Category Archives: Steelhead

summer-steelhead

Best Lures for Catching Summer Steelhead

Summer Steelhead are one of the most thrilling fish to chase here in the Pacific Northwest. They are available throughout the region and offer us an excuse to head to the great outdoors and explore our rivers and streams this summer. If you are new to the area, new to fishing, or both, then this article was written just for you! This article is designed to give you a good idea of what local anglers are using to catch Steelhead. Make it a goal to get out and explore a new river this summer, try out a new technique, and enjoy the great natural beauty and awesome fishing that our region has to offer.

John’s Jigs

John’s Jigs have been on the market since I started fishing for Steelhead, they are a great choice for anyone needing to build a selection of Summer Run jigs. All of their jigs are tied with ultra-durable rabbit fur on Gamakatsu hooks. They are available in almost every color combination you could imagine. They catch plenty of Summer Steelhead. I always have my jig box stocked with a few black, purple, red and nightmare patterns during the summer.

nightmare-steelhead-jig

Over the Edge Jigs

Over The Edge Tackle offers some of the most unique Steelhead jig patterns that I’ve come across on store shelves. Whoever is designing these patterns gets an A+ for creativity. I really like the looks of their low-profile Jig-L-Bum series for summertime low-water conditions, and the Roe-Bot series because it infuses the use of beads into a low-profile design. High quality design and all jigs are tied on high quality Gamakatsu hooks.

ote-steelhead-jigs

Aerojig Hackle Series

Aerojig makes a Hackle Series that is arguably one of the most widely used jigs on the market. These jigs offer a unique hackle tail and slender profile that is perfect for lower and clear water conditions. All jigs are tied on high quality Gamakatsu hooks. Even during early summer, when our rivers flow high and cold due to snowmelt, the brighter orange and pink Aerojig patterns are exceptionally effective.

aerojig-steelhead

Worden’s Maxi Jigs

Worden’s Maxi Jigs have a lot going for them, they use super high quality Owner hooks, the beaded body is very fishy, the designers reached out to the region’s top fishing guides to create a bunch of great looking color patterns, and they catch a lot of Steelhead.

maxijig-steelhead

Trout Beads

Trout Beads have been an extremely popular in the past few seasons. These mega-lifelike salmon roe imitations were initially designed for Alaska’s trophy Rainbow Trout fisheries, but once Steelheader’s got hold of ‘em… the rest is history. Go to any river throughout the Pacific Northwest, and you are likely to come across a few bead fishermen. It is somewhat complicated to explain why these are so effective, but I will keep it simple. Summer Steelhead live in the river for around six months before they spawn; they must feed occasionally. In Alaska the bead anglers catch a lot of Rainbows because they usually fish in areas where thousands of salmon are spawning, matching the hatch so to speak. In our Northwestern rivers, we don’t usually have areas where thousands of salmon spawn during the summer months, and yet our Summer Runs love to bite the bead. I think that these lures capitalize on the Steelhead’s trout-like characteristics. I also believe that the sight of a small egg imitation pulls on the curiosity strings of a Steelhead, and that in itself is enough to induce a strike. Get some beads.

steelhead-trout-beads

Corkies

Drift bobbers are one of the essential items needed to drift fish for Steelhead. Corkies are one of the most widely used drift bobbers, they are available in hundreds of colors and many sizes. A Corky can be fished solo above a bare hook, it can be fished with yarn (scented or unscented), it can be fished with bait. The purpose of a Corky, as its classification as a drift bobber might elude too, is to float (lift) the offering of bait/yarn a little bit and keep it above the river cobble as it drifts along with the current.

steelhead-corky-colors

Cheaters

Cheaters are another popular style of drift bobber. Like the Corky, they are buoyant and help lift the offering off the river bottom, they are available in lots of colors and a few sizes. It you want to get a little crazy, grab a pack of mylar-winged Cheaters and give them a go!

steelhead-cheater-bait

Little Cleo Spoons

Little Cleo spoons are a very useful lure for those that enjoy swinging metal for Steelhead. Unlike other spoon companies, the smaller spoons are not only thinner but also smaller in profile, which I really like. All spoons have a brass or nickel finish, which means they aren’t as flashy as a full gold or silver plated spoon. Pick up a few ¼ oz and 2/5 oz Little Cleo’s for your summer arsenal.

littlecleo

R & B Spoons

R & B Lures are a local company that crafts all of their spoons and spinners in Oregon. Their spoons are very highly sought after (yet hard to find). Aside from basic silver and gold patterns, they also have some really cool looking blue, green, red and purple spoons that catch fish.

rbspoon

RVRFSHR Spoons

Rvrfshr spoons are one of the more popular offerings in the Puget Sound area and this Seattle-based company focuses only on the products that are super effective. I personally know the owner, who does way more “field testing” than is probably necessary, but it is nice to know that a guy that makes fishing tackle actually goes fishing now and again. Their half & half, silver, gold, copper, and brass finishes are all worth having in the tackle box.

rvrfshr

RVRFSHR Spinners

Rvrfshr spinners also made the list because they have some redeeming characteristics that others lack. They are heavier than other spinners on the market. They come in a variety of blade colors and body colors, including some really cool metallic body finishes. They are local. Swinging spinners for Summer Runs can be a lot of fun!

rvrfshr-spinner

Blue Fox Vibrax Spinners

Blue Fox Vibrax Spinners are a true classic. These lures will catch about anything that swims, and while they are best known for their effectiveness while targeting Coho and Chinook Salmon, many a Summer Steelhead have been beached by your’s truly on a Size 3 or Size 4 Metallic Blue.

vibrax

Rooster Tail Spinners

Roostertail Spinners are one of the best lures available to catch trout, but these buggy-looking spinners are a great late summer option for Steelhead as well. As the summer carries on, Steelhead become more acclimated to the river and take on trout-like characteristics. They will feed on Caddisflies, Stoneflies and other bugs, and will have a tough time turning down a black or brown Roostertail that goes swimming by.

rooster-tail-spinners

Lindy River Rocker

I have always been a huge fan of the all-time favorite Tadpolly plug, but it is from a bygone era, and not readily available. Lindy has designed a plug similar to the Tadpolly, but with better colors available and a few new sizes, this one is going to be a great choice for anyone looking to pull plugs this summer.

river-rocker-tadpolly-plug

Maglip 3.5

Maglips 3.5 plugs have been one of my favorite lures since they came out. Yakima Bait Company designed these to run true, swim deep, and catch fish. Lots of great colors to choose from. YBC did their homework on this one!

maglip-steelhead-plug

Bait Divers

During the summer, when our rivers get too low and too clear to run the bigger and more colorful plugs, the Bait Diver setup comes out to play. Rig up a small cluster of cured roe, a full or part of a live sand shrimp, or a cured prawn and backtroll through your favorite fishing hole. I like to run a tiny Spin Glo above the bait to lift it from the bottom and give it a little added attraction.

bait-diver

How To Catch Summer Steelhead

Summer Steelhead are one of the most prized catches that swim in our Pacific Northwest rivers. This beautiful specie resembles an oversized Rainbow Trout, often having the same coloring as their lake-locked brethren, but at first glance it is obvious that these creatures are a sea going sort. If you are a fisher who just recently moved to the Pacific Northwest, or are simply interested in trying out a new fishery, then you are exactly the person I wrote this for. I hope you find this information useful. I hope it helps solve the puzzles of Steelhead fishing during summer months. I hope you will soon see the first Summer Run on the end of your line.

Summer Steelhead Basics

Historically speaking, Steelhead were found in Northwest rivers throughout the year. Currently in most rivers, we classify Steelhead as either a winter-run or a summer-run. In Western Washington and Oregon, Summer Steelhead return to their rivers from May through September, yet won’t spawn until December and January; Winter Steelhead will return October through March, yet won’t spawn until April through June. Summer Steelhead that return to the Inland Northwest, those that are returning to the tributaries of the Upper Columbia River and Snake River, will reach their destination from September through December. So realistically, throughout our region, Summer Steelhead can be caught from May through December in fairly fresh form.

Summer Steelhead are a true thrill to catch. They typically weigh five to fifteen pounds. They are widely available throughout the Pacific Northwest. The pleasant summer river environment they live in allows them to actively travel, actively feed, and actively chase down lures, flies and baits. Once hooked they are acrobatic, often jumping and leaping out of the water numerous times. They are one of my favorite fish to pursue, yet they are a challenge to catch at times.

To successfully fish for Summer Steelhead, one needs to know where to find them. One needs to assess the water conditions and decide what equipment best suits the situation. One needs to have appropriate tackle. The beauty of fishing for them in the summer is that they will take a wide range of offerings; it is only a matter of selecting the best technique and the best lures for that specific time frame. Most of this comes only with experience. I could write an entire book on the subject, but let’s start off with the basics that will get you out on the water.

Summer River Conditions

If you have spent any time walking along our Northwest riverbanks, you know that our rivers are moody. A river may be a raging torrent, but its neighbor may be not much more than a trickle. You might approach a river that has high flows one week, but low and clear the next. What influences river conditions during the summer?

There are two main elements that shape current river conditions in the Pacific Northwest. Rain and Snowmelt.

