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How to Catch Steelhead

Steelhead are notoriously difficult to catch, often taking years for anglers to finally capture one in the net. Persistence and adept casting may eventually bring one close enough.

Back trolling can be an excellent way of finding quality fishing spots on large rivers that resemble lakes, which makes reading the water harder than expected and finding good spots. Back trolling offers one solution.


Steelhead are remarkable fish that transform from meager river trout into ocean-pounding monsters, drawing anglers with their incredible transformation. A successful angler must read the water and understand their movements in order to hook these incredible fish; best locations depend on river conditions.

Steelhead fisherman often take refuge from the turbulent waters of large rivers by traveling upstream into smaller feeder streams and sheltering in smaller feeder streams, where they find shelter in faster riffles before moving upstream into deeper pools for rest before traversing rapids of runs.

Steelhead tend to favor the head and tail of a pool as their ideal feeding spot, since these areas are easily identifiable and provide safe areas where they can rest during feeding sessions in calm waters.

Anglers should search for current seams and feeding lanes to locate steelhead. These areas may be found at the head of a pool, deeper riffles or behind rocks and boulders in the center of a river. Tail pools also present opportunities to catch steelhead, particularly if there is an enclosed recess with food reserves in its depths.

If the river is murky or flooding, it might be wise to try fishing the tributaries that feed into its main body instead of its main stream; these smaller streams tend to be easier for anglers to navigate while still producing fish in these difficult conditions.

Gear is also essential to successfully catching steelhead. Many anglers choose fly rod fishing while others opt for traditional monofilament lines; keeping both available is wise as your choice depends on conditions at any given moment – keep both on hand by loading both onto separate spools so that when necessary, switching quickly between them as circumstances shift.

Polarized sunglasses are another essential item. Polarized lenses will enable you to better see structures in a muddy river, and even spot hidden fish hiding under rocks. You should also bring pliers along to clip off split-shot, remove hooks from fish, and cut through thick leader materials on some lines. Cheap nippers may do the trick, while high-end aluminum models may offer even greater quality tools for those willing to invest.

Water Temperature

Steelhead are ectotherms, meaning their metabolism is directly tied to water temperature. Therefore, as water temperatures decline further they become less energetic and aggressive while too warm water makes them lethargic and less willing to grab onto prey.

Ideal water temperatures for steelhead fishing range between 48F and 52F, when steelhead begin acting more like salmon and are drawn towards deeper, slower waters. As a result, winter-run steelies may often congregate at tail waters of pools while summer runs tend to gather in faster current zones at the head of runs.

Steelhead are generally more likely to respond favorably to simpler presentations like small nymphs, egg imitations or woolly buggers in cold water due to their cautious disposition and incredible eyesight. Clear backing that contrasts with your fly line color can help you track how much line is out when fish make runs as well as help other anglers to spot your line without casting over it.

Under low and clear conditions, steelhead will tend to gather in pools that feature warmer waters with more defined features, making low light periods (morning or evening) ideal when fishing these conditions.

Another effective strategy for increasing your odds of hooking up in these conditions is using a stream float. With its adjustable bobber you can control how deep your bait drifts in the pool by simply adjusting its depth setting; additionally it forces you to cover more area than simply one section at once!

If you plan to use a stream float, try taking an easier approach by pairing a weighted jig or bait with an uncolored, unmarked bobber – this will allow you to cover more water without becoming stuck and increase the chance of hookup.

Time of Day

Steelhead fisherman who don’t take time to establish their zone may spook steelhead. A bad cast, getting stuck in streamside brush or something else which disrupts the rhythmic cadence and steady downstream progression of each new swing of the fly may send shockwaves through a fishery and cause it to lose interest and move on quickly.

An effective approach is to rig your fly line so the backing stands out against its color, helping you quickly see how much of the line is out and notifying other anglers that you’re fishing a particular hole. In addition, make sure your rod is snag-proofed by using a tippet keeper – an inexpensive plastic device which keeps the end of the leader from sliding out of its tippet holder and becoming tangled on rocks or logs – this helps ensure an uninterrupted fishing session!

Minnows and wax worms are among the top choices for bait fishing, while small trout and salmon eggs tied into egg sacks also perform well. Garden-size worms may also work, though their use may result in hooking mortalities among juvenile trout and salmon; therefore it’s wiser to incorporate these natural baits as part of a bait combo rather than leaving them by themselves on your bobber as they can quickly slip out and become lost or swallowed by fish.

Once you find a promising steelhead spot, don’t leave until you have fished all available pools or runs. Skipping from one fishable hole to another is common practice but can quickly lead to frustration if no strikes or fish appear during your day of fishing.

As it is possible to catch fish with a float, always have extra bobbers and bait ready. Additionally, you could anchor near current flows that attract steelhead and cast lures or spoons from the boat into those currents; weighted versions offer longer stay in strike zone while unweighted versions offer easier casting with reduced resistance in water flow.


Like location, bait selection can make or break your chances of landing a steelhead. It is key to use the appropriate size lure depending on water clarity; smaller lures often work best in clear waters where fish can view your presentation easily and don’t react defensively, while larger baits might work better under dirty or runoff conditions.

For clear to moderately stained water conditions, the most successful baits for steelhead fishing include eggs in plastic sacks or salmon-roe-imitating plugs; minnow-shaped soft plastics which resemble natural food sources are also effective; glow baits emitting an eerie light may also entice hungry steelies during low light conditions or at night.

Heavy-weighted spinners with one treble hook and an exposed tail or body may also prove effective under certain conditions. When pulled behind a boat, these baits allow fishermen to create more realistic action than with simple cast and retrieve.

An effective float selection is also critical to your fishing success. Heavier weighted floats will sink more slowly, giving your bait time to drift with the current and may prove more attractive to steelhead than surface-striking fly. When setting up your rig with a float, keep in mind that steelhead fish generally face upstream and attack at or just above the surface – ideal setup should position the float just beneath its surface of the river.

Fluorocarbon leaders are ideal in clear waters as they’re nearly invisible in the water, while heavier monofilament lines tend to work best in dirty water environments. When fishing steelhead, anglers usually recommend beginning with 12-15lb test lines for best results.

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