When fall’s angling hordes descend on your river’s most popular steelhead stretches, target these secret fish-holding spots instead
THE TACKLE & TACTICS
The important thing to remember when you finally start fishing the secondary spots you discovered is that these are pressured fish. Whether the pressure came from bigger spawning salmon or angling activity, these steelhead have fled from the places they feel most safe and secure.
Secondary hiding spots also often require steelhead to expend more energy to stay in place, which means they need to take in more calories. Still, these are going to be nervous fish, and they almost never take a big meal.
For bait, you can never go wrong with trout worms, or wrigglers, which are smaller than nightcrawlers and redder in colour. They’re sold at some bait shops, but you can also collect your own at night from April through to October immediately following a good rain. If I can’t get my hands on some lively wrigglers, I’ll usually run nymph flies or highly realistic, soft-plastic nymph imitations. Mayfly and stonefly nymphs, along with hellgrammites, can be absolutely deadly on pressured steelhead.
One of my favourite soft-plastics for steelhead is True North Baits’ Mini M’eh Fly, in the 1.3-inch size (above). I rig it on a size 10 Raven hook, with two small splitshot about a foot above it. With flies, stick with nymphs a size smaller than you’d usually use. I’ve had good success drifting versions with all-wire bodies, such as Brassies and Copper Johns (below). They’re small yet heavily weighted with a thin profile, so they can get down in front of the fish in faster water.
For delivering baits and lures, I use a medium-action, nine- to 11-foot-long spinning rod. The longer rod helps with getting a drag-free drift for this type of close-quarters fishing. I spool up with six-pound braid and add a six- or even four-pound fluorocarbon leader running from the float all the way to the bait. For fly gear, choose a nine-foot-long, 7- to 9-weight outfit, with a large-arbor reel to manage those drag-burning steelhead runs.