First let’s talk about rain. Rain is synonymous with the Pacific Northwest. Not only to we get more than our fair share of it, but Mother Nature is, let’s be kind, generous with the number of days per year that we have drizzle and gray skies. April and May, sometimes June as well, are typically very wet months. The heavy river flows in the spring allow out-migrating baby Salmon and Steelhead a fast track to the Pacific, they also make for a fairly easy commute upriver for early returning Summer Steelhead. July through September are generally dry, which means that as the summer progresses, the rivers have little to replenish their flows once the snowpack is gone (we will talk about that in a minute). Anglers rejoice at any news of a mid-July squall, as it can lift the river levels just enough to turn on a hot Steelhead bite for a few more days. Usually by mid-August most Northwest rivers are very low, very clear, very warm, and very difficult to fish. Cooler evenings and lower light conditions in September and October can be a godsend to Steelheaders on the Westside, there is usually a resurgence of fishing activity. That being said, the vast majority of Summer Steelhead are caught in June, July and August.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, our high country holds a healthy snowpack for most of the early summer. It is the snowfields deep in the Cascade Range, the Olympic Mountains, the Sawtooths, and the Rockies that feed our rivers midway through the summer. On an average year, snowmelt is a major contributing factor to higher river flows usually through June, sometimes deep into July. On the Skykomish River during the summer months, you can check out the USGS river gauge and see that flows actually increase at night from snowmelt that occurred the day prior, then drop during the day as a reaction to the cooler evening temperatures in the Cascade Range. This is a daily occurrence until the Cascade snowpack is gone. Pretty interesting stuff. Once that snowpack is gone, fishermen pray to the rain gods for a summer freshet.

Several of the most famed Summer Steelhead rivers are dammed. As electricity demands and irrigation needs are met by altering the flows released by dams, it can make for constantly changing conditions that a Steelhead angler must adapt to. I will leave it at that, as each river that has dam regulated flows has its own unique situations throughout the summer. That’s one for you to figure out.

Summer Run Finesse

Deciding what equipment to use is a big part of Summer Steelhead success. During high water conditions, heavier line, heavier leaders (10 pound or 12 pound) and larger offerings will work just fine. When the water clears, the fish tend to be more selective and lighter leaders (6 pound or 8 pound) are typically used. As the summer progresses and rivers drop, I shift from baiting a whole live Sand Shrimp to just a piece of the tail, and downsize from a quarter coin sized cluster of cured roe to just over the size of a dime. I am constantly amazed at just how many Steelhead key in on tiny offerings, even when the water isn’t crystal clear.

When our rivers are flowing higher and greener during the early season, filled with fresh snowmelt, brighter jigs, larger & brighter drift bobbers (Corkies and Cheaters), maybe even a mylar-winged Spin & Glo. But as the waters recede and clear up, the most dull-colored jig or the smallest drift bobber can be too much at times.

Summer Steelhead Baits

In sections of the river where bait is legal to use, it can be the most effective offering. Certain baits are popular is certain areas. Many Oregonian Steelhead fishers love drift fishing a small Crawfish tail in the summer. On Western Washington & Oregon rivers, those that are within close proximity to the saltwater, it is hard to turn down a few dozen freshly dug live Sand Shrimp. In Washington’s Southwestern rivers, such as the Lewis and Cowlitz, cured Coonstripe Shrimp are widely used, as they are along the riverbanks of the Upper Columbia River tributaries of Eastern Washington & Oregon and Idaho. Wherever you plan to go fishing and regardless of the local bait favorites, one of the most widely used and most effective Summer Run baits is a cluster of cured salmon eggs/roe. If you can get your hands on some high quality eggs, you will catch fish. When quality salmon roe isn’t available, many Steelhead fishermen will head to the local grocery store and by previously frozen Shrimp (21-60 count is popular), cut them into bait-sized chunks and fish them either colored and cured or just plain.

There are also several baits that will catch Steelhead at times, but are not as widely known or used. Some anglers swear that in the most challenging water conditions of later summer, a live Nightcrawler is the bait of choice. On rare occasion I have passed guys on the trail that were walking out with a limit of Summer Steelhead caught using small chunks of Squid. Very late into the summer, as Steelhead tend to act more trout-like, a Periwinkle, a Stonefly or any other large local insect can and will catch fish. But in general all the baits mentioned in the paragraph prior to this one are the standard, go-to baits.

Drift Fishing for Summer Steelhead

Drift fishing is a great technique that has been around as long as folks have been wandering the banks of our rivers. Basically, to drift fish means that you use a snap swivel tied to your mainline, attach a small weight to the snap part, and to the swivel part you tie on a short leader to your offering. Most of the time, a piece of pencil lead or a slinky weight is the best. Cast directly out or ever-so-slightly up current and allow your offering to tumble along the bottom. Use barely enough weight so that when your offering is drifting down the current, it ticks the river cobble only a few times.

When I bring my drift rod along, I usually try and use some form of bait, mainly cured roe or live Sand Shrimp. On occasion, I will use nothing more than a drift bobber, a Trout Bead, or a drift bobber matched with a small tuft of yarn (smeared with scent if possible).

Those that drift fish come to the realization that regardless of just how perfect the drift is, the current always pushes the mainline and creates a belly – there is never a truly direct connection, so sometimes a Steelhead will pick up the offering and you will barely notice. Light bites. Concentration is key. Float fishing is way easier.

Float Fishing for Summer Steelhead

Arguably the most widely used technique in the Pacific Northwest. Float Fishing, often times referred to as Bobber Fishing, is deadly effective. Not only is float fishing the perfect technique for the beginner, but it is also the preferred method for many veteran Steelheaders. Float fishing basics: drifting the current with your offering suspended under a bobber. For the most part, when guys bring along their float rods, their offering is a Steelhead Jig. These jigs are usually quite small, fly-looking thingies, weighing around 1/16 ounce to ¼ ounce. The best jig colors and patterns to use vary based on location and river conditions. Ocean-fresh Summer Steelhead have many of the same characteristics of Salmon, they strike out of curiosity, they strike out of aggression. They prefer flashy Spinners & Spoons, they like brightly colored jigs. In early summer, when the Steelhead are fresh and the water is high and green I will use jigs that have a larger profile that are brightly colored, lots of light pinks, oranges, reds, purples. The longer Summer Steelhead spend in the river, the more they take on the characteristics of Trout. They will feed regularly. They will eat bugs. Buggy looking jigs catch fish later on. In the late summer, when the river is running clear and the Steelhead have been in the freshwater for a while, I will use blacks, purples, black/red, blues, browns, olives.

Summer Steelhead Jigs

There are plenty of varieties of Steelhead Jigs. Most are tied with chenille, rabbit fur, marabou and hackle. There are jigs with beaded bodies. Some jigs have a big profile and a lot of volume. Some jigs are tied very sparsely. Personally, I tie most of the jigs that I use, but there are a few brands that I really like to fish with. Aerojig makes a really fishy hackle series that is popular across the Pacific Northwest. Beau Mac has a series of bead-bodied jigs that catch a lot of fish. Spirit River has numerous styles of jigs that are very unique, very effective, and very cutting-edge. John’s Jigs offers a variety of rabbit fur jigs and they have been a staple in my jig box for years.

There are countless jig companies across our region are tying up some really cool creations as well.

Summer Steelhead Beads

Fishing with Trout Beads was once a uniquely Alaskan method. Anglers headed north would scour the bins of Anchorage fly shops for the most perfect, life-like salmon egg imitation; Rainbows of the north are known to station themselves downstream from masses of spawning Salmon, gorging themselves and getting fat and chunky on the loose eggs that never make it into the gravel. Although it is rare for a Summer Steelhead to consistently feed on loose salmon roe (especially in the summer when there really aren’t many actively spawning fish in the river), they do key in on salmon roe imitations, especially single egg imitations during the summer.

Fishing with Steelhead beads on the rivers of Washington, Oregon and Idaho is a fairly new thing. At first glance at a small bead, one might wonder why the heck a Steelhead would waste the time to strike at it. But the trout-like characteristics of Steelhead make these beads work very well. In some areas, like the upper Skykomish River, fishing beads under a float is fairly standard. Bead fishing on the Cowlitz River has just become a staple method this year, but most guys drift fish them.

Bead fishers tend to be a very skillful group. Out of the best bead fishermen that I know, from the Oregon Coast to Washington’s Puget Sound rivers to Alaska’s Situk utilize a wide variety of bead colors and sizes. To keep it simple, pick up a couple packs of beads that are bright and colorful (high water) and subtle and natural (low water). Pick up a variety of 8mm, 10mm, 12mm, and even though they may seem disproportionately humungous, some 14mm beads as well.

Summer Steelhead Spoons

Swinging spoons for Steelhead is a true art form, a very effective art form. They are a great option when the drift is fast and choppy; these heavy lures get down quick. These heavy hardware lures come in a variety of shapes, styles and finishes. Basically, to fish for Steelhead with a spoon, one simply casts the spoon directly across the current and lets the spoon swing in the current. When I swing spoons, I try to envision it fluttering just above the river cobble. As the current pushes my line, I will free-spool a little extra line to keep the spoon from lifting. As I feel the spoon make contact with the river cobble, I will raise the rod tip just a bit to raise the spoon off the bottom. It can be quite technical. When water conditions are high and green, 2/5 ounce or ½ ounce spoons are perfect for most drifts. Preferred finishes at silver-plate, gold-plate or a half & half. As water conditions clear, smaller spoons in a nickel, copper or a black finish would be my go to choice.

