The day dawned crisp and clear as it had for the past two weeks. The winter rivers were at their lowest and somewhat coldest (can't say this West Coast winter has been that cold) that we were probably going to see this year yet my enthusiasm for hitting the river was at an all time high.
Rod shares this months Sturgeon fishing report WHILE catching a 6 foot sturgeon in a thunder storm.
Fraser River- Early Spring Sturgeon Fishing
After feeding hard for months on the bounty of fall salmon the White Sturgeon settles in to favorite haunts for the colder months of winter. Many believe that Sturgeon will not actively feed during this time of little food and cold water temperatures.
For myself, I do not actively fish for Sturgeon from January 1st till around mid March or until water temps reach the magic 42 degrees.
This inactive time for the Sturgeon is short lived however and come early to mid March, these awesome feeding machines strap on their feedbag and begin to seek out food with a single minded determination.
Early in the spring I find the Sturgeon can be responsive to many of the known baits used by the Fraser Valley fisherman, and I also have a few less used baits that will take fish for me.
Probably the most used and effective bait for the spring is the small fish known as the Eulachon , or affectionately referred to around here as the “OOLIE”.
Eulachon are a small oily bait fish of the smelt family that once filled the Fraser by the millions every spring. Sturgeon, birds, seals, sea lions, and even humans once took part in the yearly oolie harvest.
For many reasons, mostly caused by humans, these tasty little fish are in serious decline.
Recent years have seen a drastic drop in numbers of returning Eulachon and in response to this a full closure has been placed on fishing and harvesting Eulachon.
While this action seems one based on conservation, I feel the non selective commercial fisheries in the Ocean that go on to this day, are not being held accountable for their part in decimating Eulachon stocks.
In any event, Fraser River anglers are not able to use this great bait during these times oflow numbers of returning oolies. There are substitutes out there for those that can afford to purchase smelts from other river systems, such as the Nass and Columbia Rivers.
Although to be fair, these other bait fish are usually good for a handful of fish a day andgone are the days ofnon stop action, using fresh Fraser River Eulachons.
Other baits that will take fish during the early Spring are Salmon Roe(eggs), ditch eels, Lamprey, dew worms, crayfish, ghost shrimp, pickled Herring, and Salmon bellies.
As the River begins to rise from the melting snow in the north, the Sturgeon become harder to find and seem a little less eager to feed. Anglers who are able to locate quieter spots where Sturgeon retreat from the rising river and debris, can usually have good days fishing until the summer salmon once again trigger the Sturgeon to go on a feeding frenzy.
Spring angling for Fraser River Sturgeon can be some of the greatest Sturgeon fishing of the year.
The fish are very hungry, full of vigor and the occasional fish will take to the sky with aerial battles that leave anglers breathless and amazed at this ancient species.
Story by Rod Toth,
Bent Rods Guiding & Fishing Co.
Steelhead Broodstock- Fishing For The Future
A 4x4 speeds up a gravel road on a cold, crisp, February morning. Inside are two hardcore steelhead bums and a DFO employee from the local hatchery.
In the back of the truck are two very specialized rafts sporting custom built tanks for carrying live fish. In these times of shrinking budgets and questions about hatchery steelhead, volunteer anglers go to great lengths to provide the wild steelhead broodstock that seed the hatchery fish. Aside from building special tanks for carrying wild steelhead out of their own pocket, these anglers challenge dangerous waters to complete the goals set out by the Ministry of the Environment.
For this particular river, fifteen pairs of wild Steelhead are needed. If this number is reached, sufficient smolts will be produced to make for some great fishing for the sports anglers of the Fraser Valley. Over the last several decades this goal has seldom been met, the captures are difficult and volunteers move on with other interests and busy lives.
As the truck approaches its destination, boats are unloaded, gear is checked over and the butterflies begin for the two eager anglers. The river is wild, seldom changing, yet always providing unsuspecting thrills for man and boat. Rounding a bend in the river, both anglers smile in anticipation. The following run is known to them as ”Tim Hortons”, deriving it’s name from the fact that on may occasions three steelhead are hooked in its length, a triple if you will. Most of the runs have been given silly monikers by the two anglers, “arrowhead”, “my favorite run” the “runway”, just to name a few. As in years gone by, these seldom fished spots are named by the few who go there and all have different names for them.
After covering the run with their custom made jigs, not a single fish is found and questions arise to where the fish are today. The steelhead of this system are constantly on the move, traveling both up and down as water levels rise and drop. One day a run may produce four fish, the next nothing. Years of fishing the river is the only way to unlock the mystery of where fish like to hold in the different water levels. Twelve runs into the drift and not a single Steelhead has been encountered, some days the fish seem to be nowhere.
As the anglers float through a majestic corner pool, with rock walls rising two hundred feet above, they get their first glimpse of the “runway”, a run that has produced many fish for the hatchery program. The anglers have a system, alternating who gets first water in each run. As they approach the “sweet spot” of the upper “runway”, one angler spots a Steelhead sitting beside a large white rock, exactly where they so often do.
A soft cast with his thirteen foot noodle rod has the purple and pink jig dancing towards the fish, suspended beneath a balsa float.
As the jig is slowly heading down towards the steelhead, the fish is becoming agitated. The lure is dancing its magic and the fish seems to be preparing for an assault. As so often happens the steelhead watches intently as the offering passes by and only after it has gone past does the fish suddenly explode on the jig, taking it on the run.
This fish is very fresh from the ocean and the fight that follows is spent as much above the water as below it.
One of the great joys of broodstock angling is the added importance of not losing a wild fish that is desperately needed for the program. As female wild steelhead can be especially hard to come by on this river, the adrenalin rush resulting from a hooked wild doe is strong. After a short, spirited battle, the anglers are able to capture and gently place the beautiful fish in the custom made “brood bags”.
As the trip is at the halfway mark, the anglers must now carry the fish in the holding tank all the way to the takeout. In other instances fish are captured at upper runs and can be left in the bags at a drop off point, to be collected by these anglers or hatchery personnel, the following day.
From here on in, the fish must be removed at every run the anglers will fish and placed in the river in the brood bags to rejuvenate in the oxygen heavy flow. When the anglers have finished at the run they must replace the water and put the fish back in the tank. This task will be repeated up to a dozen times before they arrive at the bridge that is the takeout point for their journey.
The rest of the trip is very uneventful, with no steelhead encountered and only a few hookups with pretty little trout, hungry for a meal in this nutrient weak river. As the anglers arrive at the takeout, cold, wet and hungry they are greeted by the friendly hatchery manager, who is waiting for them by his truck. DFO personnel from the hatchery are not technically responsible for Steelhead enhancement, but their obvious love of this river and its steelhead is always apparent with the work they do. I salute those who feel that steelhead are worth protecting in these watersheds we have damaged with our human ways.
At this point the captured steelhead will be taken to the local hatchery and placed in a holding tank. The following day personnel from the Fresh Water Fisheries Society will arrive with a truck equipped with an aluminum tank and added oxygen and transport the fish back to their Abbottsford facility. As the Steelhead ripen they will be live spawned using a strict set of procedures that ensures maximum survival of eggs and fry.
After spawning, the wild adult Steelhead will be released into the Fraser River, in hopes they might return again to seed future generations of this spectacular fish.
