Steelhead love plastic worms! While there lots of ways you can fish ’em, these three rigs have been hot all up and down the coast this season.
1. Bobber & Worm Jig
For the beginning steelheader, this rig is a great place to start. Very few moving parts and it’s deadly effective! Fish it on a dead-drift and set the float so that the worm is about a foot off the bottom.
I typically use a fixed balsa float like the Thill Turbomaster, a 1/8-ounce jig headhead and a 4″ Mad River Steelhead Worm.
Standard pink is a good all-around worm color color, but the one pictured above is called the “Nightmare” pattern and it is a killer in low, clear water! For this rig, spinning gear is the way to go because its so light.
2. Jet Diver Rig
If you have a boat, back trolling a worm behind a diver (just like you would a plug) is an awesome way to hook steelhead. For several seasons in a row, this is the only rig I guided with for winter steelhead.
Let it out 40-70 feet behind the boat and slowly slip downstream at a pace that’s about half the current’s speed. There are three types of bites on a back trolled worm: The “tap-tap-tap” style, which is often (but not always a smaller fish). Then, you have the two-stager that starts with a solid thump, followed by a pause and then the rod doubles over. And finally, my personal favorite: The “suicide bite” in which the fish grabs the worm and then makes a crazy headlong dash for the sea while you try to hang on.
Pictured is a 4-inch Mad River worm, but you can drop down to the smaller 3-inch size in super clear water or go up to a 6 incher on big water. Late season big wild bucks are particularly fond of a big pink worm. You can go with a Corkie, Spin-N-Glo or Hard Fish Pill ahead of the worm to give it extra color and buoyancy – or use a floating worm instead.
I generally run a 4- to 6-foot leader down to the worm and an 8- to 16-inch dropper line to the diver. Speaking of divers, you can use size 10 or 20 Luhr Jensen Jet Divers, or go with a Brad’s Bait Diver.
3. Bobber Dog Worm Rig
Here’s one you can use from shore or a boat – the Bobber Dog Worm Rig! For this setup, run a slider or “slip” float like a Clear Drift (pictured), or Beau Mac Float. I generally run a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce model, depending on the size and flow of the river and how much lead I need to get down.
Slinky sinkers work well for this technique as they are very snag resistant. Add a 4- to 6-inch worm and you are in business. For this rig, I ran the worm upside down or “half wacky” style to give it some extra action. You can also thread a worm straight onto the leader like in the Diver rig above. In this case, I have a Hard Fish Pill on the line between the worm and hook to add a little more flotation.
In traditional float fishing (as with the jig and bobber method mentioned earlier), you fish the lure suspended off the bottom. But the Bobber Dog rig is different in that you want your sinker to tap the bottom the whole time. So, set your bobber stop to a depth that’s at least a few feet deeper than the water you are fishing. This is like a drift fishing/bobber fishing hybrid and it can be really effective because your gear is always down in the strike zone.
Give these rigs a try the next time you hit the river. Stay tuned because I’ll be posting more rigs and tips soon!
Joe merabelle says
Thanks for the tips. I live on the main Salmon in Riggins,Idaho. Been slaying the steelies.
Hey JD thanks for the tips, I always need help to try to outwit those steelies, Maybe some day I actually get good at catching these beautiful fish of a 1000 casts, sadly about what I am averaging! How about some tips on reading the water to get a better Idea of where the fish might be hiding.
Ross, I have some reading the water stuff coming too, so stay tuned. Thanks!