Summer Steelhead Spinners

Spinners are the lightweight hardware alternative to spoons. A few of my most memorable Steelhead have been taken with spinners. The spinner’s profile cause it to not sink as quick as a spoon, so drifts that either have a soft current or are shallow will be a perfect place to roll a spinner. I typically will cast slightly upstream and allow the spinner a few seconds to sink before I start my slow retrieve. I retrieve just fast enough to both keep the blade spinning and keep the spinner from contacting the river cobble. Early in the season, I primarily use Size 3 and Size 4 spinners, a lot of silver blade with a green, blue, purple or pink body. Later in the season, I downsize to a Size 2 or Size 3 spinner and my favorite finishes are copper, black, silver and brass.

Final Thoughts

Summer Run Steelhead are one of my favorite Northwest catches, they are a challenge to hunt, a thrill to battle, offer up a great base for smoked or grilled fish, and they give us yet another excuse to get out and enjoy the outdoors during our warm Northwest Summers. Viewing a hefty Summer Steelhead leaping out of the water at the end of the line is a sight that everyone should experience. Best of luck out there everyone and have a great summer!

skykomish-steelhead-fishing

Reiter Steelhead Fishing Report June 4

I always tell myself, “you have to invest more time fishing for Summer Runs,” and usually, I don’t listen to myself enough. Summer is a hectic time of year for most people that live around here, myself included. We spend months indoors, pining, waiting for warm weather, waiting for a break from the rain, waiting for a break from darkness, waiting for summer. I have spent the past four summers working at a fishing lodge in Alaska, so my time to fish for Summer Steelhead has been limited to the first two weeks of June before I leave. And usually, by the time the rivers open to fishing, I am deep into the frenzy of preparing to leave home for three months. Ordering gear, last minute home projects, yardwork, packing; time flies. So in the past my Steelhead fishing has been limited to about one or two half-assed last minute trips… I made a promise to myself that this year would be different. Yesterday was the first trip of hopefully many this summer to the river. Romey and I spent the morning exploring the Skykomish River near the Reiter Ponds Hatchery. Fishing was good.

Romey picked me up early in the morning and we drove through the Snoqualmie Valley and then Sky Valley to Reiter. On the drive through our valley, an odd sensation came over me. It was the same feeling I have experienced on other first outings in years’ past. We are headed out to the river to go fish, yet I have nothing more than a lightweight shirt on my back, lush green trees and grass lines the highway, I am not worried about rain or cold weather, I am not used to this. We spent the last several months fishing in bitter cold weather, drifting the serene yet barren rivers of a Northwest winter. Summer Steelhead fishing is for fair-weather fisherman, and I will proudly call myself to their ranks for the next few months. Traffic was light, we scored some extremely fresh Sand Shrimp in Monroe and even found a few open parking spots . The first day back visiting an old friend, the Skykomish River.

We put on our waders and walked down the trail towards the river. When we got to the river, there was a solid line of fishermen from the creek all the way down to the tailout. We squeezed in at the end of the line and spent the first part of our morning drift fishing the tailout. Not a lot was happening. Don’t get me wrong, there were fish being caught, and as we walked past all of the guys lined up fishing Reiter, there were a few fish in the water tied off on stringers, maybe four or five. We fished a half hour and there were a handful of Steelhead caught upriver from us. We felt like we had put in enough time at the tailout to know whether or whether not it was going to happen. Time to move on.

We decided to fish our way through the fast water toward the Cable Hole downriver. I brought both a float fishing rod and a drift rod, but followed Romey’s lead and spent the entire morning drifting roe. We got to a spot that looked halfway fishy, with a nice seam right in front of us. After a few drifts, I felt the classic tug of a Steelhead chewing on my bait. I reeled down on it and set the hook. WHAM! Fish On!!.

One of the defining characteristics of the Summer-run Steelhead is its desire to leap, jump and cartwheel in the air. Seeing a Steelhead on the end of the line jump is both a total thrill and a nerve-racking sight. Every leap is an opportunity for that fish to throw the hook. Now it wasn’t a second into this fight that I realized this particular Steelhead had a hankering for acrobatics. Pull-pull-pull-jump! Zip-zip-cartwheel! I would guess that the fish jumped a half dozen times. Not only was I dealing with a fish that was going ballistic, but the all the area around our fishy seam was a roaring torrent of white water. One long distance run from my fish and bye bye! Luckily, my first Steelhead of the year cooperated, and within a few minutes of battle, I slid it up onto the shore. What an awesome experience! We rejoiced, took a few photos, and continued fishing. It wasn’t long before Romey found a fish to play with, but his was a little more clever and came unhooked after a few seconds. You can’t land every Steelhead you hook, I guess, but Romey redeamed himself a few minutes later. We hit the Cable Hole, another beautiful Steelhead run just below Reiter. I walked downriver to find some solitude, and before I could set up my rod, Romey was hooked into a scrappy Summer Steelhead. I raced over to help him land his fish, which is no easy task on these steep-bank Upper Skykomish River drifts. It wasn’t huge, nearly a carbon-copy of my five pounder, but a beautiful specimen all the same. It was a great day for me, for Romey, for most folks up at Reiter. And although some folks scoff at the idea of spending so much time writing about a two-fish-fer-two-fellas type of day, the memories made were worth writing down.

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skykomish-river-summer-steelhead

Washington Summer Steelhead Fishing 2014

This year’s summer fishing season should give folks plenty of opportunities to catch Summer Run Steelhead in every corner of Washington State. Returns for 2014 summer-runs look very strong, and I anticipate that it will be a great season. Washington state is such a unique place, with a drastic range of environs, from the pine forests of the Eastern Washington foothills to the rain soaked coastal river valleys to the broad and mighty Columbia River. We have so many great Steelhead streams in our corner of the world, and I truly hope that everyone takes at least a few days to try their luck out there this summer.

Here is a basic guide featuring a breakdown of the smolt planting data and a guestimate of the best fishing times based on catch reporting data from years’ past.

Columbia River Summer Run Steelhead

The Columbia River draws the most attention from anglers around the Pacific Northwest. And while most folks head down to the Mighty Columbia to go salmon fishing, the returns of Summer Steelhead are staggering. The estimated return of upriver Summer Steelhead (just those that will pass over Bonneville Dam) is set at 281,000, which is a little less than last year but an impressive return nonetheless (doesn’t factor in returns from Lower Columbia Stocks). One look at the smolt plants on the rivers that pour into the Columbia really showcase just how many fish will return for us to catch!

Summer Steelhead return to the Columbia en masse, and as you can see by the table below, the run starts strong in the Lower Columbia and tributaries in June and progresses upriver until December. The best fishing in the lower river is typically found in June and July, but in the upper stretches of the river on the eastside of the state, fishing can be good in October and November and December. So even though we designate these fish as “summer run”, these fish do have quite the distance to travel upriver and fishing in the Upper Columbia doesn’t really peak until the fall months.

Steelhead fishing seasons on the mainstem Columbia River are set, but always check WDFW Emergency Rules before your trip for any possible closures. Also take note, that aside from a Catch Record Card for any Steelhead fishing you plan on doing statewide, there is a unique Columbia River Salmon & Steelhead Endorsement that needs to be purchased from your local license dealer, it is required to fish any part of the Columbia River or any of its tributaries. Summer Steelhead are caught by both boat anglers and bank anglers alike, and there are some phenomenal bank fishing spots along the entire length of the river!

[table caption=”Columbia River Mainstem Summer Run Fishing” width=”500″ colwidth=”100″
colalign=”left|center “]
River Section,Best Fishing
Astoria to Longview,June thru July
Longview to Portland,July thru August
Portland to Dalles,July thru August
Dalles to John Day,July thru September
John Day to McNary, September thru November
McNary to Tri-Cities,September thru December
Tri-Cities to Priest Rapids,October thru January
Wells to Chief Joseph, October thru December
[/table]

Lower Columbia River Tributaries 2014

The rivers that pour into the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam offer up some of the most classic steelhead waters that we have in our state. This region of the state is a Steelheader’s dream. Smaller rivers such as the Kalama, Washougal and Elochoman offer a great place to hike into a favorite spot or float the river in a drift boat. These are the places where the solitude of an uncrowded section of water on a warm summer day, and a cartwheeling Steelhead on the end of your line can create memories that help us get through the winter.

Then there are the rivers such as the Cowlitz that is a hive of activity throughout much of the summer, where a nice mix of Summer Steelhead and Salmon offer plenty of action for those that don’t mind the crowds. Buzzing upriver around a few other sleds to make another drift, side-drifting four lines to effectively cover the run, and leaving the river with a limit of Steelhead all caught on light tackle makes some folks beam with excitement.

Whatever is your preference, whatever sized river you prefer, whatever type of vessel you enjoy fishing from, there is a special place for you in Southwest Washington on the Columbia River Tribs.

[table caption=”Lower Columbia River Systems” width=”500″ colwidth=”100″
colalign=”left|right|center”]
Name of Stream,Smolt Released,Best Fishing
Elochoman River,33000,June thru July
Kalama River,90385,May thru September
Cowlitz River,571529,June thru August
South Fork Toutle River,14953,Just thru August
Green River,24974,June thru August
N.Fork & Main Lewis River,261797,May thru September
East Fork Lewis River,15000,June thru July
[/table]

Upper Columbia River Tributaries 2014

Many of the rivers and streams that feed the Upper Columbia offer great Steelhead fishing. Generous smolt plants give us plenty of returning fish to catch from the Methow, Wenatchee, Walla Walla, Grande Ronde, and many others. Most of the upper river returns peak in September and October, but several locations will offer good fishing through December.