The young Steelhead, upon hatching, will then be raised in the Abbotsford facility until they are smolts. They are heavily fed and grow quickly in the temperature controlled water. Next they are transported back to their river of origin and placed again in tanks at the DFO hatchery, soon to be released to the river.
While this procedure seems labor intensive, it is all part of producing genetically strong Steelhead that are as close to a wild Steelhead as can be achieved. While some arguments exist as to the genetic integrity of these hatchery raised Steelhead, science is on going and some evidence exists that these fish are genetically no different than a wild fish.
I would like to applaud all the volunteer anglers past and present, that spend time and money to provide opportunity for other anglers to enjoy the fantastic sport of angling for Steelhead. I also have great appreciation for the staff at the Fresh Water Fisheries Society and local DFO hatcheries that continue to work hard at providing sport anglers with a chance to fish for enhanced runs of Steelhead.
Story by Rod Toth of Bent Rods Guiding and Fishing Co.
Advanced Float Fishing Concepts
Steelhead and Salmon float fishing is often referred to as being an “easy” method for new anglers to catch fish. I agree with this summation, however to become an expert float fisherman, it is every bit as difficult to master as other techniques.
I hope to shed light on some things I have found to be important pieces to the float fishing puzzle.
The Gear Equation
Choice of gear for float fishing is evolving all the time and it’s a very personal belief. Many of the techniques in this article are dependant on a number of technical requirements and not all gear is suited them.
My choice and one that was driven by the many types of water I will fish, is the use of a very long rod and a reel that has large capacity. I will use a 13 foot rod on most occasions, but also use a 14 foot beefier rod for brawling rivers and strong fish. The rods I use are not just long rods but quite nimble as well, they permit the use of light leaders when needed and give much needed reach while fishing large runs and far off fish holds. As for reels, I use mostly centre pin and mid size level wind reels, such as a Shimano Calcutta 400. I like to be able to put 200 yards of at least 15lb line on my reels- that is the minimum requirement. On the smallest of streams a shorter rod will suffice, as will a smaller reel, but most of the techniques herein, relate to fishing medium to large rivers for salmon and steelhead.
One very important aspect is your float. Although some prefer small sensitive floats, this is not practical in most cases and will hamper your ability to use advanced techniques.
As long as your float is highly visible and can withstand a heavily weighted set up, than float choice is personal. I use only 6 inch high density foam floats, and heavily favor the wrap around style, as it can be adjusted the quickest.
A very important part of becoming a skilled float fisherman is being able to fish all water types. I firmly believe that most anglers never look past the obvious spots and leave huge expanses of secondary water untouched.
One of the first places I look for when steelheading, is “pocket” water. Pocket water can be a huge boulder strewn run, or a white water section with very small “washtub” pockets , where angry steelhead rest.
Fishing these spots can be done quickly and efficiently and large expanses of untouched water can be found on most rivers.
Many types of lures or baits can be used for floating through pockets and this is a personal choice. I will use a heavy bait such as “roe” or “spawn sacs”, but seldom fish anything but jigs in the pocket water. Jigs are a heavy lure and have much natural movement, and with a small stinky piece of prawn on the hook, fish cannot resist.
Learning to read this type of water takes time and practice. You will need to always keep your line off the water and have no slack at all, other than the very small amount you give to get a natural presentation. A long fishing rod is great for this.
Over time you will learn to swim your float presentation through the pocket water and be making casts to far off pockets, slowly pulling you gear across the stream and letting it drop in to the various spots where the fish will hold.
Once you learn a good section of pocket water, it can become yours to enjoy for many years, as these spots tend to remain the same, due to the large boulders that litter these areas.
Most pocket water is quite shallow, from 1-4 feet deep, and unless visibility is poor, stay away from the bottom, fish are very aggressive in this water and will pounce on most items in their vicinity.
Usually when you hit a pocket right, the float travels slowly and it’s obvious you are in the right zone. A few passes through and move to the next spot.
The next situation is where a nice run has swift water moving down the center with obvious good holding water on both sides of this heavy flow. The average float fisher will certainly cover the soft “sweet spot” of this run and seldom take the time to fish the deeper, faster, heavy water. I seek out these spots, as the run is a known fish holder, it only stands to reason that some fish, especially bigger and stronger ones will take refuge from the pressure of anglers and the threat of predators in the seemingly un fishable water.
Under the surface however, this water may be slower moving and a particularly good spot for fish to rest and feel protected.
The offering you choose in this situation should again favor a heavy lure or bait, also consider that a fragile bait such as eggs is not a good choice and artificials really shine here. Pink worms, gooey bobs, roe sacs, and jigs are just a few items I will use in this situation.
Floating through this water will seem fast, and almost uncontrolled, it will take practice to avoid slack line while still having your presentation precede your float and weight downstream. Once you begin to hook fish in these spots you will soon seek them out, and again you will be amazed how few people fish these spots even in busy runs.
Remember to always fish the far side of these heavy water sections. For this the long rod will enable you to hold your line high above the fast water and access a spot few can hit. This is especially effective where the far bank has no access and fish hide from the daily procession of anglers, in this hard to reach spot.
I have had huge success following skilled anglers through these runs, and gain consistent hook ups by fishing the water others cannot or will not.
The next situation is fishing huge broad tail outs, while most anglers realize that steelhead and sometimes salmon will favor the tail out, most will only fish the close in portion of it and skip covering the whole enormous piece of water. What a serious mistake this is, being shallower than the main portion of the run most anglers will not take the time to shorten up their presentation to fish it all the way down. Very often you will back fish down the run while fishing the “sweet spot”, then just as the fish is running out of real estate, many anglers will move down to the next run.
I’m sure we have all had the scenario, where you give up on a run as you get to the tailout, only to have someone come along and pick up the fish you have aggravated, but never covered properly.
When I approach these waters, I will start by fishing the closest portion of the tailout right to the very end, shortening up my presentation as needed to fish it right down to the very end of the run. I will now start to work the water out farther and using my long rod and great reach, I will continue to fish this whole tailout, until satisfied that no biters are present. Another technique that is useful here is “swinging” your presentation across vast tailouts, often this is my chosen technique when fishing huge tailouts that I have not caught fish in before. I can cover them quickly with this approach and will fish this water harder in following trips if success is realized. My favorite lures for swinging tailouts are the jig and Colorado blades (fished under a float).
The last type of situation we will discuss in this article is the big river, deep water sections that intimidate most anglers and present challenges to the gear many float fisherman use. I cannot count the number of times I have followed behind fellow anglers through a big, deep run on a large brawling river, picking off all the fish left behind by anglers not willing or able to cover it properly.
I can remember fishing these spots myself, where I had my arms extended high in the air, trying desperately to keep my line off the water and never being in control of my drift.
Often my float would dip under, and by the time of my hook set, I would be left with a baitless hook or a fish not willing to come again.
It’s this very situation that tipped my hand to the use of long rods for salmon and steelhead. As with the fly fisherman’s choice of the spey rod, a float fisher using a long rod is much more versatile and has great line control at greater distances and can fish much more of a river while keeping direct contact with their float. Add to this the ability to cast a line with 15 feet of line from float to lure and it opens up waters that were left for others in the past.
Float fishing is much more technical than many give it credit for. Having heard it called things such as “training wheels” or the “Canadian crutch”, it is obvious that those making such comments have never spent the time to truly learn the many skills to becoming an advanced float fisherman. For those that have or wish to, this article will hopefully help you continue this progression to becoming a complete angler.
