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A Buyer's Guide To Steelhead Success

From bank or boat, we have all the gear you need to successfully target steelhead. Steelhead are our one of favorite fish, and not only because they are exciting to catch. The rivers they call home are usually wild and scenic, offering the best of the outdoors.

Our experts can help you choose exactly what you need to get your own steelhead fever stoked up and we also stock everything you need for advanced techniques here in the store and in our online catalog.

Here are some tips on the right gear and tackle our pros have put together to get you ready for a great fall and winter of steelhead action

  • Be prepared for the conditions. Fall and winter steelhead enter rivers as they rise and fall, and to make rivers go up, rain must fall. Even the sunny days between storms can be chilly. Trust us on this one – you will spend much more time fishing when you are warm and dry. A layered approach that incorporates fleece and microthermal undergarments, and even more fleece topped off with waterproof outer layers is the way to go. Make sure the jacket has a good hood or else you will also need a wide-brimmed waterproof hat along the lines of the classic sou'wester.
  • Access more water. Chest waders, safely belted around the waist, allow bank anglers to access more water, always keeping in mind that current strength increases with depth. The lightweight, breathable waders are a popular choice these days, while neoprene waders are still an option in cold water conditions. While the new lightweight waders offer easier movement than the heavy waders of old, hip waders are a great option on sunny days where the plan is to cover a lot of ground. Calf or knee-high boots are the choice of those who only plan on dealing with the very edge of the water. Our experts can help you choose what is best for your style of fishing.
  • A bright "chrome" steelhead is the reward for choosing the right gear and tackle. Have the right rod and reel. Let us show you the right rod and reel combo for hooking up with steelhead. A lot depends on whether you are fishing from the bank or a drift boat, while technique also comes into play. Remember, while steelhead can grow over 20 pounds, they are still trout and the gear is much lighter than you would use for salmon. For boat fishermen, a 7-foot spinning rod and reel combo is ideal. Bank fishermen will appreciate the extra distance a longer rod in the 9- to 10-foot range will offer, while those who are looking to fish a jig and float combo often opt for extra-long 11- to 12-foot rods. A quality baitcasting reel is a good choice from the bank, although, again, many jig fishermen prefer a spinning reel. As you can see, there are a lot of choices in this category. Don't worry, we will help you sort them out.
  • Choose the right line and leader. The bigger water of the fall and winter steelhead river means that 10- to 15-pound-test mono line is as light as you have to go, although that of course changes with conditions. Plunking after a big rise calls for lines in the 20- to 30-pound class, while a dry period can result in low water and the need to go lighter with something like 8-pound test. When it comes to leaders, fluorocarbon is especially helpful when water clarity improves as the river drops out. Some steelheaders like to fish a lighter leader than main line, so if the hook snags the bottom they will probably lose only the leader. Others choose a heavier leader to avoid abrasion when fishing light line.
  • Get down to the fish. Steelhead lay in the current very near the bottom. If you don't get your bait, lure or jig in front of them at a level they can see it, you won't get a bite. We have a variety of sinker options for you to choose from and what you decide to fish with is determined by the bottom topography of the river you fish. Pencil lead is great for keeping in contact with soft, sandy bottoms, while the hard plastic sploosh balls can roll through boulder fields and not hang up. In the middle of the spectrum, BB-filled parachute cord weights known as slinkies offer both feel and less in the way of snags. Split-shot or an inline weight when properly placed keep a jig running vertical beneath a float. Let us show you how to rig it all up.
  • Hook 'em up. Bites are always welcome in any style of fishing and they can be downright precious when the target is steelhead. While you can get away with something like a whopping 1/0 to 4/0 hook in high, dirty water, the key to stealth and fewer snags in lower water is a small, light wire hook with an extremely sharp point in sizes 2, 4 and 6. Quality hooks can be a bit pricey, but it's worth every penny to have a hook that penetrates and holds, especially when the window of opportunity to make the hookset can be very slim. Be aware of regulations that may require you to pinch down the barb of the hook.
  • Scent and sight. Be sure you have a range of lures, attractors and scent products that cover the spectrum of water clarity and usual prey. Roe, shrimp, squid and worms are some of the forage steelhead encounter in river and ocean environments. Just as it is important to put your bait or lure where a steelhead can see it, it is also important that the fish can actually see the offering given the water clarity. The range of top colors for steelhead goes from light-activated glow in the dark for extreme low-light situations; chartreuse and bright green, bright reds and fluorescent oranges for dirty water; reds, oranges, pinks, yellows and whites for the "perfect" green water; and lighter shades of all of the latter for clear water, such as pearl and pink. Scent, where legal, is a great addition in any water condition. We carry a broad selection of scent and curing products that can help you customize your bait/lure offerings.
  • Steelheading is simpler than it seems. This all might seem overwhelming, yet the truth is you can be steelheading in no time with a pack of hooks, some snap swivels, sinkers and a simple bait/lure choice. The real challenge, and reward, is learning to read the river and discover where the steelhead are as conditions change. Good luck!