This is bobber &jig country; bank anglers fish below many of the dams and in the tributaries with small dark jig patterns, but tossing spinners, swinging spoons, and fly fishing will put a fair number of Steelhead to the beach as well. Some of the upper tributaries are managed with a “wait and see” method of season setting.

Because so many different things can factor in to how those upriver runs fair, such as outmigration over a dozen dams, predation, water temp, water flow, ect… Fish managers look at the estimated return early on, but will open up the more popular tributaries after they witness strong counts over the dams.

[table caption=”Upper Columbia River Systems” width=”500″ colwidth=”100″
colalign=”left|right|center “]
Name of Stream,Smolt Released,Best Fishing
N.Fork Washougal,62822,May thru July
Drano Lake,24003,July thru September
Klickitat River,91664,June thru October
Walla Walla River,102177,September thru November
Touchet River,143708,September thru November
Snake River Lower,137841,September thru November
Tucannon River,51124,September thru November
Grand Ronde River,176902,October thru December
Columbia River (Ringold),186143,July thru September
Columbia River (Wells),31860,October thru December
Wenatchee River,188721,September thru November
Methow River,304358,September thru November
Okanogan River,81465,September thru November

[/table]

Washington’s Coastal Summer Steelhead 2014

When most fishers talk about “The Coast”, they are referring to the Westside of the Olympic Peninsula. Wild rushing rivers that sluice through the temperate rainforest in the National Park to collide with the Pacific. Wild Summer Steelhead can be found in a few of these rivers, I have caught Steelhead in the Queets during practically every month of the year.

The rivers that are still planted with hatchery produced Steelhead Smolts are few, just a couple, but each offers a unique fishery. Expect solitude on the Coast at the Humptulips and Calawah during summer months. Expect a crowd on the Wynoochee’s stretches early on. Once the snowmelt subsides, low clear flows make fishing a little more challenging, which makes each Steelhead landed even more rewarding.

[table caption=”Washington’s Coastal River Systems” width=”500″ colwidth=”100″
colalign=”left|right|center”]
Name of Stream,Smolt Released,Best Fishing
Quillayute River (Calawah),49500,June thru September
Humptulips River,31028,June thru August
Wynoochee River,60000,June thru August
[/table]

Puget Sound’s Summer Steelhead 2014

Puget Sound’s summertime fishing opportunities revolt around a vibrant saltwater salmon fishing season and a remarkable array of Steelhead opportunities in local rivers. The Skykomish River’s snowmelt fed flows host a great mixed fishery for Summer Chinook and Steelhead. The Green River’s remote upper watershed is filled with hidden runs and pools, as well as great fishing at the Green River Gorge and Flaming Geyser State Park. Fly fishermen capitalize on the fly-only waters of the North Fork Stillaquamish. We have plenty of fishing opportunities to be thankful for in Puget Sound. If you have never caught a Summer Steelhead out of our local waters, the thrill is indescribable.

Unfortunately a local special interest group the Wild Fish Conservancy, who’s mission is to protect wild fish populations at any cost, has successfully filed a lawsuit to cease our fishing opportunities in Puget Sound rivers for Steelhead… in the future, the Skykomish River will be the only in all of Pugetropolis to be stocked, so most likely this year and next will be the last time we will see a fishery in any Puget Sound river for steelhead in the next dozen years… unless you want to pig-pile in the Sky Valley. So get in some local fishing time while you still can.

[table caption=”Puget Sound & Strait of Juan de Fuca River Systems” width=”500″ colwidth=”100″
colalign=”left|right|center”]
Name of Stream,Smolt Released,Best Fishing
N. Fork Stillaquamish,76255,June thru August
Skykomish River,187500,June thru August
Green River (Icy Creek),19984,June thru August
Green River (Big Soos),60000,June thru August
Duckabush River,238,June thru July
[/table]

Snoqualmie River Winter Steelhead

The Snoqualmie River is one of the best places in the Puget Sound region to catch Winter Steelhead. Its three forks, the Middle, North and South forks converge into a respectable sized river and plummet over the 268 foot tall Snoqualmie Falls. Our beloved waterfall is an impassable barrier to the Steelhead that migrate home from the sea but below it, for many miles, lie a great number of fishing spots that will undoubtedly yield Steelhead to those persistent anglers who put in their time.

Most of the rivers that flow into Puget Sound suffer from diminished returns of Wild Steelhead, including the Snoqualmie. Even so, generous inputs from the Tokul Creek Hatchery continue to give us a great fishing opportunity during the winter.

Thanksgiving marks the unofficial start to the winter fishing season. Local fishing bums will start to catch a few Steelhead near the Tokul Creek Hatchery at Big Eddy. While early season catches are few, light crowds make for an enjoyable fishing experience. Before December 1, barbless hooks must be used and bait is banned. Once the bait ban lifts in December, the river becomes a flurry of activity. December and January will offer up a great two months of Steelhead fishing.

Recommended Gear

The Snoqualmie an be considered a medium-large sized river, therefore longer rods will give an angler better line control. For float fishing, I always bring my 10′ Lamiglas, and usually stick with my 9’6 G Loomis when swinging spoons or drift fishing. Our season closes before the larger Wild Steelhead return in great numbers, and because the average hatchery fish weighs less than ten pounds, a medium action rod will suffice.

The Snoqualmie offers such a great variety of water types that many Steelhead fishing techniques are considered productive. Float fishing is by far the most popular method, especially around the mouth of Tokul Creek. Bobbers matched with Steelhead jigs catch quite a few fish each winter. I prefer a jig that is 1/8 oz; favorite jig colors are any combination of orange, pink, purple, white or blue. When the river gets low and clear, a Nightmare Jig (white head, red body, black tail) offers the perfect contrast and is very effective. Drift fishing with cured roe also catches a fair number of Winter Steelhead and being the technique I first started off with, is something I still continue to catch Snoqualmie Steelhead with.

Bank Fishing on the Snoqualmie

1.) Falls Pool: Parking and the trailhead are located at the end of Fish Hatchery Road. The tailout of the pool will hold Steelhead as will the several smaller pools below.

2.) Big Eddy: Tokul Creek enters the Snoqualmie River at a huge shallow swirling eddy. This area has a high concentration of Steelhead, plenty of traffic, and lots of character. Arguably the most popular place to fish on the Snoqualmie. Located off SR 202 on 372nd Ave and Fish Hatchery Road.

3.) Tokul Creek: The hatchery is located on the creek, so all of the returning Steelhead that haven’t been caught by anglers below will have to swim through this turbid and fast flowing stream. Anglers drift yarn or cured roe in the fast waters of the creek. Located off SR 202 on 372nd Ave and Fish Hatchery Road.

4.) Plum’s Landing: The river at Plum’s Landing looks as if it were handmade for Steelhead. The choppy run just above the concrete ramp is always worth a few casts. Located off Fish Hatchery Road.

5.) David Powell Road: Located off Preston-Fall City Road just south of Fall City, the road closely parallels the river for almost 2 miles. I like to hop between empty pullouts; there are many great spots along this road.

6.) Fall City Bridge: The gravel bar above the bridge offers great water to swing flies or spoons or drift fish. This is one of the classic Snoqualmie River fishing spots.

7.) Tolt T: Tolt-John MacDonald Park is located at the mouth of the Tolt River. This large public park offers great fishing access to the lower Tolt River and the sweeping run on the main river just below the confluence. Located off NE 40th Street or Tolt Ave in Carnation.

8.) Chinook Bend: Chinook Bend Natural Area offers a few great drifts which are accessible by several maintained trails. Located off Carnation Farms Road.

Drifting the Snoqualmie

1.) Plum’s Landing to Fall City: This is a short float with lots of great Steelhead holding water. Plum’s Landing is directly below the Tokul Creek Hatchery. The river at Plum’s is very productive, some folks will launch their boats at Plum’s and fish this large run the entire day. The boulder strewn tailout of the Plum’s drift has lots of great holding areas. There are plenty of places to anchor and fish, pull plugs, or just side drift your way down. Take out at the ramp at the Raging River mouth in Fall City.

2.) Fall City to Richter’s (Neal Road): Also a short float, the Fall City to Neal Road drift has some of the Snoqualmie’s best steelhead water. The long stretch from the Fall City Bridge down to the Flag Pole has produced countless Steelhead. When spending an entire day on the Snoqualmie, I prefer to float both drifts: Plum’s to Richter’s.

3.)Richter’s (Neal Road) to Tolt Hill Bridge: While this float is technically doable, the Snoqualmie through this stretch doesn’t have the flow or character to hold Steelhead. This stretch fishes best when Coho migrate into the Carnation area in October and November.

Motor Boats on the Snoqualmie

Jet Sleds can be launched at the Fall City Launch or Carnation Launch. Side drifting with prawns or cured salmon roe is the most popular technique used. During higher flows, it is common to see jet sleds fishing from the Plum’s Landing Launch down throughout the Fall City area.

Giving Thanks for Early Winter Steelhead

It was another unforgettable Thanksgiving Day. The day was spent with friends and loved ones and was another reminder that we all have so much to be truly thankful for. Our traditional Thanksgiving morning fishing trip that was underway shortly after day break was followed by a great time with friends and a phenomenal meal with the family. For anglers looking forward to capitalize on an extended holiday weekend there are plenty of options, both close to home and in the remote reaches of our region. From late returning Coho to scrappy Chum Salmon to hatchery Winter Steelhead, there are plenty of places to go and plenty of fish to catch.