Rod Toth- Bent Rods Guiding & Fishing Co.
Old Man River – The Sportsdesk Goes a Fishin’
Story by Braden Mack at F.I.L.E.S. News
Our guide was fond of his jet-boat. It was a 22 foot welded aluminum sled with enough power to send it skipping up river along the surface at a terrifying rate. The Fraser was a thick and dark river that morning, like a murky, creamy run of cocoa. A mist floated about a foot over the water, hovering above the current until the Bent Rods Boat ripped through and sent it whirling in to nowhere.
I had my doubts about pulling fish out of the Fraser, but there was no bringing that up to our guide. The man looked and acted like a professional, and he drove that boat with some kind of purpose.
In the middle of our break neck rip up-river from the Island 22 boat launch, Rod cut the engine to half speed and made a left hand turn. The water became noticeably clearer and we cruised slowly up stream. This, our guide explained, was the Harrison River. The water was low, and the houses and pilings that had dotted the shorelines of the Fraser gave way to one bank of high cliff sides and another of grassy flood planes. Gulls and eagles buzzed about on both sides and Rod stood up from his captain’s chair to look out over the windshield. “They’re here,” he told us.
Ahead of the boat a fish broke the water and flopped back on its side, followed by about a dozen more in odd patterns and synchronizations. I climbed up and looked over the bow. Through the clear Harrison water, I could have seen the bottom had it not been for thousands and thousands of Sockeye.
They darted about in unison, running from the boat all at once before turning around and coming back, steadying themselves with their fins, noses to the current, and darting away again. Behind them were more fish. The sound of jumping fish splashed through the air between the squawks of birds. We listened.
After a few minutes, Rod fixed us up with light action spinning reels, and sockeye jigs of his own design. There is conventional wisdom that says that Sockeye don’t bite when they’re heading up river to spawn. Rod of Bent Rods didn’t have much use for conventional wisdom. His sockeye jigs were fashioned with a heavy, round bead atop a high end barb-less Gamakatsu hook. The jigs were tied just so, designed to bloom in the water. With a small piece of treated shrimp on the turn of the hook, they danced above the gravel bottom in flashy jumps and dives, enticing the fish’s predatory instincts.
Once we had the hang of giving the jig the right kind of action above the bottom, we didn’t go long between fish.
Sockeye strike downwards, and begin to run along the current right away before jumping at least once and diving again. They’re strong fighters with beautiful coloration and plenty of energy. I lost track after my fourth fish, they were active, aggressive and seemed keen to turn our rods alive. After being unhooked, the fish would dive back through the clear water and join the other fish, schooling along the bottom, becoming another face in the crowd.
Other boats floated in as the sun climbed, it seemed like they came all at once, and the mood of the river changed. Sockeye are finicky. If the right colors aren’t moving in the right way, they’re not interested. To many, there is a myth that Sockeyes don’t bite in the river. Those people tended to fish the Harrison by whipping a large hook through the school in a long swooping motion, often hooking the fish by their tails or side fins. The fish flop about and thrash along the surface sideways in a panic.
Once a few fish came out of the water sideways, flopping in erratic schisms from being hooked in the belly, the school changed. They tightened up, stuck to the center of the stream. The bites came less frequently, then not at all. They nearly quit jumping all together.
Rod didn’t want to hang around long after the school had gone in to defensive mode, and I didn’t either. Those other boats were full of noisy and obnoxious anglers. It was like a bad carnival exhibition: snag-a-fish.
Sadly, that’s the flavor for fishing sockeye in the lower mainland. Most people are just lazy. However, baits like BentRods Jigs are gaining popularity in some of the clear-water spots. People are learning more about proper technique, and they’re going to have to learn in a hurry if they want to continue having fish to catch.
Jig Fishing For Summer Steelhead
Its first light on a late June day, cool enough to need an light jacket but warm enough to be comfortable in jeans. The vibrant colours of spring are still strong on the forest growth and the summer steelhead is making its way into the runoff enlarged rivers that the fish call home.
Early summer run fishing is much like late winter run fishing in April and May. Warmer temperatures and longer days beg for persistent anglers to come to the rivers and enjoy their metallic bounty. River conditions can range from low and clear to high and off coloured depending on location and snow pack from the chilling winter months. Most local early summer run rivers though will still be somewhat high with runoff and because of that the water temps will still be quite cool. Many runs of summer steel rely on this warmer high water time to help them navigate the falls and heavy rapids that prevent the winter steelhead from ascending the same waterways.
Tactics for early summers are surprisingly similar to the methods used for winter steel since the water conditions are similar. Bright 1/8 oz jigs like a cerise/white rabbit fur jig fished aggressively through pockets and choppy runs can result in some fast action should the fish be around. The early summer run is in no hurry to make it to the spawning beds and this in turn provides the angler with supreme sport. Slowly traveling fish that frequently stop to rest are supreme biters where as the late winter fish of early spring usually only has one thing on its mind, make it to the redd! Occasionally while searching for the early summer prize an over eager winter kelt will be encountered. These fish are highly aggressive and on the feed trying desperately to fuel their bodies until they can make it back to the buffet that the ocean provides for them. It is not all that uncommon to catch both a down river kelt and an ultra bright summer run on the same trip, occasionally even from the same hole! Kelts should be left to complete their journey back to the ocean in peace and if concentrations of them are stumbled upon it is best to find a new area to seek out the chrome fish of summer.
Fast forward to the dog days of summer. Blistering summer heat has drastically reduced the rivers flows to almost a trickle. With the relentless heat comes higher water temperatures and an increasingly spooky and wary steelhead which can be the most difficult conditions of all for the summer angler. Fortunately for the , most rivers that support runs of summer steel have large sections of canyon waters that shade the riffles and pools and add much needed oxygen to the water with their steep drops and crashing rapids.
Tactics to take these extreme low water fish are much more refined than during the run off days early in the season. Light lines in the 6-8lb class, small subdued coloured jigs like 1/16 oz skunk patterns and tiny natural coloured floats are the ticket now. Extreme short floating where the jig is 2' to 4' off of the river bottom will produce great results and submarining floats. Long down river drifts or casting well up stream of the holding waters is necessary to prevent spooking the fish during these times. The ultimate experience is spot and stalk fishing. Carefully scanning the flows in search of a fish then making the stealthy approach and enticing the fish to your subdued and natural presentation. A 1/16 oz crayfish imitating pattern using olive and burnt orange marabou can work wonders during these times often rivaling a black/pink rabbit jig.
With an increase in water temps comes an increase in the fight of the fish. While the early summer fish may barely clear the water, the later summer fish will jump with wild abandon clear of the water, usually more than once. Blistering runs combined with line testing pin wheeling and numerous full body out of the water jumps put these fish ahead of the pack when it comes to fight time. Anglers must also be aware that water temperatures can get too high during these times of the year to safely angle for the summer run steelhead. When the mercury creeps into the low 60F range it is in the best interest of the fish to either retain your catch or not fish at all as mortality rates climb steeply with the increasing temperatures.
Jigs for summer steelhead, easy, effective and down right fun to fish! Enjoy the bounty of our rivers but please be careful with our resource as the summer steelhead is a rare and precious gem of the river.
