By Bruce Hewitt | 12/02/2012
Cold winters in Eastern Washington force us to slow our presentations when targeting winter steelhead in the Mid-Columbia and Snake Rivers. Personally, I toss a special variety of Steelhead Candy to them during the heart of winter. That Candy comes in the form of various colors of carefully cured coon shrimp.
While coon shrimp can be cured a variety of ways, I use a combination of Pautzke Fire Brine/Nectar and a dab of Fire Power (pure krill powder). This time of year I’m fishing the Hanford Reach section of the Columbia River and Lower Hells Canyon area of the Snake River and concentrating on steelhead holding in deeper pools. To be successful catching these fish our coon shrimp need to be presented as slow as possible. The cold water demands it.
To get off to a great start add these brightly colored and brined shrimp to a size 2 hook, teamed up with size 10 or 12 pink or orange Corkie on 10# fluorocarbon leaders. I lean towards pinkish-orange, red, and deep bluish purple for my primary colors.
It is not my imagination that steelhead prefer different colors on different days. Yesterday’s hot color may or may not bring you bites today. Therefore, each day I go to the river with these three colors and start with what was most effective the prior day.
Last week, for example, the morning bite started on pink-orange and by Noon had transitioned to the dark blue-purple. We hooked a total of 14 steelhead with three-quarters coming on dark toned shrimp. The best Corkie combination was steelhead red/orange with the shrimp, followed by a dark pink Corkie. It’s best to switch out colors of the Corkie often until you hit on the combination that triggers the best bite.
Before we get into technique let’s focus on how to cure these shrimp? Start with quality coon shrimp. By this I mean a fairly small, uniform size that have good uniform color, and have their feelers in tact. The shrimp should not smell strong if they have been handled properly prior to packaging.
Here are my three coon-shrimp brine recipes:
Use ½ quart red Fire Brine for 1# package of shrimp.
Add 1/3 bottle of red Pautzke Nectar
Add 1/3 bottle of orange Nectar
1 scant tablespoon of Fire Power
I put the shrimp into this brine mix while they are partially frozen. Be careful not to break them into pieces.
Allow the shrimp to marinate in the brine in a refrigerator for 2-3 days for maximum color development. Drain, and place on several layers of toweling to dry. Let dry overnight. I suggest you do this where dye staining won’t ruin counter tops, etc. Then, place dyed, brined shrimp into Ziploc bags and add a small amount of sea salt to each bag. I suggest about 1 ½ teaspoons of salt.
Brine B Red
Use ½ quart of red Fire Brine
Add 2/3 bottle of red Nectar
Add 1 scant tablespoon of Fire Power
Add partially frozen shrimp to the brine and refrigerate 2-3 days. Drain, allow to dry and add Sea Salt when you package them.
Brine C Bluish-Purple
Use ½ quart Red Fire Brine
Add 1 teaspoon purple Fire Brine
Add 2/3 bottle of red Nectar
Add 1 scant tablespoon Fire Power
Brine and refrigerate as above for 2- 3 days. Drain, dry, and add Sea Salt at packaging.
Fishing The Coon Shrimp
What’s the best way to fish these tempting Steelhead Candies? I fish exclusively from a powered jet boat. I use my kicker motor to orient my boat nose upstream and slow my downstream drift until my lines are slowly working down equal with the boat. Always cast at least 45 degrees upstream and pick up your lines as they drop slightly below 90 degrees directly out from the boat. You don’t want the baits to get lifted off the bottom. You will also get hung up less.
I start fishing shallow water near shore and off islands early in the day and move deeper as the day gets brighter. Do your best to avoid areas with high boat traffic. The fish may be getting sluggish as water gets colder, but they scatter quickly with lots of boat traffic and motor noise.
If you are a shore fisherman, I suggest arriving at your favorite drift early. Do not wad. Instead, stand back and lob a few casts close to shore to locate fish that moved in out of the current during the overnight period. Sloshing in to waist deep guarantees that you just wasted catching undisturbed fish.
Deeper runs fished from shore are often characterized by points. I always fish upstream of points first as most steelhead don’t prefer to be in the eddies where the confused currents make them expend more energy. Start 20 yards upstream of points, casting 45 degrees upstream and working your baits first close to shore. Then, cast slightly farther out with succeeding casts. After working the first location, move 10 feet downstream and repeat the casting regimen.
Do this down to and including the point. I find it best to allow your baits to work into the eddies and be allowed to hang in there for steelhead to inspect your offering. When fishing shrimp or eggs, do not jerk back at the first sign of a bite. Remember these fish are taking baits leisurely. Drop your rod tip to them and then slam the hook home as you feel the fish’s weight. Or, if you have a bait casting reel, free spool a couple of feet of line and wait for the pickup.
Good luck trying your Steelhead Candy. Makes your bait look good and taste good too!
Editor’s Note: Guide Bruce Hewitt owns Going Fishing Guide Service. For more info on his winter steelhead trips please visit catchingmorefish.com