Most of our Western Washington rivers and streams will be effected by the weather system moving into the area on Saturday afternoon (November 30, 2014), but keeping an eye on weather conditions and water conditions will give everyone a clear idea of what their options are.

Remember, the smaller steams and rivers clear the fastest. After a large Northwest rainstorm, some of our smallest streams can drop into fishable shape well before our largest rivers even crest. Good luck out there everyone and Happy Thanksgiving!

Here are a few of my suggestions for anyone looking to go fishing the week after Thanksgiving.

Skykomish River (Coho, Chum, Early Steelhead)

Sky Country can be a great option for any Seattle area angler in late November to early December. While late Coho fishing has been decent, Chums have been a fun and scrappy incidental catch, excitement is building for a solid two months of Winter Steelhead fishing. River levels will move from low to high pretty quickly after our weekend rains hit, but anglers are already reporting Steelhead catches near the mouth of the Wallace River and upper Skykomish below Reiter Ponds Hatchery. Once we see the river levels rise, Steelhead will migrate quickly and offer great fishing options throughout the system. Best bets for bank anglers: Reiter Ponds, Reiter Highwayside, Cable Hole, Proctor Creek, Cracker Bar.

Skykomish River Fishing Spots

Snoqualmie River (Early Steelhead)

The banks of the Snoqualmie River have been a ghost town for the past several weeks. Aside from a few diehard bobberheads fishing the Big Eddy near Tokul and fly guys practicing their double hand casts off David Powell Road, most anglers are holding off until the bait (and barbed hooks) opener on Sunday December 1. Usually there are a few early Hatchery Steelhead caught on opening day, but this river really lights up after the first rains… which coincidentally are expected to hit on the eve of the opener. If the river is too high to fish, the seam at the mouth of Tokul Creek will be a busy place. Best bets: float fishing Big Eddy and with high water plunking at the Carnation Farms Bridge or Fall City Bridge. If the river rises above 6,000 c.f.s. there will be no good options though for a few days.

Snoqualmie River Fishing Spots

Green River (Chum, Early Steelhead)

For anyone living in King County or Pierce County, the Green River is an easy one to get to and has great bank access. The Green is currently loaded with Chum Salmon, has a few Coho still entering the system, and will offer a few lucky anglers the shot at some Winter Steelhead. Although it doesn’t receive the same gluttonous Steelhead smolt plants that other Puget Sound rivers receive, it is still cherished by many local Steelheaders. Bank Bets: Car Body Hole (Auburn Black Diamond Road & Hwy 18), Flaming Geyser State Park, Old Grady Park.

Bogachiel River (Early Steelhead)

Forks area rivers have all seen a few early returning Winter Steelhead, but the Bogey is the kingpin of early hatchery Steelhead catches. Expect quite a crowd at the Bogachiel near the hatchery, but for good reason: plenty of November/December hatchery Steelhead to catch! Float fishing with small jigs or live sand shrimp can be very effective.

Sooes River (Early Steelhead)

This tiny little tidal creek on the Makah Reservation near Neah Bay has a surprising number of returning Winter Steelhead. With slightly more smolts planted here than in the Bogachiel, this could be a great option if rains push our Forks area rivers to unfishable flows. Tribal fishing license is required.

Humptulips River (Late Coho & Early Steelhead)

A large push of late returning Hatchery Coho just hit the river last week, and with a deluge expected to hit the coast on Sunday, there should be a solid mix of Coho and Steelhead in the system once waters recede.

Satsop River (Late Coho & Chum)

The Satsop has been invaded by a huge glut of Chum Salmon, which are a great option for anyone looking to get out and play Catch & Release. Pulling K13, K14 or K15 Kwikfish in any deep runs is a sure way to wear out your fishing partners, but with a strong return of Late Coho and a few signs of Hatchery Steelhead starting to show, there are plenty of options is this Chehalis River tributary.

Puget Sound from Everett & Edmonds (Blackmouth)

Fishing for Resident Chinook has been pretty good in Puget Sound and while Marine Area 9’s November Season is drawing to a close, Marine Area 8-2 is open for fishing through April. Focus on the lowest 10 feet of the water column, as many of these resident feeder Kings are foraging on Sand Lance (Candlefish). Trolling at slow speeds with 11” Flashers paired with Coho Killer Spoons, 3.5” Kingfisher Spoons, or Needlefish Plastic Squid. For a few prime Blackmouth areas, troll around Sandy Point, South Gedney Island and Racetrack.

Winter Steelhead Fishing with Floats & Jigs

Fishing with a float and jig has become one of the most popular methods for catching Winter Steelhead. Float fishing is one of the easier techniques to master, making it a perfect option for anyone new to fishing on our Northwest rivers. And while some really do consider this a beginners technique, most expert anglers realize the effectiveness and are float fishing converts as well. While fishing with a float (or bobber) is often identified with lake fishing for smaller trout or panfish, we clever river fishers have infused that simple buoyant apparatus into our world of salmon and steelhead fishing.

This post is designed to break down each required piece of the Float & Jig setup, plus share a few tips. I hope you find this informative and helpful… Enjoy!

Steelhead Float Fishing Tips

  1. Float size, jig size and simple arithmetic. Standard steelhead jig sizes are 1/8 oz to ¼ oz. Standard steelhead float size is 3/8 oz to ¾ oz. While a smaller 1/8 oz steelhead jig offers the perfect profile, often these are too lightweight to anchor the float (submerge half the float) or to sink quickly enough. Including a sinker to the setup is almost always needed, whether it be an inline weight, snap swivel/slinky, or split shot.
  2. Keep your mainline from impacting the natural drift of your float. If the float is tilted downstream, the mainline on the surface of the water down-current can be pulling your float faster than the speed of the drift. If the float is tilted upstream, then you might need to let more mainline out so the setup is not held back. The goal is to see your float pointing straight to the sky, or completely vertical. When the float/jig setup is drifting at the same speed as the current, then we’ve found the best presentation possible.
  3. Appropriate depth of a Steelhead Jig. Winter Steelhead will hold in the soft currents that lie closest to the river bottom. Even the smallest of cobble or boulders can break the current and offer an easier place for a Steelhead to rest which is usually within 2 feet of the bottom. Set the distance from your float to jig so that your jig is within a couple feet of the bottom.
  4. Floating braided mainline is crucial. A quality floating braid allows us to manipulate the line on the surface so that it doesn’t negatively impact the drift. Floating braid can be mended and manipulated in the same way a floating fly line can be controlled.
  5. Dancing floats and depths. If you notice your float is dancing or bobbing, that could mean that the jig is dragging along the bottom. If you are managing the mainline properly, and the float is also tilted down-current then this is almost a surety. Shorten the float-jig distance 12 inches at a time until you get a natural drift.
  6. Losing floats? When fishing in areas with extreme snags, if you find that you are losing bobbers because your weight setup breaks off, place a bead/stop below the float.
  7. Hookset? When a steelhead pulls that bobber down, think about what a hookset will actually accomplish. If you have plenty of slack line on the surface (lack of a direct connection), it might be better to reel quickly to get the line tight before setting the hook.

Float Fishing Rods

Many of the rod manufacturers that cater to Northwest salmon and steelhead anglers offer some great options for float fishing rods. A float fishing rod is usually the longest rod that a fisher will have in his collection. One of the most important aspects in float fishing is line management. A longer rod will allow for easier mending and manipulation of the mainline to provide the perfect drift. The exact length of the perfect float rod truly depends on where you fish. On larger rivers where long distance casting and serious line control is the standard, a rod 10’ or longer might be perfect. When fishing smaller brushy streams, a rod as short as 8’6 might be perfect. Typically 9’6 to 10’6 is the perfect range for an all around float fishing rod. Look for a rod with a medium power: 6-12lb, 8-15lb, 8-17lb are perfect options for most fisheries.

Float Fishing Reels

As with many techniques, the first question is whether to go with a spinning or baitcasting setup; both have their advantages. When using extremely light tackle, such as 1/8 oz to ¼ oz floats, a spinning rod can offer easier casting for most anglers. The advantage of baitcasting reels, however, is that they can be left in casting mode so that line will flow easily from the spool and allow the drift to continue. Spinning reels allow for this also but when you see a “bobber down!” and need to disengage the free spool it is more cumbersome to flip the bail over, especially once a steelhead draws the line tight. I prefer baitcasting setups almost exclusively for personal use, but use spinning setups when taking out novice anglers or kids who might have difficulty mastering a cast with a levelwind baitcaster.

Float Fishing Mainline

Monofilament or Braid? Braid. Floating braided mainline offers so many advantages over monofilament that there isn’t even a question of what to use. Many braided lines come in a high visibility color such as white, yellow or bright blue. Being able to see your mainline will allow you to more effectively mend and manipulate your line for better float control. I would recommend a line that is between 30 lb and 50 lb; we never need that kind of breaking strength for steelhead, but the thicker diameter of 30 lb to 50 lb matches a typical 8 lb to 15 lb monofilament. Bobber stops might not properly grip thinner braid, plus thin braided line can cut into itself on the spool causing major headaches while fishing.

Float Fishing Leader

Monofilament or fluorocarbon leader material between 8 lb and 15 lb covers our spectrum of steelhead situations here in the Northwest. Favor 8 lb or 10 lb when water conditions are low and clear. Favor 12 lb or 15 lb when water conditions are high and muddy, also when targeting trophy steelhead later in the season. I will typically use a leader between 24” and 36”.