Low Water Steelhead
The day dawned crisp and clear as it had for the past two weeks. The winter rivers were at their lowest and coldest that we were probably going to see this year yet my enthusiasm for hitting the river was at a all time high. I have learned to crave the times of extreme low water since I have learned the power of the jig! Nothing quite turns on these cold water fish like the site of a jig slowly dancing above them.
After a slippery ride to the river I couldn't help but smile to myself as I noticed a definite lack of anglers on the water today even though it was a Saturday during the peak of the winter steelhead run. Low and cold water conditions had chased away many of the fishermen and those that remained had little faith in the water they were fishing, but I knew better. As I pulled in to a favourite road side stop I couldn't help but smile to myself, I was shaking with anticipation.
A quick walk down the slippery frost covered rip rap led me to a favourite run, not just of mine but of many others as well as the bait stained rocks would attest too. I was far from being the first through the hole today but I held my confidence as I began to string up my 10' rod with its accompanying center pin reel. I strung the 10lb main line through the guides and slid on a slightly trimmed down 4" float. Several feet down I affixed a small #12 black swivel and 2 small split shot just above it. 18" of 6lb leader was attached to the other end of the swivel and a 1/8oz pink beaded jig to the other end of the leader.
There was a fly fisher working the top end of the run so I slipped down river a fair ways to give him room to work his magic. There was no need to hone in on anyone elses drift as we were the only two die hards left fishing this run today. This was a nice run with a moderate to slow current and slight ripples on the top, perfect for my chosen weapon today. The float was extended to about 3.5' and with the 1.5' leader I was all set to fish this 6' deep run. I started close to shore and extended each cast about 12" or so across the drift until I had reached the opposite side of the holding water, then moved down 10 steps to repeat the process over again. This is the system that I have found to work best for me. 10 steps down will allow me to slightly re cover the end of the previous drifts to ensure that no fish are potentially missed. About mid way through the second down stream shuffle I thought I had touched bottom, until I realized that I was at least 1' off of the bottom! The next cast was placed in the exact same spot to repeat the drift and as the float neared the spot I readied myself for the strike. I was not disappointed! As soon as the float dipped, I struck, and the fight was on! At the sting of the hook the bright steelhead began a series of violent head shakes, trying to dislodge the bait that bit back.
When this did not relieve the tugging at its mouth it panicked and make a blistering run ending with some massive water displacing surface thrashing that I was sure would break my fragile leader. Luck was with me as the leader held and the fish sulked on the bottom... but not for long. More brutal head shakes followed as the enraged steely tried to shake the jig from its mouth, all the while slowly falling lower into the run. As the water started to shallow up the chrome steely made a bee line run to the top of the hole leaving me scrambling to catch up with the slow retrieve of the center pin. I abandoned the handles and started to bat the rim in an attempt to catch up with this race horse of a fish and finally made a solid connection just as the fish changed direction and headed back down. A short run ended in a full body leap, clean out of the water and the magnificent fish seemed to hang in eternity as I reveled in its glory. All of its high paced antics seemed to tire out the fish as it headed back to the bottom to sulk and regain its strength, but I would have non of it. I applied all the pressure that I dared and coaxed this prime 13lb hatchery steelhead into the shallows. I elected to keep this fine hatchery specimen for the table as it had been some weeks since I had tasted the light flavour of a fresh steelhead on my plate.
After marking my licence I took a moment to reflect on just how much I had come to love the low water conditions of winter that so many people have come to hate, with a prime steely to further boost my confidence into my next low water expedition.
Jigs For Steelhead!
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.
Jig Fishing Winter Steelhead
There's nothing more relaxing than spending a day outside in the crisp morning air surrounded by snow covered mountains beside a briskly flowing river. Nothing can elevate this scene with adrenalin filled action for the winter angler faster than a chrome winter steelhead!
Fishing jigs for steelhead is not new but something that every serious angler should have in their bag of tricks. There's nothing quite like a rabbit fur or marabou jig pulsating in the chilled winter water to turn on lethargic steelhead holding in the slow choppy runs. The site of a shiny bead and rippling feathers will at times turn on the stalest of steelhead and turn the fishermans rod into a dancing wand in no time at all.
I like to fish brightly coloured bead head jigs about a foot off of the bottom under a float using a dead drift in the winter months to entice a prime steely. Top producing colour combos for me are pink/white or a cerise beaded jig through the tempting pools of a winter river. Steelheading can be a hunting game more than any other river fishery and I tend to fish through the pools quickly but systematically. Starting close into shore at the head of the run and working my way down in a grid fashion covering the available holding water. A pink/white rabbit jig is my usual go to lure to start the day off but I wont hesitate to try other combos of colours if the fish are choosing to be picky. Beaded jigs are quickly becoming a favourite of mine as the addition of beads above the pulsating fur really adds some eye appeal to an otherwise very effective technique when the standbys are not turning the fish on. Another favourite is to use a pink worm jig! Yes that's right, a pink worm on a jig. Sliding a 3" section of pink worm under a white or pink schlappen collared jig can really drive those cold water metal head crazy at times, particularly the more aggressive wild fish. This is also a very effective set up when the water gets some good colour to it as the bright florescent worm will be quite visible to the fish in the limited visibility conditions.
It is very easy to get set up for steelhead using jigs. Only a minimum of gear is required and is easy to assemble. To start off you will need to attach a float to your 10 - 15 lb mainline. I prefer a slim profile float about ½" x 6". Under the float I will attach 3 or 4 split shot and a swivel. To the end of the swivel about 18" of 6 - 12lb leader line and a pink/white 1/8oz jig. That's it. See how simple it is? Although it would be possible to fish the same set up all day long I like to come prepared with several different styles of jigs and a few extra floats should I happen to make an errant cast or 2 during the course of the day. A dozen jigs, 2 floats, a hand full of split shot, a spool of leader line or two and its off to the river for a days work. No bulky bait boxes or leader boards getting in the way and no aching back at the end of the day carrying too much gear that will never get used anyways. Hopefully the only thing that aches at the end of the day is your arms from the fight of a good fish!
Catching a steelhead can be just that easy. Covering lots of water with a highly effective lure while keeping the overhead costs and burdens to a minimum. Now that's my idea of a good time on the river.
by Rod Toth - Bent Rods Guiding
Although float fishing has been used for hundreds of years and throughout the world, the type I will speak of is used in Freshwater Rivers throughout North America for catching Salmon, Steelhead, Trout and Char. Sometimes known as drift fishing, I prefer to use the term Float fishing as drift fishing really involves no float. At it's simplest; float fishing can be a very cheap and easy way to catch fish with little experience. On the other hand, a very accomplished float fisherman can spend a lifetime mastering the many different subtle techniques.
The first thing you will need to get going is a proper rod and reel. I suggest a rod of at least 9' with a maximum of 12' for bigger rivers and fish. I prefer lighter rods with a strong butt section, this way you can feel light bites and still horse a bit to get the fish in quickly for a quick release. Try to match your rod to the species you are fishing ,for most salmon a 9ft to 10.5 ft rod of light action will suffice ,for spring salmon or big river steelhead you may want to move up to a 9 ft to 12 ft med-heavy action rod. There are many types of good quality fishing rods on the market ,all the top name brands are quite good, but be concerned with the warranty .For a few extra dollars you can often get a lifetime warranty ,in my experience ,this is priceless ,as graphite rods are certainly prone to breakage. Make sure the rod and reel combo you choose feels right in your hands and there should be a nice balance between two.
