By Andy Martin | 12/06/2012
If the past few weeks are any indicator, Pacific Northwest and Northern California steelhead anglers will be dealing with high flows, off-colored water and lots of rain this season.
Catching winter steelhead during high flows can be challenging, but for those who make adjustments to their tactics, fishing can be good. In fact, I’ve had some of my best days when many others consider flows too high, or the water too off-colored.
Drift and jet boat plunking
While side-drifting is by far the most popular technique used to catch winter steelhead these days, plunking from an anchored boat can yield just as high of catch rates. Anchoring in the slower, shallower water close to shore is the key. Instead of covering lots of water, trying to get your bait in front of as many fish as possible, you’ll be sitting in one spot, waiting for the fish to come to you.
For years, anglers plunking from gravel bars have enjoyed good catches in high water. But for the most part, plunking from an anchored boat, especially on coastal rivers, has been an under-used technique.
Boat plunkers have a big advantage over their counterparts on shore. Boaters can find their ideal water, and then get a spread of baits in front of migrating steelhead. The so-called “wall of death” can be extremely effective.
I like to anchor below an inside bend, or close to willows on a flat above a tailout. I then run all my baits the same distance, spread out from one side of the boat to the other straight downstream of the boat.
The typical rigging is a slider with 2 to 4 ounces of lead, a three foot leader, Spin-N-Glo, and a cluster of roe cured in Pautzke’s Fire Cure or BorxOFire. The roe adds scent to the colorful attraction of a Spin-N-Glo. Unlike side-drifting, when a small cluster of roe works well, a larger cluster is more effective when plunking. I like my baits to be the size of a quarter. Red or pink baits also work well, unlike the natural-colored baits more common when side-drifting, Left over roe cured for salmon works well when plunking for steelhead, as bright red roe cured with Fire Cure has more scent than eggs cured in a more traditional borax-based cure for steelhead. Two to four feet of water is ideal when plunking from a boat.
High water side drifting
If the river is on the drop, and is dirty green, you can begin side-drifting. When side drifting high water, It’s important to fish close to shore, use shorter leaders to get close to the bottom, add an attractor like a Spin-N-Glo or Corky, and use a larger cluster of roe, about the size of a nickel or quarter.
Running your boat right next to shore and making short casts, or placing your boat in the faster water and casting to the shallower, slower water next to the bank is key. Heavier weight to slow the drift can also lead to more strikes in high, off-colored water.
Scents are vital in higher, colored water. I use roe cured in Pautzke Fire Cure or BorX O Fire, and soak the baits in Pautzke Liquid Krill or Nectar before adding them to the hook. Adding yarn soaked in Nectar or Liquid Krill also helps. I’ll even add Liquid Krill to the Slinkies, which double as a scent-holding device. The krill added to Fire Cure and BorX O Fire makes a huge difference in high water.
Editor’s Note: Pautzke pro staffer Andy Martin is an Oregon, California and Alaska fishing guide. He targets steelhead on the Chetco, Smith, Rogue, Elk and Sixes rivers. His web site is www.wildriversfishing.com