steelhead hardware

Steelhead hardware, Part 2: Tips on Using Hardware


Use These Tips on Using Spinners and Spoons for Steelhead All Year

By Terry Otto

With each cast I let the green Stee-Lee swing a little lower through the tailout.  When the spoon wobbled through the area where I expected the strike to come I tensed, but I still wasn’t ready for it. The rod bucked and plunged, and the fish tried hard to run out of the hole, stopping just short.

The big, wild steelhead had inhaled the lure, but I had switched the treble hooks out for a single hook, so I released the big hen without hurting her.

photo credit Terry Otto This winter steelhead fell to a Blue Fox Vibrax retrieved through the head of a pool. The aggressive fish carried a broken-off leader in its jaw.

Hardware – artificial lures – is deadly for steelhead, and in part one we discussed some of the best spoons and spinners out there.  In this part we’ll discuss the best ways to use them.

Tips for Fishing Steelhead Hardware

Fishing steelhead with artificial lures is easy.  Cast slightly upstream and retrieve fast enough to keep the lure working and off the bottom.  As the lure swings downstream the current will grab the lure, allowing you to slow your retrieve.  Be sure to let the lure swing across the entire stream before retrieving.

Steelhead will often take a lure as it is retrieved downstream through the head of a pool.  For this application, a spinner seems to work best.  Cast a good ways upstream and across the current.  You will have to retrieve fairly fast to keep the blade turning as it moves with the current to keep it from getting snagged.  There’s something about that flashing spinner barreling downstream toward them that makes the territorial steelhead crazy, and they lash out angrily.

photo credit Terry Otto Aggressive, wild steelhead will often engulf a spinner or spoon, so change out the treble hooks for single siwash hooks. This will decrease mortality significantly for native steelhead.

Steelhead will often take a lure swung downstream, too, and for this approach, a spoon is the ticket.  You can cast out even with yourself, and by keeping just enough pressure on the bait to make it work, let it swing though as much water as possible.

Spoons can be used to back steelhead down a tail-out, much like a plug will.  The idea is to work the tailout from top to bottom, letting the lure swing a little farther downstream with each cast.  Steelhead will back away from the lure until they get angry, and then its fish on.

Hardware works best in the kind of water steelhead like; the somewhat faster flows of the heads and tailouts of pools, as well as glides and boulder-strewn runs.  Artificials will also work in water with little or no flow.  Summer steelhead, in particular, will school up in cold, deep, pools.  Hardware will work in this situation, but you will need to vary your retrieve speed until you find what the fish want.

Also, try stopping your retrieve and letting the lure fall from time to time.  This tactic will often draw bites when a straight retrieve will not.

Hunting Steelhead with Hardware

Perhaps the best use of steelhead hardware is as a hunting lure.  You can really cover a lot of water very quickly with hardware, and it’s a great way to find the aggressive steelhead.  Once you have located the schools you can switch to finesse tactics such as float fishing, or drifting yarn.

The author casts a spinner for summer steelhead on the Deschutes River in Oregon. Both summer and winter-run steelhead are suckers for hardware.

This makes steelhead hardware a great choice when you are trying to learn a new river.  A day or two with a spinner can tell you a lot about the steelhead in a river.  As with any bait, there are times when the fish will ignore hardware, but spinners and spoons are too effective to leave at home.

Photos by Terry & Jeff Otto



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  1. JERRY LYSLO says: