. Winter runs are attracted to brighter colors like pink, orange, peach, cerise, and red to name a few. If you only had a few colors in your vest I’d start with a combination of these colors and go from there. In certain water conditions purples and blacks have their place too, especially for the fly guys.
I guided the spring catch and release fishery for steelhead on the Skagit River system for around 18 years and I can tell you first hand that you don’t need bait or scent to catch steelhead. Don’t get me wrong…bait works great but it isn’t always necessary.That was an incredible fishery in it’s day and it forced me to be adept at catching steelhead using only artificials. If Washington ever went artificials-only for steelhead I wouldn’t miss a beat.
Having said that I will tell you that bait and scents are a great closer though. Steelhead are attracted to baits like sandshrimp, eggs, and coon shrimp at first because of their color. They have a color in their natural or cured state that sucks’em right in.
Once they get a mouthful of any one of these baits we all know what usually happens next…they eat them. It’s the sight of the bait that attracts them at first though and adding a little yarn or a colorful Corkie or Cheater makes this offering even more attractive to a steelhead. Bring’em in with the color and then close the deal with the bait.
Adding scents like sandshrimp, shrimp/anise, or krill to jigs, drift gear, and even plugs can have the same effect. The scent closes the deal once a winter steelhead swings by for a closer look. If I’m adding a gel type scent to a jig I’ll add it to the head only so as not to hamper the jigs movement in the water. Pro Cure has a great line of water-soluble scents that work great on jigs and they don’t matte down the jigs feathers.
If I’m adding scent to a plug, which is rare, I’ll add it to the bill only and not the body of the plug. Part of the plugs attractiveness to a steelhead is it’s metallic shine and scent can definitely diminish that and make the plug less effective. A perfectly clean plug backtrolled at just the right speed, in the right location, will draw just as many strikes as one with scent, however.
If you’re swinging spoons or flyfishing stay away from the scents altogether. Spoons, like plugs, work because of the flash they create and they have a very large zone of attraction.
And, of course, adding scents to a fly isn’t cool at all…leave that one alone and pay your dues. Find the right water type and bring either one of these offerings in low-and-slow and you’ll catch steelhead.
There’s your order of importance for catching winter steelhead. Sight, presentation, and then scent, if need be, to close the dealio. At least that’s how I see it.
Thanks again for stopping by and don’t be afraid to share your steelheading stories over on the Outdoor Line forums. I fish for winter steelhead as much as I can over the course of the season, but on days I can’t fish I’m happy to live vicariously thru others. Good luck to you out there and I hope this was helpful!