Bobber Stop & Bead

Slip on bobber stops made of string are popular for steelhead fishing. They can be tightened around the braided mainline and easily adjusted for changing depth. On floats with a wide opening, a bead may be needed to keep the stop from sliding through the float.

Steelhead Fishing Floats

There is a wide variety of steelhead floats available including balsa, foam, cork, and clear plastic. Float style selection comes down to personal preference. Using a sliding float (versus a fixed float) and a bobber stop will allow the fisher to easily adjust for depth. I typically use floats between 3/8 oz and ½ oz for winter steelhead fishing.

Sinkers & Weight

Inline float weights, pencil lead or slinky weights are often needed to balance out the smaller 1/8 oz steelhead jigs and larger ½ oz floats.

Split Shot

When using a leader greater than 24” I almost always add a small split shot weight to my leader. A split shot will help the entire setup to sink and bottom out quickly, which is especially helpful when fishing faster water where you want your jig to get down immediately.

Steelhead Jigs

There are a great variety of jig patterns available, and the great news is that many of these are extremely effective. Generally speaking, 1/8 oz to ¼ oz are the preferred sizes. The beauty of steelhead is that they tend to not be too picky, there are a variety of colors that will tempt winter fish: hot pink, light pinks, blue, purple, white, orange, shrimp, black and any combination of these can be effective. I have found that one of the greatest factors to success is matching the size of the jig profile to the water conditions. During low and clear conditions I will tend to downsize my presentation, an Aerojig Hackle series or micro jig would be great options. When river conditions are higher than average, a full bodied rabbit fur jig or palmered marabou jig might be the better producer.

Overall, float fishing with jigs can be an extremely effective way to catch Winter Steelhead, and it’s a great tactic for anyone from a beginner to an advanced Steelheader. Regardless of experience, once you dive into this technique, you will realize why it has become a favored tactic for riverbound anglers across the Pacific Northwest.

Basic Float Fishing Setup

How To Cure Salmon Eggs

Quality cured salmon roe is undoubtedly one of the most effective baits used to catch Salmon, Steelhead and Trout. Whether you are heaving a fist sized ball of wet eggs for King Salmon in the tidewater, stalking Trout in the high mountains with a single egg on an ultralight rod, or chucking a dried cluster of boraxed roe to a resting Steelhead, homemade cured salmon eggs are a great bait.

Unfortunately there has always been a little mystery as of how exactly to prepare the perfect roe, but here you will learn the fundamental steps in the egg curing process.

All about Salmon Egg Skeins

Female salmon develop their eggs in a skin sack called a skein. As immature feeding fish, a salmon’s skein is initially very small. As the salmon reaches their final months prior to spawning the skein will enlarge and the individual eggs will grow to about the size of a pea. Each skein can hold thousands of eggs.

As the skeins develop the eggs become tightly clustered in a skin purse that is the skein, this makes for great fishing bait that can be cut into the perfect sized chunks. As the salmon nears the spawning area the skeins break down and loosen, at this point the female will deposit the individual eggs in the spawning redd to be fertilized by the male salmon. Loose eggs can be cured but are difficult to fish; anglers must spend quite a bit of time to create clusters by wrapping loose eggs in cheese cloth.

The skein size varies based on the size of the individual salmon and the proximity to spawning. A skein from a small Pink Salmon may weigh only a few ounces but a skein from a trophy female King Salmon might weigh several pounds.

Salmon eggs are very delicate and high quality eggs are not the easiest to come by. Be sure to bleed your catch right away, keep cool until it is time to process and fillet, and begin curing the salmon roe within 24 hours.

What to do after landing a Salmon

The work begins just moments after landing an egg laden salmon. To produce a quality finished product, you must begin with quality fresh ingredients. Make sure to bleed the fish immediately after landing it; salmon eggs must be as blood free as possible to put up good bait. Placing the fish on ice will ensure that the meat and the roe are preserved, but on a crisp autumn day that may not be completely necessary.

Removing the Salmon Roe

Carefully cut open the underside of the salmon to remove the roe. Start the cut at the anal vent and slice up the belly to the throat of the salmon. Be sure to make the cut shallow as to not cut into the egg skein.

Each female salmon has two egg skeins. They are attached to the organs near the head and can be removed by hand.

Prepare the Roe for the Curing Process

There are a few simple tasks that will ensure a quality finished cured bait. First, blood free salmon eggs create the perfect bait. Even a well-bled fish will still retain a little blood, which courses through the skein and can spoil a perfectly good batch of eggs. Take a fillet knife and puncture any blood veins on the outside of the skein, run your knife blade from the end of the vein to the opening and remove as much blood as possible. Then butterfly the skein so that all the eggs will be exposed to the cure. I like to pat dry the recently opened skeins with a paper towel to remove any lingering blood or liquid.

How to apply Salmon Egg Cure

Bait Cure performs several functions. It preserves the fragile roe. It makes the roe more durable. It colors the roe. It adds bite enhancing chemicals to help create even more tempting bait. Bait Cure can be messy as the dyes used are often potent. I strongly recommend curing any bait outside in an area where a few permanent pink stains won’t cause a problem. Place the prepared skeins in either a small plastic bucket or a gallon plastic bag. Sprinkle the cure over the skeins until they are lightly covered. I like to add a little, roll the bag, then add a little more. An insufficient amount of cure will produce unpreserved bait. Adding too much cure will cause the roe to be burned by the chemicals in the mixture. Once the skeins are evenly coated in cure they then need time to complete the curing process.

Egg Curing Process

Salmon Egg Cure is a mix of borax, salt, sugar, dye and other preservatives. The salt preserves. The sugar toughens. The borax dries. The dye colors. Once the skeins are coated, the cure will draw out liquids from the eggs. Within a few hours the eggs will shrink and the container will be filled with a soupy colored juice. Within a few more hours the liquid will be pulled back into the eggs: preservatives, dye and all. Once the juicing and reabsorbing takes place, the eggs can be specifically prepared for the desired fishing technique.

Final steps in curing Salmon Roe

Cured Salmon Roe is extremely versatile. Anglers have many ways of using it to catch Salmon and Steelhead. After the curing process is completed, the decision of how to utilize it will define how it is finally cared for. If an angler wishes to fish for Chinook Salmon, he might want a very wet egg that leaches out juices into the water; he will sacrifice durability for a bait that carries a large scent trail. If an angler wishes to fish for Steelhead, he might decide that it is more important to have a durable bait that can handle a dozen casts before it falls apart.

When putting up Wet Cure Eggs, consider taking the entire finished product and simply place it in a glass quart Mason Jar to freeze. Juice and all.

When putting up Salmon Eggs for Steelhead fishing, consider straining the eggs in a colander, then air drying them on a rack to toughen them up. Placing a final coating of borax over the cured Salmon Roe can make the eggs even more durable.

Final Thoughts

Although fishers have been putting up roe for decades, curing eggs is a very fickle process. There are so many variables that can impact the quality of the finished product including the age of the eggs, the temperature at the curing site, the egg cure recipe, the amount of cure, the intended use, the list goes on. Even veteran fishing guides often find that there are batches that didn’t quite turn out as planned. There are always new ideas, new experimental methods and ingredients. The trick is to be patient, be attentive, and follow the basic process closely. Aside from that, good luck and I hope this article helps you understand the process and puts you on the path toward success on the water!

Snoqualmie-Falls-July-15-2008-(1)

Snoqualmie River Fishing

The Snoqualmie River is regarded as a special place to many Seattle area fishermen due to the ample public access and generous winter steelhead plants. Because its famed pools and runs are so close to the city, it’s an easy river to hit after work or for a few hours on the weekend.

The Snoqualmie’s three forks (North, Middle and South) originate deep in the heart of the Cascade Range. They feed off the mountain range’s snowpack and lowland rains. The forks converge near the town of North Bend to form the mainstem Snoqualmie, which meanders through the upper valley for a few short miles before pouring over Snoqualmie Falls. The waterfall is 268’ tall and acts as a natural boundary for sea-run fish like Salmon, Steelhead or Cutthroat Trout. The river from Snoqualmie Falls through Fall City is a steelheader’s paradise. Its runs, pools and boulder gardens are full of character and offer quite a bit of holding water for the angler to assault.

Geographically, it is the closest steelhead river to Seattle and Bellevue. The lower river receives a return of hatchery born winter Steelhead, wild winter Steelhead, Coho, Chum, Chinook, Pink Salmon and Sea Run Cutthroat Trout. Above Snoqualmie Falls, the North, Middle, and South Fork host healthy populations of Rainbow, Cutthroat and Brook Trout.

While many of the famed steelhead holes become crowded during the prime steelhead months of December and January, productive steelhead spots away from the hordes can be found with a little gumption.

Snoqualmie River Winter Steelhead

The Snoqualmie’s first winter Steelhead are caught in November, and by the first week of December fishing really heats up. Fishing usually closes in February to protect returning Wild Steelhead.

Steelhead Fishing near Carnation

Fishing can be productive in the Carnation area, although the Tolt River no longer receives steelhead plants, and most of the hatchery fish travel through this area quickly. While most of the fishing pressure in the Carnation area is from bank anglers, it’s common to spot a few jet sleds that launch at the Tolt Hill Bridge launch and side drift bait downstream through the Carnation area.