When it comes to reels, there are only two types I would consider choosing, first would be a level wind reel and the second would be a single action reel (centre pin).
The level wind reel is by far the most versatile; it can be used for casting lures without a float and other applications such as trolling, bar fishing and drift fishing. Choosing a level wind reel is not difficult, I suggest spending as much as you can afford, as you really get what you pay for. Again ask about warranty and also consider the amount of line it will hold, to match the fish you are after.
The Single action reel (centre pin), is probably the best reel to have if you are float fishing all the time, it will feed out line very smoothly and is great fun when landing a fish, not to mention line capacity is excellent. There are hundreds of different centre pin reels on the market and a whole story could be written on choosing one. I would suggest nothing less than $200 and anything over $500 is a personal luxury. Again be very careful to match your rod and reel to the fish you are after, often times people fish with oversized set ups and really take away from the overall enjoyment .
When choosing line, many factors come into play. For smaller reels and smaller fish 10-15lb mainline will be fine, on the bigger reels with larger fish in mind, 15 -25 lb is a better choice as losing a huge fish does not make for a happy day. Stick to the top name brands, line is of most importance and should be quality stuff. When using a centre pin look for a line that is slightly stiffer than what you would use on a level wind, this makes for better casting performance.
Choosing your terminal gear is very important when Float fishing, there are many ways of rigging your float set up, so I will stick to a few of my favorites.
Choosing a float is as much a personal choice as a correct choice. The three most popular floats are the foam float, balsa float and Drennan style floats. Foam floats are by far the cheapest and that is what I most often use. They come in various styles such as wrap around straight thru and also come in all manner of sizes. You will need to experiment with different ones to find what you like but your float should ride above the surface at all times and still be sensitive to a light bite.
The balsa float is by far the prettiest and when using the right one can be very sensitive to light bites, choosing one is a matter of experimenting. As you will not be losing your float often, spending a little more will not hurt. I have started using balsa floats more and more and find top quality balsa floats an important device for detecting light biters.
Drennan style floats are clear plastic floats that come in all shapes and sizes, quite expensive and very sensitive these floats also have the added attraction that they are clear and some think less likely to spook fish.
When trying to decide what to use for weight many factors must be considered. When fishing clear smaller rivers, small weights such as split shot can make the difference, on the bigger flows pencil lead and slinkies are more popular. I have provided some drawings and pictures to give you some ideas of terminal set-ups, try experimenting and see what you like.
Swivels, when choosing swivels remember to match the swivel to the rest of your gear. One of my personal favorite set-ups requires a piece of pencil lead, pushed into a piece of rubber tubing that is running on your mainline. Having the correct swivel with this set-up is essential as your weight and tube must not be able to slide past your swivel on to your leader or you may lose a fish because of this .I normally stick with #8 swivels.
Leaders, when choosing leaders I suggest going 2 to 5 lbs lighter than your mainline and keeping them short ,I find 2 feet to be the maximum and often I run as short as 10 inches to avoid my bait or lure from floating up. Check your leader often, losing fish to a nicked leader is a terrible feeling and totally avoidable.
I consider hooks the single most important piece of the puzzle, you could have all the top quality gear money can buy, but if you scrimp on hooks many fish will be lost .I always use top quality razor sharpened hooks, the sizes I use range from #2 to 3/0, and are determined by various things such as water clarity and species you are after. Typically you will use smaller hooks for clearer water unless you are after large fish, then you may want to stick with larger hooks.
Baits and lures
The baits and lures available to the float fisherman are endless, I will cover some of the more popular, but only through experimenting will you find what works for you. Confidence with what you are using is a big part of success; try to avoid constantly changing what you are using.
Included in these are worms, salmon roe, ghost shrimp and deli shrimp, prawns as well as krill. The key to using natural baits is presenting them in a natural manner. I always try to present my baits close to the bottom but slightly above the fish's window of vision.
Try and keep slack line to a minimum and be ready for very subtle takes as good fisherman know that fish can pick up a bait with very little registered at the float, often just a slight slowing or rising of the float, be ready and set the hook if you think something is amiss. Always check the regulations for a bait ban, as in these days of conservation concerns, bait fishing is being banned in many rivers.
I would consider these, any lure that is meant to represent a natural bait. Some are made using scent and others are not, any using added scent is considered bait and you must keep this in mind where bait bans are in effect.
Some of the more popular artificial baits are Jensen eggs (rubber eggs), gooey bobs (roe cluster), rubber worms and wool, often the wool is shaped to represent an egg cluster, single egg or used in conjunction with rubber eggs. Wool comes in hundreds of colors; I prefer the peaches, pinks and whites and chartreuses or a combination of all. Where bait is allowed adding scent to your wool can be very effective.
I would consider lures any offering that uses movement to entice a fish to bite. In this category we have spinners, spoons and spin n glows. When we think of float fishing we often do not think of spinners and spoons, however I have caught many fish while fishing these under a float. The key to using spinners and spoons in this manner is to use lighter ones than you would use without a float. I prefer Colorado and french blades and with spoons I mostly use Oval style although narrow spoons such as crocodiles can be effective. Another very effective float fishing tool is the dick nite spoon, give them a try, you may be surprised.
The real beauty of fishing with these lures this way, is you can keep them off the bottom and slow down your presentation so they just barely flutter, often fish find this irresistible. Again experiment, as I have found many different lures work well under a float. Spin n glows are a very effective lure, I myself have not had huge success using them, and however I know many who have. The amount of sizes and colors is endless and a lifetime could be spent experimenting with them, they work well, that is for sure. Try holding back on your line a little while using spin n glows, this will get it spinning and entice fish to bite.
No float fishing story would be complete without mentioning jigs. Jigs come in many shapes and sizes and all have their time and place. I have had my most success using jigs made from adding a pin and bead to a jig hook. The jigs I make use many different fur and feathers and often some rather obscure materials. I find the key to fishing jigs is getting a drag free drift. While fishing, your float should be standing straight up and down and your jig should be traveling at least a foot off bottom.
I often find that keeping my jig well of the bottom is my key to success. Fish see the jig breathing in the flow, and come from a fair distance to hammer them. Trying to find jigs with strong hooks can be a tough go .This is what prompted me to tie up my own jigs. It also allows me to experiment with colors and sizes. Store jigs are usually on hooks for bass fishing, not worthy of Salmon or Steelhead, and really, are not made by fisherman with on the water knowledge. Some jigs are good at catching fish and others are good at catching fishermen. Choose the right ones for success.
If you are more interested in fishing jigs, Bent Rods Guiding and Fishing Co. is now making our jigs available to the public. These are jigs made and tested by professional guides, and hardcore Steelhead and Salmon fishermen. They are guaranteed to boost your success, and landing ratio.
For more information, go to Jigs Page.
A book could be written on techniques so I will try to keep it simple. I feel there is virtually no need to be bouncing bottom while float fishing, your bait or lure should be at least a foot off bottom. Although a fish will occasionally react to an offering that is being slightly dragged along bottom, too much gear is deposited on the bottom. Stick to fishing off bottom and you will lose almost no gear, be doing the environment a big favor and avoid foul hooking fish that are stacked in a pool.
