New steelhead anglers catch plenty of steelhead. Every fall first-time steelhead anglers travel to Lake Erie to try to catch one. If that is you, the learning curve is not very steep. Success is nearly a sure thing if fish are present in the streams and you follow some basic steps.
To begin with, steelhead is a sub-species of trout; however, to most anglers steelhead are nothing more than stocked trout that live in Lake Erie for several years, grow to a 4-8 pound average, and make a spawning run into the tributaries that flow into Lake Erie. If you catch stocked trout, you will catch steelhead.
You will quickly learn that Lake Erie’s tributaries are crowded with steelhead fishing experts. If the truth be told, steelhead are not that hard to catch.
You will meet expert steelhead anglers on most tributaries. You need to humble yourself and ask questions. Most, but not all anglers, love to share information. Just follow some basic stream etiquette and don’t crowd too close to other anglers. A leading question sometimes helps. Having any luck buddy? That should start the conversation.
Keep in mind that all of us get out-fished. When everyone is getting skunked and you notice that one angler is consistently catching steelhead - ask, watch and learn.
The bait, presentation, drift, and the strike/hook set are keys to success.
What bait to use? What bait did you use to catch stocked trout last April? Start with that bait. Worms, single salmon eggs, spinners, small spoons, egg sacs [small clusters of salmon eggs in mesh netting] and minnows all work. The best bait is the one that is catching fish on the day you are fishing. If you don’t have the right bait, get it!
Presentation is the term used to describe how you offer your bait to the fish. Examples would be drifted in the current and bounced on the stream bottom, hanging under a float [bobber] and drifted in the current, or cast out and sitting on the bottom. While each of these “presentations” work, the trick is deciding which one to use based on the stream conditions. The majority of steelhead anglers use a float to present baits to steelhead.
Drift is nothing more than the natural way food travels in the stream current. Steelhead are accustomed to seeing food carried past them in the current. The steelhead facing upstream see a meal approaching, and they get into position to intercept the “meal” as it passes by. Successful anglers use a proper drift to deliver their bait to the waiting steelhead. Remember if the water is deep, you must add weight to get your bait to the proper depth where the fish are holding.
The strike/hookset or bite or hit, whatever you call it, is that feeling or recognized event that alerts you that a steelhead has eaten your bait and you must drive the hook into the fish’s mouth. When the float goes under, you feel a tug on the line, or you see the fish eat your bait, you must set the hook. If you don’t the fish will realize the hook and line is present and reject the bait. When this happens you end up with a missed fish rather than a hookup. When you do this properly, you will have a “fish on” and the battle to land the steelhead begins.
Fish on! You immediately assume you will lose the steelhead because it is bigger than any other trout you have ever hooked. Relax you can do this if you don’t panic. Hold the rod up, don’t reel, and let the fish pull out line. When the fish stops pulling, retrieve line and drop the rod tip toward the water while keeping tension on the line. Stop, slowly raise the rod up. If the fish makes another run and pulls line, wait until it has once again stopped. Repeat dropping the rod tip and cranking line. When the fish gets close, keep tension on the line, rod tip up and stop cranking line. Don’t try to lift the fish out of the water. Someone will net the fish or you can drag the steelhead onto the bank where you can get to it.
My guess is if you have finally succeeded in landing a steelhead it is headed for the cooler. Take a few pictures once it has become easy to handle. If you plan to release it, do so quickly.
Send me a photo and I will post it on FSA!
Ten tips to help you catch your first steelhead!
Finally, here is a vodeo that proves the point about how easy steelhead fishing can be. At times, it only takes one cast to connect.