Favorite Steelhead spots near Carnation

One of my favorite plunking areas is located in Carnation. While I don’t plunk that often, I have witnessed the locals catch plenty of steelhead plunking with sand shrimp/eggs/spin glos’ near the Carnation Farms Bridge. As you drive over the Carnation Farms Bridge towards town, hanging an immediate right (south) on 310th Ave NE will lead you to a King County Nature Park, with riverside trails that offers a great place to bank fish. I personally spend most of my time bank fishing at Chinook Bend Nature Park, located between Carnation Farms and the bridge. The Snoqualmie River flows around three sides of this 59 acre public natural area.

Steelhead Fishing near Fall City

There is more fishing effort from Tokul Creek downstream to Fall City than anywhere else on the river. The entire area is inhabited by fly fishermen, gear fishermen, drift boaters and jet sleds. Most of the steelhead caught in this large river system are caught near Fall City. The Tokul Creek hatchery releases about 150,000 winter steelhead smolt, and they all return in a two month period. Fishing in Tokul Creek isn’t for everyone. Tokul is a very swift moving creek, and most anglers drift fish with a tuft of yarn and a foot of leader. I have attempted to fish it once, and I assume that most of the steelhead that are caught here are lined (snagged in the mouth). I would consider it a pretty low quality experience, with many fishing shoulder-to-shoulder. The creek empties into the Snoqualmie, forming the Big Eddy. This area is a fun fishery if you don’t mind company. Plum’s Landing is below Tokul Creek, and is the drift boat put-in for the upper float. Some anglers make the short float down to Fall City, and others make the full day float below Fall City to Richters (Neal Road below Fall City Farms).

Favorite Steelhead spots near Fall City

I love floating the Snoqualmie River in my drift boat, regardless of how many people are on the river. It is my home river, I live about five minutes from Plum’s Landing. I often float Plum’s to Richter’s, beaching the boat in Fall City and walking across the street for lunch at the Raging River Saloon is one of our favorite winter passtimes. On any given winter day, plunkers set up their rod holders and build their campfires right at the Fall City bridge. These guys catch plenty of fish. The run just above the bridge up to the mouth of the Raging River is perfect for anyone swinging flies or spoons. For the bank bound angler, there is a bit of access off Fish Hatchery Road (leading to Plum’s & Tokul). On the opposite side of the river from Plum’s, David Powell Road parallels the river for a mile with multiple pullouts. I also enjoy bank fishing from Big Eddy to Snoqualmie Falls, but the road is currently closed so access is difficult.

Snoqualmie River Summer Steelhead

Fishing for steelhead on the Snoqualmie was once my favorite summer passtime. I loved going down to Snoqualmie Falls, Plum’s Landing or Fall City for the first light steelhead bite, but summer steelhead are no longer planted in the Snoqualmie River. Believe it or not, Skykomish River summer steelhead do travel up into the Snoqualmie and can still be caught, although the numbers of steelhead in the Snoqualmie during the summer are a fraction of what they once were.

Snoqualmie River Coho Salmon

The Snoqualmie River has a healthy run of wild Coho; they spawn in the main stem, the Tolt, the Raging, Cherry Creek, Griffin Creek and other smaller tributaries.

The most popular places to fish for Coho are boat access. The High Bridge launch just upstream from the confluence of the Snoqualmie and Skykomish Rivers is the most popular place to put in a jet sled to fish the upper Snohomish. Boaters catch plenty of Coho by drift fishing Dick Nite spoons and by casting wiggle warts and spinners.

Once the first October rainstorms start to push Coho up the Snoqualmie, Coho begin to stack at the mouths of the Tolt River and Griffin Creek (just upriver from the Tolt Hill Bridge launch). Trolling or casting wiggle wart style plugs can be very productive here.

Snoqualmie River Trout

The Snoqualmie offers resident and sea-run trout plenty of great habitat. While the lower Snoqualmie River watershed’s primary catches are Sea Run Cutthroat Trout, there still are some resident Rainbow Trout and Cutthroat Trout that can be found. The Snoqualmie River upstream from Snoqualmie Falls offers phenomenal fishing for trout in an almost alpine setting. The North Fork, Middle Fork, South Fork and Upper Mainstem Snoqualmie each offer a fishing experience that is unique unto itself. The North Fork being the most remote, the Middle Fork being the largest, the South Fork being the easiest to access and clearest, and the Upper Mainstem being the slowest and filled with drowned timber. Above the Falls, the river’s trout population doesn’t have to compete with Salmon or Steelhead younglings for food, so the trout-per-mile count is higher. Expect to see a healthy mix of Cutthroat, Rainbows and possibly Brook Trout above the Falls.

Simple Salmon Egg Cure Recipe

Most Pacific Northwest river fishermen find quality cured salmon roe to be one of the most valuable yet most limited commodities needed to catch Salmon and Steelhead.

Throughout much of the year, a few fresh skeins of salmon eggs are a true prize.

If you are fortunate enough to catch a female salmon and need to cure the roe for fishing this egg cure recipe is inexpensive, its ingredients are easy to find, and it produces a phenomenal product!

For our full article on the process… check out…HOW TO CURE SALMON EGGS

Simple Egg Cure Recipe Ingredients

  • 1 Cup Borax
  • 1 Cup White Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Table Salt
  • 3 Tablespoons Beau Mac Pro-Glo Bait Coloring Powder

Step 1: Mix Egg Cure

Mix all the ingredients together in a 1 gallon Zip-lock bag. Make sure that the entire process is done in an area there stained countertops will not be an issue. I highly recommend keeping this process out of the kitchen; a garage workbench or shed is a great place to complete this messy task.

Step 2: Prepare Egg Skeins

Remove as much blood from the salmon egg skeins. I wrap my skeins in paper towels and roll them to remove any excess moisture and blood. Take a sharp fillet knife and lightly butterfly open the skeins so that cure will absorb into every crevasse. Place prepped salmon egg skeins in a large Zip-lock bag.

Step 3: Apply Cure to Salmon Eggs

Apply cure to salmon egg skeins. Gently sprinkle cure evenly over the skeins. I like to shake the bag up, sprinkle a little more, shake & sprinkle. I like to see a healthy bright red coloring on the eggs and a complete coating of egg cure over the entire skein. Many store-bought cures contain Sodium Bisulfate, which can Burn the eggs if over cured. The nice feature about this homemade cure is that without the Sodium Bisulfate, if you add a little too much to the mix there isn’t any burning that occurs.

Step 4: Wait…Roll…Wait…Roll…

Allow the mix to turn the egg cure into a liquid, about 30 minutes. I typically roll the egg mix in the sealed bag a few times… about every hour or so. This process ensures that the cure works its way through the skein and cures every single egg.

Step 5: Allow Salmon Eggs Time to Cure

The egg mix needs time to cure, let sit for at least a day in cool weather. I prefer 2 to 3 days in cool weather or in a refrigerator. You will notice a lot of egg juice accumulates in the mix. The eggs need time to leak out this juice, then it will be reabsorbed into the eggs. Once this process occurs, your batch of eggs is almost done!

Step 6: Strain Salmon Eggs

Remove mix from bag and strain any excess juices. If you are looking to fish for Chinook and want extremely wet eggs, you can skip this step but it will result in less durable eggs that are difficult to cast.

Step 7: Air Dry Salmon Eggs

Place cured salmon eggs on a screen to air dry. This toughens the roe and makes it easier to cast. The longer it dries, the tougher it gets. Make a decision on how you plan on using these eggs and dry accordingly.

Step 8: Package Cured Salmon Eggs

Package cured salmon eggs for storage. Eggs can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks if you plan on fishing them soon. I typically take my eggs and freeze them in glass quart jars or sturdy Zip-lock bags.

Curing your own salmon roe allows you to produce the exact quality of bait you enjoy fishing. Additives such as tuna oil, krill powder, extra sugar, jello are among the many ingredients that Northwest river fishermen use to spice up their baits. I hope you found this article informative and enjoyable… Good luck out there!

Skykomish Summer Update June 2013

The Skykomish River’s 2013 fishing season has just begun and even though it’s been less than a week since opening day it has already been a wild ride. From extremely crowded conditions to looking like a ghost town, from few fish for all to quite a few per boat, each day so far has offered quite a few surprises! The Skykomish River is beloved by many Washington anglers, with perfect steelhead runs to deep salmon pools and busy hatchery areas to remote mountain tributaries. This river’s classic fishing holes and proximity to Seattle makes it the crown jewel of Puget Sound river fisheries. So here’s the first report of the 2013 summer season.

Opening day on the Skykomish was a date that will live in infamy. As eager anglers converged on the Skykomish during the pre-dawn hours of Saturday June 1, the parking lot at the Lewis Street boat launch in Monroe and the Sultan boat launch upriver quickly filled to capacity. Dozens of jet sleds hit the water well before first light and raced to their favorite runs, excitement levels were high.

Famous side-drifting areas like Thunderbird, Afternoon Hole and Younkers were choked with jet sleds. The Skykomish River on opening day resembled rush hour on 405. Boats would finish their drift, run up, get back in line at the head of the run, and wait for their turn to rework those fishy drifts. Many fishermen that focused on the section from Monroe up to the Wallace River flats observed a record setting number of boats, I’ve heard that there might have been up to a hundred boats on the Sky on opening day (that number could easily be an exaggeration, but it does paint a vivid picture!). That lower section is open for hatchery Chinook retention as well as summer steelhead retention, thus that is where the masses fished.