Another factor to remember is to keep the presentation natural by keeping your line high and off the water and avoiding unwanted drag. I try to keep my bait or lure traveling the same speed as the water to make it as natural as possible, although when using attraction lures such as spinners spoons and spin n glows, holding back a little can get them moving and attract fish. Another technique I use is at the end of my drift I often let my offering sit in the current a bit before slowly reeling in, I have had many strikes while letting it hang or starting my retrieve. I have also had attacks right at my feet while reeling in slowly. These are just a few of the techniques used while float fishing, there are others and in time you will find your own.
I hope this article will get you started float fishing, it is a very enjoyable style of fishing and its rewards can be many.
Picture your float, gliding down a beautiful pool in the early morning light. In an instant, your float is violently ripped underwater, and in seconds, a massive silver steelhead explodes the water with a huge jump. It is scenes like this that live forever, in a float fisherman's mind.
Good luck and Bent Rods
Giving Back-Broodstock Collection
By Oliver G.
At Bent Rods we believe that giving back to the resources that we partake in is as important as getting outside to enjoy them which is why we volunteer hundreds of hours every year to various organizations in the Fraser Valley Such as the Greater Georgia Basin Steelhead Recovery Plan (GGBSRP), Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO),Freshwater Fisheries Society (FFS) and the Ministry of Environment (MOE).
Most of our hours are accumulated during the winter months when we collect wild winter steelhead brood stock for the Chehalis river. This is a labour intensive procedure which usually involves hiking into the canyon holes, hooking and landing a wild steelhead as quickly as possible and carefully placing them into a rubber holding tube which is then secured in the calm shoreline waters of the river. We must then hike back out of the canyon and return to the hatchery where one fo the employees is notified and we return back to the river in a pickup truck which is equipped with a special tank to hold fish and a water tight back pack to hike the fish from the river to the truck.
The pack is filled with enough water to cover the top third of the fish (head to start of dorsal fin) and the rubber holding tube is placed in the back pack. As quickly as possible the fish is then hiked up the cliffs to the truck, taken out of the holding tube and placed into the tank in the truck. Time is of the essence in these scenarios and canyon holes that may take 15-20 minutes to while going fishing are compressed into under 10 minutes when leaving with a fish in the pack.
The journey continues for the steelhead as we return to the hatchery with them and they are placed in holding tanks until a worker from the Abbotsford Trout Hatchery (FFS) comes to pick up the fish. The steelhead are then held in holding tanks in Abbotsford until they are ripe at which time they are spawned in the hatchery and the eggs are held for several months until the young fry are big enough to be moved back to the Chehalis Hatchery to finish off the fry-to-smolt process.
The smolts are released after approximately one year where they head off down the Chehalis river, into the Harrison river, continuing down into the Fraser river and then into the ocean where they will grow for one to 3 years until returning from December to April when they will return back to the Chehalis river to either spawn in the wild, return to the Chehalis hatchery or be caught and retained along the way by some lucky anger to be released back into the river or possibly for a prime steelhead dinner.
By Oliver G.
Just some quick info here to get you on your way to a successful day of sight fishing for salmon or steelhead in your favorite river or creek.
First off, of utmost importance is wearing dark camouflage clothing. Browns, olive, dark grey and even full camo is necessary under most spot and stalk conditions. Dark clothing will help you blend into the back ground and not alarm wary fish in the low water conditions. Blue, red and white are definite no-nos that will spook fish, even when an otherwise stealthy approach is used. Yellow rain coats are not allowed!
Spotting the fish is a talent that comes from much practice. Good polarized glasses are a must. They cut the surface glare of the water and allow an unobstructed view of the river bottom and all that it holds. Choppy runs are hard to spot fish in but by carefully scanning the flow and following the small slicks that go through every piece of holding water the fish can be spotted. If at all possible, getting a vantage point above the suspected holding water is definitely preferable to being at water level. The decreased angle of vision allows for easier penetration of the waters surface and a more accurate placement of any spotted fish in the run or pool. Many times on sunny days you won’t see the fish first but instead you will see its shadow. Be aware and pay close attention to anything that seems out of place. If you are looking primarily at a pea gravel bottom stretch of river and you see what appears to be a larger rock or small log, look closely and make sure before passing it up. A good indicator is to find a small differently colored stone immediately in front of or behind the suspect and watch for movement. Many times what appears to be a fish is only an oblong rock that appears to be moving because of the surface slicks of the water, but not always. If in doubt, sneak up and make a few casts just to make sure. Be aware that if you spot one fish there may be more! I have been burned on more than one occasion when I spotted a fish and moved into casting position only to spook a fish that I didn’t see which in turn spooked the target fish. Many times I will spend from 5 to 10 minutes scanning the water just looking for fish before moving in to make a cast.
Be sneaky when approaching a drift either to fish or try and spot fish. Step lightly and if at all possible, from behind. Steelhead and salmon have very good vision and can see you from almost any direction that you approach, including down stream but light refraction and possible ripples on the waters surface make the down stream approach the most effective under these demanding conditions. When fish are located close to the bank, I will literally crawl to within casting distance to make sure that the fish are unaware of my presence. It looks silly and may seem a little over dramatic but the effort is usually worth it. Also, be very careful not to stomp around or roll rocks/logs under your feet when nearing the fish. The vibrations carry through the ground and directly to the fish’s sensitive lateral line alerting them that something is amiss. If it is necessary to move in from in front of the fish I will lay down and crawl on my belly into casting position being careful not to rise up any more than necessary to keep my eye on the quarry.
We have already gone over approaching the fish so now we will deal with presentation. I find light line to be the most effective in these unlimited visibility conditions. Usually 6 or 8 pound line on a limber rod is perfect for fooling these fish. If there are heavy rapids or when targeting large fish, I will go up to 10 lb line. My preferred set up for these conditions is a light action 13' rod with a ball bearing centerpin reel spooled with low diameter 12 lb line. For terminal tackle I like to use half a wine cork with a hole drilled in it and held in place with a tooth pick. I will then tie on a small1/16 oz dark colored jig, black/pink is nice, or a size 6 to 2 hook on a 6lb leader and add either no weight or a small split shot 2' or 3' above the hook. If fishing heavier water, use only enough weight to get down to the fish. Less is definitely more effective in these circumstances. When using bait, I like a tiny piece of natural coloured roe or a tiny piece of shrimp with a small piece of light pink yarn in the bait loop. In artificial only waters, its hard to beat small glow bugs or a small dark coloured jig.
Now for the easy part- the actual presentation of the bait. Once you are in position and out of view from the fish, cast your offering as far up stream as you can while maintaining control of your gear. Usually 20' or so ahead of the fish will be adequate. You want to make sure that you are getting the most natural drift possible at all times. Try not to wave your arms all over the place when casting by using a side arm motion and keeping your arm and rod parallel to the ground to minimize the impact of the cast. The worst case scenario is your gear landing directly on top of the fish which will surely spook it. In cases where my cast has gone terribly wrong I will either let it fly far over the target and make a better cast on the next try or stop the cast short and let it fall on the ground instead of in the water. After going through all the effort of spotting and then sneaking up on the fish I would rather re-tie my terminal gear on a near shore break off and pick it up after I have hooked the fish than spook it right off the bat. Most times under these conditions you can watch the fish take your offering. What a thrill! Most takes will be subtle and the urge is to set the hook too soon. Fight the urge and wait for the float to submerge or to see the fish finish closing its mouth on your bait.
Once the fish is hooked, take your time and don’t try to horse them in on the light line. Small hooks pull out easily and light line is fragile and weakens much faster than heavier ones.
