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5 Bank-Fishing Tips For Smarter Steelheading

5 Bank-Fishing Tips For Smarter Steelheading

Want to catch more fish? Check out these five tips from an author who's been casting steelhead rivers for more than 40 years.

Tip 1. Tail your catch so you can leave the bulky net at home. You'll be able to travel light and cover more water.
Photo courtesy of Scott Haugen

A buddy and I watched as two anglers in waders struggled to fish a prime hole. After nearly an hour of trying, they gave up. We stepped in, made a few casts and latched onto a bright steelhead. Though the anglers had been there long enough to catch fish, they never really worked the hole. They were too preoccupied with managing their gear.

I've seen similar scenarios like this play out many times in my 40 years of steelhead fishing. If you are struggling to consistently put fish in the freezer, it may be time to take a closer look at how you fish.

Following are five tips that have helped me over a lifetime of steelhead fishing.

When bank-fishing, the last thing you want to be is tied down. By eliminating bulky gear like hefty tackle boxes, big nets and coolers, you'll be more mobile.

Try placing all your terminal gear for the day inside a fly vest or a pair of bait boxes strapped around your waist. This will allow you to make gear changes while staying in one spot, without having to wade back and forth to your tackle box.

Carry everything you'll need for the day on your person. Hooks, swivels, drift-bobbers, baits, pliers and a file can all be carried in a vest or bait boxes.


You'll save time by having all the gear on you, and that will result in fast turnaround times when replacing lost gear. At the same time, you'll be more likely to cover water and search out those steelhead.

Fellow anglers are one of the best sources of information in terms of lending fishing reports and sharing where to go. Sporting goods store personnel, as well as tackle shop owners and hatchery staff members, are often dialed in to the hottest action, too. In rural areas, diners, gas stations and marinas can be a valuable aid when it comes to pointing you in the right direction.

Ask about river conditions, the number of fish showing, what they're hitting on and where. One phone call can save hours of driving and an entire day of fishing in the wrong spot. These lines of communication can help direct you to where the best action is, and hopefully, a productive day on the water.

Local fish and wildlife agencies are also valued help. Don't overlook fishing-related Web sites that often file timely reports, including river conditions. Chat rooms and forums can also help direct you to the right destination; it's a great feeling knowing there are others out there wanting to help you succeed. Here's a good one:

In addition to gathering information from fellow anglers from the phone or Internet, you can also learn a lot by watching other anglers.

It doesn't take long to figure out who the veterans of the area are. Even if they aren't catching fish at the time you're watching, you'll know who they are by the way they stand, fish and systematically work a hole.

Look to pick up some details, but don't overlook the obvious. Note where, exactly, anglers are standing and where they are casting. Evaluate if the anglers are casting to water to fish it, or if they are casting there so the terminal gear can be carried to the point they want it by the end of the drift.

How much weight are they using? Are they moving through a hole quickly or slowly? Observe if they cast to different zones while standing in one place, and if so, read the water to figure out why.

Leader length, bait type and size are other things to note. If everyone is using only drift-bobbers, and someone comes in and cleans up on eggs, make a mental note of it. If bait is used, see if any scents are applied. Yarn color and drift-bobber size are another point to consider. You can even learn new techniques, like working jigs or spinners, through observation.

If you feel steelhead are in the river but not biting, often all it takes is a simple gear change to make something happen. Nothing can be more frustrating than knowing fish are in front of you -- either seeing them jump or observing them with your polarized glasses -- and not getting a bite. But rather than continuing to cast the same old thing time and time again, realize you're not left helpless.

There are numerous options you have control over when it comes to altering your terminal gear. Maybe it's as simple as changing the color of yarn or drift-bobber. Perhaps lure size or bait type can be changed. Maybe a red-colored cured egg will outfish that natural orange color.

Do you need to slow down the offering by adding more lead, or speed it up by decreasing the amount of lead being used? Should you try a fluorocarbon leader in that low, clear river?

Do hooks need to be downsized or spinner blades tuned? If casting plugs, does the one you're using have a rattle in it? If not, try getting some vibration into the water. If the water is clear and the fish on edge, floating a jig to them from a greater distance may fool them.

The point is, there are a number of simple changes you can make to swing the odds in your favor. By making the effort to change one or two basic things in your terminal gear setup, you may discover a new approach that will work for years to come, not only on that river, but other rivers you choose to fish as well.

When targeting winter steelhead, retracing your steps can be a great approach. Think about most river situations, where anglers continue coming and going throughout the course of the day. Fish in these waters receive constant pressure, and if you're confident fish are there, or that new arrivals could be showing up at any moment, then it may be worth the time and effort to go over that pressured water again.

Some folks will work over one hole for several hours on end. They may start at the head end and fish it down, then repeat the approach. They may begin low and fish it up to the head, then fish it back down with a different setup. No matter how you go about it, covering the same water is a good ploy.

Each time you start over you may want to consider changing offerings. By presenting different baits or lures to the fish upon each pass you make,

you're increasing the odds of finding something they like.

For signed copies of Haugen's latest book, Bank Fishing Salmon & Steelhead, visit

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