- Jig size: Standard steelhead jig sizes in the Great Lakes 1/32 oz to 1/64 oz. While these smaller steelhead jigs offer that small profile, you need in 32-degree water they are often too light to anchor the float to its actual float line. Adding enough split shot to the float is crucial, so there is minimal pressure needed by the fish to pull it under. These are cold blooded creatures and this time of year they move much slower. My favorite Steelhead Jigs are VooDoo Custom Tackle and Yakmi Maxi Jigs.
- Keep your mainline off the water to achieve a drag free drift: If the float is tilted downstream or dragging and your too deep. If the float is tilted upstream, then you might need add more weight closer to the jig. Your float should be pointing straight up, MUST be vertical. The goal is to make sure your offering is drifting at the same speed as the current. The float will tell you everything that’s going on under the surface if you just pay attention to what’s it’s doing.
- Where to find Winter Steelhead: The slower the water the better depending on water temps. Look for darker bottoms or even structure such as a boulder or wood that can deflect the current and can give the lazy wintering fish a break. When you see, the river flowing over a submerged boulder or tree, it causes a swirling boil, giving away a prime fish holding location. The fish’s goal is to conserve and not expend energy. Now its that time of year, we have a situation where holding and resting lye’s are the same. Think slow moving pools when searching for winter steelhead holding water. Flat slicks or soft boils and the deepest water you can find. Where ever the river slows, and has depth they will hold there. Deep pools that have direct sunlight at the warmest part of the day tend to produce the best as well. Look for a riffle and where the water starts to slow down. The guts and tail outs of the pool will also hold fish. Lastly many anglers avoid shelf ice during the winter months like the plague. Please remember these fish are trout and I have caught many tucked up under shelf ice. Now one touch of shelf ice on your leader and game over. But trust me it’s worth the risk. If you are managing the mainline properly, and the float is vertical and still no bites. Adjust bobber a few inches at a time. Most Steelhead are only 8-10 inches off the bottom. I generally set my Jigs a foot off bottom seems to be just about right. This rule of thumb puts the jig in the strike zone and prevents me from getting snagged. However, sometimes you must bump them on the nose. Depth is very important and a game of inches.
- Floating MONO ONLY: Mono is near neutral buoyant and does absorb a small amount of water over time. But floating braided mainline is your enemy in the Great Lakes during Winter Steelheading season.Braid absorbs too much water and freezes quickly. Mono is the Best Choice for float fishing in extreme cold weather. Floating Mono can easily be mended and manipulated to ensure the line is behind the float and not in front. If this happens it will pull the offering too fast downstream. Current speed is very important, those fish know how fast a meal should be coming down the river. Floating Mono is a dream to mend, with little disturbance to the float.
- Color: Steelhead are the most color conscious fish on planet earth, just my opinion. The color choice while fishing can make all the difference in the world. For example: The color Chartreuse doesn’t work all the time in winter conditions. Sometimes it can be way too bright in low clear water during the winter. This color is a better option in low light at dawn and dusk. But I never say never in the Steelhead game. These fish will drive you mad sometimes. The color you think will work doesn’t and the one you thought wouldn’t go will get bit! That’s the allure of these amazing game fish. But during the day instead, opt for more natural subtle tones and colors. Such as white, olive and black. One highly overlooked color by anglers during low clear water periods in the Great Lakes is the color red. That tip alone was worth the reading this blog post I promise. Next Hot Pinks, Purples and Orange are staples of the steelhead world under an overcast sky. Color choices can change throughout the course of a day. So just because one color was working in the morning doesn’t mean mid-day that’s going to work. If bite slows just changing the color of your offering can make all the difference in the world. Lastly on color sometimes even none is better. Remember overfished fish can get conditioned to seeing the same jigs and baits coming down day after day. If fishing is slow; try a plain lead head jig with no paint or color on it.Tipped commonly with a wax worm, butter worms or wiggler. http://voodoocustomtackle.com/
Conclusion: Nothing will make you a better fisherman than time spent on the water. I hope these tips help you catch more prize fighting steelhead this winter. Remember always practice CPR… Catch, Photo and Release. Think about that then next time you release a fish. True happiness just left your hands. Happy Holidays Everyone and get out this winter and enjoy our rivers and streams, life is very good here.
Photo credit Daryl Minton