My love for “bobber fishing” began many years ago on a small farm pond loaded with bluegills. The equipment I used was crude – a closed face Zebco and a one piece, fiberglass rod.
The presentation was simple – line, red/white bobber, one split shot and size 6 hook and a worm. The outcome of those fishing experiences instilled in me a passion that I revisit today each time I make a cast. The anticipation of a strike keeps me on guard and the thrill of the “take-down” has not lost its kick!
Recently while watching a steelhead angler fish a deep run on Elk Creek Access, near Girard Pennsylvania, I noticed he was using a single salmon egg suspended under a float. He was catching more steelhead than anyone fishing the same area. Other anglers had the same bait and a similar presentation, but not the same success. This happens all the time in the fishing world.
Remember the old saying, “ten percent of the fishermen catch ninety percent of the fish”. Well, all of us have experienced a day when someone fishing nearby is catching fish from a spot in the stream that we previously fished without success. If you think the reason you are “out-fished” is because the other angler is just luckier, you are wrong.
You can become a better steelhead angler if you are willing to sit, watch, ask, and learn. The asking part is the most difficult because we must swallow our pride and seek help, and sometimes you meet a fellow angler who refuses to share information. I once heard one angler ask another successful angler, “What are they hitting on”? To which the successful angler sarcastically replied, “Ask the fish”! No wonder that angler was fishing alone.
Steelhead fishing success depends first on hungry, “willing to strike” fish. It is encouraging to see someone catching fish on the stretch of water I am fishing. If that is not happening and a variety of baits and techniques are in use, then you have a big problem. On the other hand, if fish are being caught, then you have a reasonable chance for success.
Steelhead can be picky eaters. On any given day, the fish will readily take their preferred bait or lure and avoid similar offerings. It is up to you to figure out what bait, lure color or size, and presentation works best.
The Walnut Creek Access Area west of Erie Pennsylvania gets plenty of fishing pressure. Steelhead that move upstream through the Walnut Creek channel see PowerBait, egg sacs, single eggs, minnows, jigs, flies and nymphs, along with spoons and spinners. All those baits work; however, those fish sometimes key on a specific bait or presentation.
I once had a great day catching steelhead on a 1/64 oz., black marabou jig with a red head, and tipped with a maggot. Other colors did not work. An angler next to me fishing a black jig with a chartreuse colored head was fishless. On that day, it was a red head or nothing!
Sometimes only a wax worm tipped jig will catch fish, and maggot tipped jigs are ineffective. On other occasions, I have watched anglers using dead, emerald shiners catch more fish than anglers fishing live shiners. When it comes to steelhead fishing, everything you do affects your level of success.
There is wide variety of bobbers or floats used by steelhead anglers. It is safe to assume that not all floats are created equal. One successful float angler once told me that most people do not properly fish floats. Some floats are too large, the wrong style, or their bait is fished too deep or too shallow. Other anglers fail to use a fluorocarbon leader, or they attach too many or too few split shot under the float.
When you are using a float, fishing a drag-free drift for steelhead is objective number one and detecting the subtle take of a finicky steelhead is objective number two. If you achieve those two objectives, you will reach the goal of more “fish on.”
Like everyone who fishes floats, I love to see a float “take down” or “dunk”. Most of the time, Lake Erie steelhead leave little doubt that they are taking the bait. Your float is there one moment and gone the next, and that makes hookups easy. It is during those times when the fish get finicky, hyper-selective, or strike short that detecting strikes becomes an art. The good float anglers shine on those occasions.
Once I was drifting a 1/64 oz. white, maggot tipped jig under a cigar shaped, clip-on bobber for twenty minutes before I noticed why I was fishless. The weighted bobber floated upright through the deep run several times without any take downs. I was staring at the orange Styrofoam float, when I noticed it tipped on its side. I immediately lifted my rod tip, thinking the jig had started to drag the bottom. The weight of the thrashing steelhead on the end of the line was a surprise. After that learning experience, I was no longer surprised. I hooked ten more steelhead when they “tipped” the float.
I believe you will catch more fish if you set the hook at the moment when the fish take the bait and before the fish rejects your bait by spitting it out. Easier said then done.
That angler who was out-fishing the competition on Elk Creek used a float rig that was barely buoyant enough to keep it on the surface. The pencil thin float looked like it was part of the surface film, and it was very difficult to see. He kept his casts short, and he was completely focused on each drift. Anytime a fish would mouth his single egg and before it was rejected, he would notice the tell-tale movement. Usually, he would strike immediately and hard.
He admitted that he treats his own salmon eggs, and he does some chumming now and then with a small handful of loose eggs. He also said that commercial eggs that you buy in jars at the Bait & Tackle shops work well too. Sometimes, the “store bought” eggs out-fish his home treated eggs!
If you are seeking ways to fine tune your steelhead fishing presentation, you may want to upgrade your floats. A “pencil style” float that is attached to the line with surgical tubing is a good choice. You get several pieces of tubing, and easy to follow rigging instructions with each float.
Better floats cost more, but they are worth the money when you need a hyper-sensitive bobber to improve your catch rates.