It might seem like a lot of work just to hook a fish but the sense of satisfaction from hunting and stalking the fish will far out weigh any of the challenges and hardships involved and you will come to relish the times of low water when others are complaining about skittish fish and difficult conditions.
Fishing Spinners Under A Float
Fishing spinners is a very popular way of catching salmon and steelhead, in this article I will try and explain the method many experienced anglers have found works extremely well and keeps you from losing spinners and keeps you fishing more.
First off I will explain the terminal set up.
This method can be done using any popular rod and reel style ,but i prefer longer rods 9-11 ft in length ,with a fairly light tip ,which helps you detect the spin of your blade.
As for reels ,any will work ,but ,levelwinds and centrepins are favored due to their ability to pay out line in a smooth manner ,a very important part of float fishing.
My typical set up ,is to use a 10 ft lamiglass rod with a centre pin reel ,loaded with 15 lb maxima ultra green line ,and 10 lb leader.I like to keep my leaders from 16- 22 inches long .For weight I either use 3-4 split shot ,or a 3" piece of pencil lead ,pushed thru a piece of rubber tubing ,sliding free on the mainline.
As for floats ,I typically just use styrofoam dink floats from 4-6" long ,and avoid spending $$ on the expensive fancy floats as they make no difference in my fish catching statistics.
Now the most important piece of the puzzle ,the spinner blades.There are many types of blades available to the fisherman ,but my experience tells me the Colorado blade is the most productive ,followed closely by the Indiana blade ,I use them in different types of water however. My choices of Colorados are #2,#4 and sometimes a #4.5,and my color choices are copper ,brass and silver and I use both hammered finish and smooth finish ,with a hammered #4 in brass being my most productive year round blade. I also use the same blades as previous in the Indiana style ,but typically I fish these in faster water ,as they tend to spin a little slower than the Colorados in this situation.These spinners are very simple ,I make them myself using bulk components ,all you need is# 8 barrel swivels ,#3 split rings,your blade and some good quality hooks ,I use # 2 gammigatksu's. Simply attach a swivel to a split ring and then add another swivel to that ring followed by another ring ,now attach the blade to the top split ring and the hook to the split ring at the bottom ,now you have a float fishing blade.
There are countless ways to fish this set up and I will explain a few of them and in time you will develop your own style.
First off we have the dead drift ,in this technique you fish the blade as if it were a piece of bait ,cast slightly upstream and let your float and blade travel downstream at the smae speed as the current ,it will spin very slow, and let me tell you ,fish love slow travelling blades,try to never touch bottom ,fish look up and that is where your blade should be ,we call this short floating ,and it is deadly .
Next would be the slight swing ,with this technique you cast past your intended target water ,and slightly hold back on your gear to get the blade really spinning ,and now you simply pull it into the chosen water and the balde should be spinning hard ,this technique really shines in pocket water.
Sweeping casts,with these I cast to the far side of the river and put the blade under immediate tension ,causing the blade to sweep through the water with a strong blade spin ,occasionly let up tension to allow the blade to slow ,be prepared ,this is often when a fish will smack the spinner and very hard.
Upstream pull back ,with this technique you cast upstream past the spot you think the fish are holding in ,now start to retrieve rapidly pulling the blade through the predicted lie,for some reason steelhead absolutely love this approach,perhaps they get upset about an intruder entering THEIR spot and leaving quickly ,works well behind large boulder spots and log jams.
These are just a few of the techniques that work well for me and often I use them together in the same cast. This is one of the great advantages to the use of a float in conjunction with spinner blades ,you can adjust your style mid cast while still productively fishing the whole time. Also the costs of fishing spinners in this method is minimal ,at about 40 cents a piece to make and the fact you almost never lose a blade ,it is very inexpensive.
Another great advantage to this technique is you can simply pull of your blade and replace with a jig or piece of bait or pink worm and you are back in the game immediately .
I hope you will give this method a try ,it has been a great producer for me and can really add to your arsenal when fishing a river.
Rod Toth, Bent Rods Guiding Co.
Jigs – A Deadly Lure for Salmon and Steelhead
Over the last few years the use of jigs in BC waters has really taken off. Many anglers who are having success with this lure are hesitant to share their knowledge, as sharing their new discoveries might lead to less success they might feel. I also can relate to this mind set, however, having learned of jig techniques from other fisherman, passing it on is the right thing to do and hopefully it will contribute to more people using this effective and ethical technique.
The amount of jigs on today's market is staggering and although not all of them apply to salmon and steelhead fishing, many do and some will surprise you.
The most common type of jig used for salmon and steelhead is probably the pre poured lead head jig, they come in all shapes and sizes and often come with very poor quality hooks. Finding lead head jigs with quality hooks is often very difficult and as a result I have switched most my jig fishing over to the bead and pin style jigs. One thing that is nice about using the lead jigs is they come in a vast array of shapes and sizes and they are quite cheap if you buy in bulk or even cheaper if you pour your own. Another nice thing about these jig heads is the fact they are unfinished and this allows you the option of painting them yourself to get the exact finish you want, but unpainted jigs will catch fish very well on their own. Also available to the fisherman are pre painted jig heads, these are often poor quality jig heads in my experience and the finishes are usually a little bright for my liking, look for colors that are not too bright and always give them a bend test, weak hooks will not hold up to salmon or steelhead. If you do go for pre painted jig heads look for ones that are coated with a good paint, they must be durable as I have had far too many jigs lose their paint almost immediately once in the water. One thing to consider is painting them yourself, this way you can get the exact finish you like and can ensure the quality is there. Many paints are available to the consumer, bake on and dip type paints being most durable. When painting your own heads, stick to colors that do not distract the fish from the all important “breathing” part of your jig, as this is what really attracts the fish. I prefer light pink, white and sometimes even black heads on my jigs, and stay away from the crazy fluorescent colors, although I'm sure others will swear by the great big glow in the dark jig heads commercially available, especially for Chum and Pink salmon. This being said, I find it's the action and other materials that really make a jig special.
Another type of jig available and one that I find works very well is the bead and pin type jig. These jigs are made by first acquiring a good quality jig hook and then you tie the bead and pin to the jig, creating your own jig head. These type jig heads are my favorite, as they allow for using top quality hooks and let the user decide what weight they would like to use. On top of that you can find weighted metal beads in a variety of sizes and being metal you can easily coat them with quality paints. These style jig heads also seem better balanced and they always ride horizontally in the water like a good jig should. One more positive attribute with this style jig head is the fact that they allow for a bigger hook gap, which makes for a higher hook to land ratio. The jig weights I find most useful are 1/8oz up to 1/2 oz., with the larger sizes better suited to the jigging technique and the smaller ones for fishing under a float.
On the topic of hook to land ratio ,many top anglers I know swear by jigs when it comes to hooking and landing fish, in fact I myself was astounded by the increase of landed salmon and steelhead when I started to use jigs, especially the bead and pin style with top quality hooks. This high % of landed fish is obviously due to the way the hook rides in the water and the angle of pull that results from this, and also the fact that most fish are hooked in the upper snout area and the hook is penetrating the hard cartilage of the fish's mouth. When using good quality hooks I seldom need to set the hook, usually the pull of the fish is all that is needed to deeply sink the good quality hook.