Most of my friends that fished opening day on the Skykomish River fished from their jet sleds, they fished in the lower end, and they each reported less than one fish (salmon or steelhead) landed each. When there are a few power boats on the river salmon and steelhead willingly take lures and bait, but with the incessant noise of that many boats? I have my doubts. I personally think that the increased boat traffic could have partially killed the bite, and more boats targeting the same water definitely dilutes the fish-per-boat average.

As the parade of drift boats made their way downriver from the High Bridge in Gold Bar to Sultan, reports were better, with fish to show for it. Only the lower mile of that long upper drift affords a drifter the chance to retain a Chinook, so most of those guys were busy trying to tempt a summer run steelhead. Drift boat anglers reported catching steelhead side drifting cured roe, pulling plugs and sand shrimp/bait divers.

The bank anglers fishing the Reiter Hatchery area reported a fair number of steelhead hooked, with crowded conditions though. Anglers fishing right at the hatchery, across on the highway side or Reiter, at Cable Hole as well as other nearby spots reported a mix of summer runs and late wild winter steelhead. A friend of mine (he’d like to remain anonymous) sent me a pick of a beautiful 39” late winter wild steelhead that they caught and released in the upper river this week. While many of the folks I’ve talked with did well with float/steelhead jigs, a select few of my friends did very well with RVRFSHR Spoons.

After a hectic weekend, the crowds thinned and fishing heated up. Boat traffic returned to a normal level, and several friends of mine saw more consistent catches during the week. Fishing just below the Wallace River produced great catches of summer Chinook, many in the 14-18 pound range. Steelhead and Chinook are a mixed catch when side drifting with cured eggs in the summertime, and many were hooked by the guide boats working the lower Skykomish. As the snowmelt subsides and river conditions improve, fishing should continue to improve as well until mid-July when the Skykomish River drops into its low and clear summer flows.

Get out there while it’s good fishing folks! Good Luck out there!

Spring Fishing Thoughts

Spring does not make a great first impression here in the Pacific Northwest. She always teases us with a beautifully warm weekend early in the month of April. We blissfully fill our spring schedule with springtime activities like planting the garden, dusting off the patio furniture and preparing the boat, ready for a warm weather paradise that will stretch clear into fall. But every year, she catches us off guard. Overnight frosts that kill our fragile little garden starts, weeks of gray rain laden clouds, and heavy seas that dash our fishing plans. And although spring toys with our emotions, depriving us of that much needed sunshine we have oh so missed, fair weather eventually arrives. Us folks here in the upper left hand corner of the country know how to capitalize on the short summer we do have. And if you fish, you know that it is merely a struggle to choose how to manage your time, our options are many. My interests usually steer me toward the Sound.

As spring approaches, we have so many great places to fish that it is only the limiting factor of time that forces us to pick and choose our favorites. I am always eager for April’s Razor Clams, Coastal Lingcod and Hometown Trout.

I find myself beaming with joy at the chance to head west and enjoy our early morning clam digs on the beach. As folks step onto the sand at Long Beach, Grayland, Ocean Shores and Copalis, the amount of great enjoyment seen in the smiles of so many really shows how a little trip to the coast can wipe away the memory of a wet and dark winter.

A chance to fish for Lingcod and Rockfish in the Pacific is one I won’t miss, and every spring I make a concerted effort to head to Westport. I think it is an amazing opportunity we have, to hop on a Charter and explore the open ocean, and to carry home fillets from a dozen healthy bottomfish for under a hundred dollars.

As April surrenders to May, that final weekend is one of many firsts. I should say, many first fish. Hundreds of thousands of folks grab the tackle box and poles and head to their local lakes. It is an impressive feat to stock thousands of lakes across Washington with millions of trout, but the state does that to give families the chance to enjoy easy fishing near home. Many lakes are stocked well, and fishing can remain good into early summer, but that first weekend is a real slam dunk. The fish might not always be the biggest, but they bring a lot of joy and create plenty of memories for young anglers.

The rule book is mailed out and immediately every boat owner in Seattle has requested time off to go shrimping. Our Sound has a great abundance of Spot Shrimp, but the popularity of the fishery allows for only a few shrimping days a year, lest we over harvest our tasty resource. A Saturday here, a Wednesday there and it seems that it ended as quickly as it began. But the resource managers know that it takes a lot of work to go shrimping, so when it is open, we each get a healthy limit of 80.

Just as folks are readying their shrimping gear in anticipation, Halibut and Lingcod seasons open up in marine areas from Astoria to Bellingham to Olympia. May is a heyday for fishermen in the state, and the chance to keep Lingcod one day, Spot Shrimp the next and Halibut the day after that keeps us plenty busy. So even though the Great Northwest is defined by Salmon, us fishermen have plenty to keep us preoccupied before they arrive. Good luck out there!

Huge Wild Steelhead From The Washington Coast

I just had to share this with you all.

Here is full-time guide Mike Ainsworth with one of the most beautiful Wild Steelhead I’ve seen. It is common knowledge here in Western Washington that December and January are prime months to target the returning hatchery steelhead. While numbers of Wild Steelhead in most rivers is greatest in February, March and April, don’t think that a trophy class Wild Steelhead isn’t lurking in the shadows.

Mike is one of the better anglers I know, and while a fish like this at any time of the year is extremely unique and surprising, this hog was caught in the heat of hatchery season on one of Mike’s favorite coastal rivers.

This fish hit a small cluster of cured salmon roe, put up an epic battle, was measured and released bank into the water quickly. Mike taped it out at 40 inches length, 23 inches girth. According to the steelhead weight calculation, that’s estimated at a jaw-dropping 27 POUNDS! A true beauty, especially in early January. It’s great to see proof that we still have trophy Steelhead like this one, and that with catch and release regulations in place, they will live to see the spawning gravels of the upper river.

If you want to experience Washington’s best steelhead fishing with a great guide, I would highly recommend Mike Ainsworth of First Light Guide Service.

Book a trip with Mike Ainsworth today!
WWW.FIRSTLIGHTGUIDESERVICE.COM

Learning How To Cure Eggs For Steelhead And Salmon Fishing

Any Northwest river fisherman worth his salt cures his own roe.

To the river fishing junkie, a freezer full of perfectly cured salmon eggs is more valuable than money in the bank. A healthy stockpile of salmon roe is critical for a successful fall fishing season. And that is why, throughout my fishing life, summer fishing trips always ended with the ceremonial cleaning of the boat, filleting of the fish, and the awkward silence as every member of the crew wonders, “so who’s gonna lay claim to those eggs?”

Just like most of you, I used to slowly accumulate my fall fishing munitions. A few skeins here, a few there until I (hopefully) had just enough to feel comfortable starting my fall river fishing season. Now I spend a few months every summer in one of the fishiest places on the planet: Cordova, Alaska. I have the perfect curing process and return with as many cured eggs as I will need for the entire season, affording me the luxury of a surplus and affording my friends the luxury of a friend with a surplus.

I feel like I put out a high quality product. The ultimate litmus test: my eggs consistently catch fish. But gaining the confidence that you can put up quality eggs can only come with experience. It can only come with experimentation. Trust me, plenty of batches will be ruined.

There are a great variety of bait cures on the market; each can create quality bait. Each has a varying degree of color, addition of scent and additives, and amount of sulfite. How does one choose? Lure your fishing buddies over to the house with a 6-pack for a meeting of the minds, scour the depths of the internet for trusted opinion or better yet, pick up a few jars and do a little experimentation. Make a mental note of which cure seems to “burn” the eggs more, which cure has a more potent dye, and especially which cure gives you the best product.

My personal favorite cure is a mix of store bought cures, dyes and other ingredients.

My favorite salmon cures…
Pautzke Fire Cure
Pro-Cure
Beau Mac Pro-Glow
Nate’s Bait Egg Cure
Amerman’s Egg Cure

My favorite steelhead cures…
Pautzke Boraxo-Fire
Pautzke Fire Cure
Beau Mac Pro-Glow

Olympic Peninsula Steelhead Report

We planned our annual Olympic Peninsula Steelhead Camp for this week. As plans often do, ours changed drastically. The initial game-plan was a three day trip, fish a few of our favorite southern/central Olympic Peninsula rivers out of the drift boat, and set up a tent camp somewhere between the Hoh and Humptulips. On the drive over, we got the invite to stay at our friends place in Copalis Beach. There goes the “camping” portion of our Steelhead Camp! But with steady rain in the forecast we didn’t mind trading a wet tent for a warm house.

We drove over Monday night and rigged up everything for morning. We floated the Humptulips on Tuesday and had a pretty darned good day. My partner in crime was Ian Winder or Bigfoot Fishing Guide Service. He insisted that I get a full days’ fishing in; I can’t remember the last time someone offered to row the whole day! The river was on the rise: from the put-in to the take-out, we caught fish everywhere even though we were fishing a rising river.

Here are a few pics…

Ian put me into 7 steelhead, I landed 5 and lost 2 (plus a few fishy bobber-downs and plug take-downs). River river flow pushed from 1300cfs to 1800cfs during our float. Any day you can land a few quality Steelhead on an uncrowded river is a good day! It rained throughout the night and killed our chances of getting more than one day on the water, still it was well worth the drive! BBQ burgers for lunch were awesome. Thanks Ian!

I would highly recommend fishing with Ian, he’s dialed in!

Ian Winder
Bigfoot Fishing Guide Service
(206) 293-2931