Fishing jigs under floats is a deadly way to catch more steelhead this season. Here’s how to do it!
The Ultimate Guide to Steelhead Bank Fishing.
First off, why fish a bobber? Well, a float rig will fish in places regular gear just can’t touch. Bobbers will keep your bait above the snags and right up where the fish can see it. As an added bonus, a float allows you to fish distant seams and holding lanes both above and below your position that would be difficult or impossible to fish with other methods. You can also extend your drift with a bobber by simply letting more line off your reel. Plus, you’ve got a great built-in bite detector!
The Drag-Free Drift
Before we get too far along here, let’s cut right to the meat of this technique and discuss the number one thing you have to master to be successful: The drag-free presentation.
When fishing a float, your gear needs to travel downstream at the speed of the current. While there are times when steelies will grab a bait that’s traveling a bit slower than the current (more on that later), you generally want to keep your gear moving with the flow of the river.
To keep the proper speed going, you have to keep as much line off the water as possible. When a belly forms in your line between the rod tip and the float, the current will grab it and drag your line downstream too quickly. Similarly, a bow in the line can also occur upstream of the bobber (in eddies and calm spots behind rocks, for example) and that will make your bait slow down and lift off the bottom.
To keep the belly out of your line, you’ll have to lift and “mend” it to keep it from being influenced by grabby sections of current (using floating braided line here is a big help!). When a bow starts forming in the line on the water, gently reel towards your float and then, just as you come tight to it, lift the line in the opposite direction of the belly. Take care to avoid violently jerking the float as you mend, as that can cause your bait to drift unnaturally.
When a steelhead picks up your bait or lure, the type of “bobber down” you get depends a lot on the speed of the current. In swift water, the float goes under more quickly, while it tends to go under somewhat slowly and methodically in softer flows. Either way, remember this: Reel until you Feel. In other words, reel any slack out of the line and then, when you feel resistance, set the hook.
It’s critical that you to try to keep a reasonably tight line between your rod tip and the float when fishing so that you don’t have to reel up a bunch of slack before setting the hook.
The two basic styles of floats commonly used for river fishing are fixed and slip.
A fixed float is attached to the line via tight fitting rubber fittings that hold it in place wherever you set it. You can change the depth at which you are fishing by simply sliding the float up or down the line.The type of float you run – fixed or sliding – is part personal preference and part necessity.
Slip floats slide freely up and down your line and the depth is controlled by placing an adjustable bobber stop on the line above the float, which can be moved up or down, depending on the depth of the water.
Fixed floats are incredibly responsive and easy to rig. However, they are usually very lightweight – which makes them tougher to cast on anything but spinning gear.
Fixed floats are not infinitely adjustable depth-wise, and deeper the water you want to fish, the longer you need to make the distance between the float and the weight. Even with a 9- to 10-foot rod, the rig gets pretty cumbersome for casting once you get about 6-7 feet of line between the bobber and the business end.
The two main jig styles I use are marabou and plastic worms. I generally like the 1/8 size the most but sometimes bump that up to 1/4 in heavy water.
For general purpose steelheading, I feel the best all-around jig colors are cerise/black and cerise and white, but it’s always good to have a few other patterns on hand as well. As with most steelhead fishing, go with brighter colors when the water has reduced visibility and then tone everything down as the clarity increases. In really low, clear water, it’s hard to beat the odd-looking “Nightmare” pattern which features a white head and black and red body.
In the marabou department, I love Hawken Aero Jig and Yakima Bait Maxi Jig.
When it comes to fishing pink or nightmare worms under a float, I prefer 3- to 6-inch Mad River Worms
To learn much more, check out my book, The Ultimate Guide to Steelhead Bank Fishing:
where do you buy jigs to make jigs for steelhead?
Yakima Bait Co. makes plain Maxi Jig heads that are nice.
Rob Driggs says
The Pacific steelhead are about done as they refuse to do whats mandated in the ESA. I have not fished for steelhead for 5 years now as there are no fish ! They protect these illegally introduced wolves but ignore the plight of the Pacific Salmon and steelhead. Shame on these self serving dirtbags .
Jason White says
How much do you charge for a few hours to teach me how to fish for steelhead on the a.r? I been out there many hours and no luck in the last year
Jason, send me an email at [email protected] I’m setting up a class.