Night Time Steelheading

Nighttime Steelheading: Night Fishing Part 1

Warm Summer Nights are Great for Catching Nocturnal Steelhead

(Nighttime Steelheading is Part 1 of the Nighttime Fishing Series)

By Terry Otto

One of the best things about nighttime steelheading is that you leave the daytime crowds behind.  I was sharing the bank with just two other fishermen in a spot that was jacked with fishermen during the day.  I cast a glow in the dark corky tipped with a sand shrimp, into the clear water of the rifle.  I didn’t have to wait long.

When I detected a soft take I tightened the line and set the hook. The fish immediately jumped and then ran off a good stretch of line. After a spirited fight I brought the steelhead to the bank and admired the sweet silvery fish by the light of my headlamp.  It was a good start to a fine summer night.

In the states where it is legal, nighttime steelheading is very productive and a lot of fun.  When the summer sun sets the water cools, and the steelhead become aggressive.  The same fish that ignored you all day can be a real sucker at night.

Addicted to Nighttime Steelheading

One warning: night fishing for steelhead can lead to insomnia. Knowing that they’re out there, and biting, can make it hard to stay in bed during the summer.

There are a number of ways to catch steelhead at night. Flat-line trolling works well where the steelhead are holding in water with no flow, such as Washington’s Drano Lake.  Blinking plugs are the favored lure, and Brad’s Wigglers now dominate the fisheries. However, there is a cult following of the discontinued Vortex lighted plug and it’s replaceable battery.  When the battery fails in a wiggler it’s done.

Keep switching out plugs until you find one that gets hit. Brad’s Wigglers are not consistent out of the box, and some work better than others.

Speed is also an important factor when trolling at night.  Generally, a slow retrieve is better, but going too slow is also detrimental. Experiment until you find what the fish want.

Fishing bait in no-flow situations will also work.  Many nighttime steelheaders fish coon tail shrimp under lighted bobbers, while some anglers plunk with baits fished just off the bottom.  If there is current enough to drift fish, try a glow in the dark corky tipped with coon tail shrimp, or sand shrimp.

Chinook Influence

In late summer the steelhead are often joined by fall Chinook salmon.  While these larger fish will take the plugs, and can add excitement to a summer nighttime foray, if they come in with strong enough numbers the larger kings can push the steelhead out of the area.

night time steelhead
Photo Credit RGerstenberger
Toward the end of August fall kings will start to show up in may steelhead waters. While a fine bonus, the larger Chinook can push the steelhead out.

Legal or Not?

Before trying your luck in the dark, make sure your state allows night fishing for steelhead.  Some states, including Washington and Idaho, allow nighttime steelheading during most of the year, but other states do not, such as Oregon.  Also, most states have night closures on some waters.  For instance, Washington allows nighttime steelheading in its Columbia River tributaries, but not in the Columbia itself.

Proper fishing etiquette is important.  If you move into an area where other people are fishing, be sure to use the same method they are.  For instance, do not plunk where anglers are trolling, nor troll where folks are fishing bobbers.  Be mindful of those around you, and everyone will have a better time.






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