Let’s take a quick look here at the main gear I use for steelhead fishing! This is a partial list, but it will get you started!
There are lots of really good rods out there these days from many different manufacturers. A few years back, I switched everything to Douglas Outdoors, which offers a really nice combination of durability, feel, action and price. And I’ve been incredibly happy with every one of their rods I have tried.
A good all-around steelie spinning stick that will do just about everything (but is really nicely suited for drift fishing specifically) is the LRS S9042F and the casting version: LRS C9042MF
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The main bobber rod in my arsenal is the Douglas LRS S9842F. This is an amazing Bobberdoggin’ rod and also works incredibly well for just about any steelhead float situation.
If you are dealing with big water and big fish, try out the LRS S9852F, which has a little more power (I also use it for salmon).
Centerpin fishing for steelhead is rapidly gaining in popularity and if you haven’t tried it yet, you’ll be amazed at the incredible line control this style of using floats affords you.
A really nice alternative to overpriced “Pin” rods, these Douglas LRS series rods are light, durable and, in a word: “Fishy.” The 11’6″ LRS P11632M model is a good place to begin but there is also and 13’6′ version (LRS P13644M) as well for anglers who want the most in line control and extended shot patterns.
Nothing beats a good plug takedown from a hot steelhead and the Douglas LRS C7103MF is such a fun stick to fish! I’ve been using them for several years now and love love love them!
They have a perfect blend of finesse and power: Soft enough in the tip to allow maximum lure action — and flex when a fish strikes and lots of bottom end to help you stop a rampaging fish.
Side Drift Rods
Regardless of what you are throwing: little pieces of bait with a 4-bead slinky or a yarnies with a fat ol’ Mad River Drifter (aka: “Sploosh Ball”), the LRS S7104F is one heck of a side drifting rod!
While the LRS series are really nice, if you want to splurge and buy yourself something really nice, check out the mind-blowingly light X-Matrix version.
The Shimano Curados…going way back to the green models of the 1990’s…have been my workhorse reels fora long time. The new Curado 200K models are sweet! Because there’s not a ton of line capacity I’ll run 20 or 30-lb. braid as my mainline. As a right hander, I always run left-hand retrieve so I don’t have to cast and then switch hands but some folks like it the other way.
Abu Garcia has been making some really nice low-profile bait casters lately and the whole Revo series is sweet These REVO SX’s are nice reels for a nice price and hold up well! Again, I like left handed models…
Strong, light and equipped with a smooth drag, the REVO SX reels are pretty solid performers…and for a reasonable price.
I’ve been running Pflueger Supreme XT Spinning Reels on my guide trips for a few years now and they are dang near bullet proof. Lightweight in the hand, they also have a sealed carbon fiber drag system that won’t heat up when a steelie goes on a crazy run for the Pacific (or the Great Lakes).
For the bulk of my steelhead fishing, I use braided mainline and either mono or fluorocarbon leaders.
As far as braid goes, I’ve been using 20- and 30-pound P-Line TCB 8 Carrier Braid
When I’m float fishing, I’m a big fan of P-Line’s Tactical Premium Fluorocarbon for leader material (usually 8, 10 or 12-pound).
And then when straight mono is the name of the game (drift fishing and plug leaders mainly), I’ll go with CXX in Moss Green.
I’ve really been happy with Hawken’s lineup of floats in recent years. Innovative, nice and durable and, perhaps the best feature: the line holes feature metal rings so that braided line doesn’t cut into the foam of the float.
For Bobberdoggin, I like the Small and Medium size Chubby or longer, more skinny AF-BBRDGN-M models:
The ½ or 1/4-OZ Aero-float weighted slip bobber is a good all-around float for suspending baits and things like worm jigs. Just make sure you match the amount of lead you use with the weight rating of the float.
Speaking of float fishing, soft beads are one of the hottest things going for steelhead these days! I hardly use bait anymore because they are so effective! A good place to start is the BnR Tackle Bobberdoggin Kit.
You can also start off smaller with one of BnR’s smaller Pro Packs, each designed with specific geographical areas in mind.
I love to fish plastic worms on drift gear behind divers, under floats, bobberdogged and on jig heads (here are some of my go-to rigs).
Pink, black and nightmare are my top colors. Mad River Mfg. makes the best ones!
One of the simplest ways to get into steelhead fishing is the good ol’ jig and bobber rig. Marabou jigs like Worden’s Maxi Jigs in the ?-ounce size are easy to learn how to use. Pink shades tend to be the top getters.
In super clear water, the nightmare pattern Aero Jig is one of my favorites.
Back in the day, we didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of choices when it came to steelie plugs. Now days, it’s almost swung too far the other way, with so many makes a models out there it can make your head spin. Luckily, you can still get buy with just a handful.
If I had to pick one plug to use for steelies from here on after, it would likely be the Yakima Bait Co.’s 3.5 MagLip in a pink shade such as Misty River.
Brad’s Wiggler in silver/fluorescent orange herring bone is another all-time killer!
“Throwing metal” is one of the most exciting ways to hook steelhead. Especially since giant, wild bucks seem to really have a sweet tooth for them. The good ol’ Little Cleo in the 2/5 or ? ounce sizes are great and I generally keep it simple and go with silver, gold and copper.
More expensive, the Pen-Tac BC Steel spoon in the same color schemes and sizes are great baits when you are ready to go next-level.
Well, if you are struggling to catch fish, you can always brush up on techniques with giant, almost 300-page digital book, The Ultimate Guide to Steelhead Bank Fishing, which covers everything you need to know to get better at this crazy sport.
Online Steelhead Course
For those of you who are just getting started in the steelhead game — or have been trying without much success for awhile — you may want to consider enrolling in my online steelhead fishing course: Catch More Steelhead.
With over 6 hours of on the water video instruction, plus all sorts of rigging diagrams, lectures and how-to photos, this puppy will teach you everything you need to know to get going on the path to becoming a proficient steelheader.
Here’s a sample lesson to give you an idea of what kind of stuff you’ll find in this class: