Steelhead, just mention the word to any dedicated angler and visions of ballistic chrome fish peeling line at an unrelenting rate come instantly to mind. Steelhead are most definitely the powerhouses of our winter rivers. Sleek and aggressive yet scarce and shy at the same time, these fish bring out the most dedicated of the river anglers.
Steelhead can successfully be angled in a huge array of water conditions from high and muddy to ultra low and clear; from 33F all the way up to 65F and everything in between. When the rivers are high and muddy with reduced visibility most fishermen recognize baits such as roe and sand shrimp to be superior baits due to their scent trails that will lure fish in from a distance to take the offering. These same baits can be used in the more favorable clear water conditions with startling results at times but there is newer technique on the horizon helping anglers to take steelhead with almost unparalleled frequency in water with 2' to unlimited visibility, the jig.
Most anglers are aware that jigs take chums like crazy. Springs, cohos and pinks also frequently take jigs but the true champions of the jig are steelhead. Undoubtedly the most aggressive salmonid in the river, steelhead can at time be almost suicidal in their attempt to hit anything that comes in front of them, most of the time though they will gently mouth an anglers offering as it slips down river, spitting it out as quickly as they have tasted it. This leaves the angler a very short time in which to see the bite and set the hook. This is where the jig excels.
Properly presented, a jig will be floating along from 1' to 3' above the river bottom at the exact same current speed as the prevailing flows. Being a curious fish, a steelhead will see the jig dancing above them and slowly rise to inspect the offering. The only way for a fish to do that is by testing it with its mouth, the coveted bite! And here is where the jig shines brightest. With a complete dead drift the float, weights and jig will all be in a vertical line, straight up and down. When compared to a traditional setup strike detection with a jig is instantaneous where as with a 12" to 30" leader with no jig, the fish has anywhere from 12" to 60" to taste and reject the offering. That can leave quite a window of opportunity for a steelhead to mouth the offering and let it go before the angler even knows that he has had a bite!
Jigs excel in two different types of water, slow pools and runs and short pockets. In slow water pools and runs the slight ripples and light chop on the rives surface will make the fur and feathers of the jig pulse and move with an incredible life like movement. This pulsing presentation turns on the fish for unknown reasons and really excites them into biting. The other scenario is the short pocket water. In this situation the heavy weight of a jig will help to get the anglers offering down to the fish as quickly as possible which will lead to increased time in the prime holding water behind boulders, stumps and other obstructions.
Now for the good part, the jigs themselves. There are many styles available to the jig fisherman. Lead head, bead head, marabou, rabbit fur, hackle/schlappen, beaded... and the list goes on and on limited only by the imagination of the angler. Top producing jigs all have on thing in common and that is top quality furs/feathers and high quality hooks. Your jig is only as good as the hook that its on. Cheap hooks will result in lost fish due to bent hooks, dull points and a small gap from hook point to shank. I have used Bent Rods jigs with very good results. Superior craftsman ship and the highest quality hooks provide me with a very durable jig with awesome fish catching appeal able to withstand the abuse of many fish. Several of my favourite winter steelhead colour combos are pink/white, pink/black, orange/chartreuse and hot pink w/beads in the 1/8 oz size.