Cracking the steelhead catching code

If like me, you are unsure if you are doing the right thing when the fishing gets slow, then read on.

You could successfully argue that I have no special understanding of what it takes to catch steelhead on a regular basis.  Like most anglers, I grope through my fishing vest or tackle box looking for the special bait/lure then hopefully use a presentation that will give me an edge.

In the past, I experienced magical fishing days when I could do no wrong.  I have run out of bait when hungry steelhead cleaned out my sac, sack!  Believe me I have a large sack of sacs every time I go fishing so we are talking about dozens of egg sacs.

I have stopped fishing to sit and rest because of the exhaustion I experienced from standing and landing fish after fish. That may be hard to believe if you are younger than 60 years old and in good health, but the over 70 year old crowd like me will node in agreement.

Times like the two mentioned often are followed by a complete “180 degree - hero to zero” transition that takes place when you are introducing a new angler to your hot spot and special bait. Rather than spending time netting fish for your buddy, you instead spend the day apologizing for the lack of fish or the bad water or the weather shift.

So how does anyone become a more productive steelhead angler?

I began to think about that question when I received a comment from a YouTube viewer who asked, “I was wondering if you had any tips for beginner steelhead fishing at elk creek. Yesterday I went to uncle johns campground, and I couldn’t get anything to bite. I was using jigs, sacks, single eggs, and I tried a small crankbait for a bit. 2 weeks ago I caught one there on a sack, but yesterday they wouldn’t even look at any of the sacks I threw at them”.  We have all been there!

My advice to that angler is based on personal, fishing experience and hours of observation.  This fall I fished for 35 days straight pausing only on Sunday mornings. I also plan another 20+ days winter fishing and early spring fishing.  I have done this each year for the past decade.  This is my reply.

To begin with, I have fishless days too.  Early in October this year, I spent 22 fishless hours trying to get a bite! On November the 19th with a fishing buddy – Regis, we began the day pre-dawn and fished all day. Mid-morning, I hooked and lost a fish on a single egg.  At 4 pm, I hooked and landed the fish pictured here on an egg sac.  Those two fish were the sum total of all the “bites” I had all day! Regis ended the day with 2 fish landed and 1 lost at the net.

Nov 19 9

I show you the image and tell you our account to let you know that most anglers struggle at times.

By the way, others fishing nearby did better than us.  One angler caught and released 12 fish while we stared in disbelief.  I know the guy, Craig is his name. I know what he uses. I have one of his buggers in my possession. I have on occasion used the darn thing and caught fish. The bugger he used that day was, as he told me, the same pattern as the one he gave me with a slight variation.  No, I did not ask the obvious question about the variation.

This is a long winded way of saying some anglers use techniques that trigger a bite while the rest of us cast and hope for the best.  Okay, now we are getting closer to an understanding of “cracking the steelhead catching code.” 

I know at least six anglers who can catch fish when nearly everyone else does nothing but grumble.  Each of them has specific baits they prefer. For some it is egg sacs, others soft plastics, some single eggs, and like Craig, prefer buggers.  All of them fish like they are getting paid! They make countless number of casts and maintain full concentration. They also have the unique ability to recognize a strike that goes unnoticed by many of us.  They have a presentation method that triggers a strike. In every case, their “bait” is always moving. A few will fish at night when conditions demand it.

Those anglers invest thousands of hours honing their skills. Many create their baits/jigs/buggers/flies etc. so you cannot buy “their magic lure” at the local bait shop.

So what can you do?

If you cannot quit your job to take-up fishing full-time try my suggestions to improve your odds of catching fish, you can . . . .

Create your own egg sacs – use fresh brown trout, steelhead, salmon [Coho or King] eggs or steelhead skein. Experiment with differ treatment methods until you create a better than average sac. If you buy egg sacs, you are fishing with a handicap.

Create your own single eggs if you can. Tackle shop single eggs are okay, but not the best.

Fish jigs, soft plastics or buggers using the “tease jigging” presentation.  A flexible rod, strong wrists and determination are keys to success with this presentation.  You can also purchase an inexpensive fly tying vise and create jigs and buggers that get strikes for you.

Avoid being a “one trick pony” by fishing the same bait/lure with the same presentation no matter the water and weather conditions.  You need to develop a “bait rotation” that includes a variety of baits and presentations to which you can switch when the fishing gets slow. Experimentation leads to discovery.

Finally when all else fails, fish Trout Run when winds permit if you can stand the crowds – everyone catches fish there when the lake waves are reasonable. When you are tired of fishing and need to do some catching, TR is the place to go.

Try to execute trips when water conditions match your preferred bait/presentation. When you do well pay attention to the water flow and clarity then go again when you get a match. After some practice, you should be able to look at a cam-image, flow gauges, and know if the conditions suit your fishing style.

cam4