The next and most important piece of the jig puzzle, is what to tie on your jigs to entice fish to bite. A whole book could and probably has been written on this topic, I will try and give some insight to what myself and other jig anglers have found works well and hopefully this will inspire you to create your own styles and patterns.
For my jig fishing I mostly stick to using materials found in your local fly fishing store and sometimes the craft store as well, the possibilities are however endless. The first thing to consider is how your jig will move under water, and will this in turn make the fish bite.
Probably the number one material used in making jigs is marabou, this fantastic feather is a very useful material when making jigs .Marabou is a very bulky feather and its ability to breathe underwater is most useful when tying jigs, the fact that it comes in a rainbow of colors is also a great attribute. When using marabou, make sure to use the soft tip part of the feather as this is the part that will give you that breathing life like quality. There are many ways to attach marabou to a jig, in clumps, spun on, or stacked along the jig shank, no way is wrong and whatever catches fish is the RIGHT way. Often I use marabou in conjunction with other materials to achieve the presentation that will get the fish biting.
Schlappen is another feather that is very useful in tying jigs, most often this feather is used by spinning it around the shank of the jig hook creating a very large profile that will stay puffed up for the life of the jig, this is known as palmering. I will often use a small piece of schlappen in the tail of my jig to add body to the tail that often is made with marabou.
Chenille, this product is another very useful one for tying jigs; it can give your jig color with a very thin profile, often a positive thing when fishing very low and clear water situations. I like to use chenille to give a jig an attracting color while using the feathers for the attraction qualities, or breathe ability. Chenille comes in a plethora of colors and I am always experimenting with this material, I suggest others do the same.
Dubbing ,this material is another one I use frequently when tying jigs ,mostly it is used to make the bodies of jigs and it helps give them a bug like quality or perhaps to just add some girth to your jig. I especially like the new UV dubbings that really glow under water, they have proven to be real fish catchers, and no one is commercially making them this way that I know of, another advantage in heavily fished waters.
Krystal Flash and other materials of this type are also of great importance when tying jigs; they really seem to add sparkle to a jig and quite possibly will attract fish when used correctly. I will often add a few strands of one of these type materials to the tails of my jigs, giving them some much needed sparkle. I also have been experimenting with very fish like jigs where the entire tail is made of blended styles of these materials and early indications are fish like these jigs and possibly mistake them for the ocean bait fish they so love, when all else fails, swim a sparkle jig through the pool and you may be amazed with the results.
Rabbit fur, this material is absolutely fabulous for tying jigs ,not only is it affordable, but it is very easy to use and comes in a multitude of colors, either used alone or in conjunction with other materials, it is a must have material for tying jigs. The most common method of using rabbit fur is to wrap it around the jig shank with the direction of the material facing away from the head, for this application rabbit strips is the way to go. Another fine use for the rabbit strips is to tie them along the top of the jig shank in a zonker style; this is an excellent method for fishy looking jigs.
There are many other materials you can use in tying jigs, these are my most common materials and I am always looking for new things to try, learning and adapting are a lifelong quest and an open mind is essential in becoming a better fisherman.
Tools for tying jigs, jigs are basically upside down flies, nothing more nothing less and as such you will be using the same tools to tie them as you would flies.
Vise, the vise is the first tool that you will need to get started; a cheap vise will do, as long as it will hold a hook. I prefer the type that clamp to tables and such as opposed to the type that have a heavy base, as the former is much more versatile.
Bobbin the is used for holding the thread you will use to tie your jigs with, again the most basic and cheap bobbin is all you need and I prefer the small simple ones myself.
Scissors are of extreme importance and you will use them often, spend the extra money and get yourself a good small pair of fly tying scissors, you will appreciate them greatly, precision cuts and tight places are the norm, so go with the best you can afford and think small.
Hackle pliers, a very important tool as well, I use these mostly for wrapping materials on the jig ,such as schlappen (palmering) and marabou, the pliers are used to grip the stem of the feather and to wrap it around the shank. I had to go thru numerous pairs before I found one I liked and it was the cheapest ones on the shelf, go figure.
Whip finish tool, this tool is used to finish off the jig by tying off the thread, I personally just use my fingers for this method, as I find it easier and with jigs being mostly larger than flies, I find no need for the whip finish tool, they are handy however.
Head cement, once your jigs are done and tied off you will want to coat the thread at the head with some kind of head cement. There are head cements available at the tackle store, but I honestly find the “hard as wraps” product at your local make up store to the best thing going, it is cheap, effective and easily obtained.
Thread is what you use to wrap materials to the jig with and is also used to create a finished head to your jig. There are a huge array of threads in a never ending amount of colors, for my tying purposes I use flat waxed thread in red, pink or black, depending on the jig I'm creating, experiment with all the types available and I'm sure you will find a favorite.
Of course there are other materials and tools used in making jigs, I have tried to give you a basic overview of what I use, and others probably have things they use and if it works for you than it is a useful item.
Fishing the jig
Again I could write a book on all the ways to fish jigs, to keep it simple I will concentrate on the two ways I have found most productive, that being, short floating jigs with a float and simply casting and working your jigs back to you with a jigging motion.
Jigs under a float
This method is one that most accomplished fisherman who have float fished will find easy and effective. The method here is to float your jig slightly above the fish to get their attention and elicit a strike, with this method a very lifelike jig seems to work best.
There are no hard fast rules to this approach, however I find that the dead drift or drag free drift is the most useful, but a jig put under tension to sort of swing it past fish can be effective also. With this technique you simply cast slightly upstream of your position and as the float and jig begin their travel downstream pick up all the slack line and try to keep slack at a minimum, your float should be sitting straight up and down, signaling that it is under no tension, most times when a fish takes it will be pulled right under, be aware of the light bite though, as this will often result in a slowed down float. The use of good quality balsa or hard plastic floats will be essential to detect light biting fish. When float fishing jigs I find that split shot spread out evenly along your mainline much more effective than pencil lead, it makes for a better drift and avoids the helicopter effect when casting. Keep in mind that fish will often be sitting a bit more off bottom than you expect, short floating jigs can be very rewarding.
This technique is probably most associated with bass fishing or deep ocean bottom fishing, but in our rivers it can be deadly. For whatever reason, but most probably because of a life like action, jigging is a sure fire way to create aggression in fish. I continue to be amazed watching salmon chase jigs, often with four or five fish all following the jig as it is worked along the bottom.
With this technique, simply cast out past the suspected fish “hold” and slowly retrieve the jig by quickly lifting the rod tip and dropping it back down, followed by retrieving the slack with the reel. Once you get the hang of this technique you will quickly recognize the technique that works best on a particular day. Sometimes the fish are hot for a fast retrieve, other days the slow and steady approach is rewarded, this is part of the fun with this method, the angler's actions play a big part in success and that in itself is rewarding.
I personally have found marabou to be a fantastic material for jigs that will be used with the jigging technique, colors are always worth experimenting with as I have had many that work well.
Be aware that when fishing over stacked salmon, foul hook ups can be a problem, I always cast to the perimeter of a group of fish and try and pull fish away from the pack, fortunately this seems to be the most productive method anyhow and foul hook ups are rare.
I hope this article will inspire others to give fishing with jigs a try, with more and more instances of bait fishing being regulated, jig's are a great alternative and are often just as deadly. Not only is it a deadly effective technique, but fishing and creating your own jigs is very much like fishing and tying flies and has similar rewards. In fact once a person becomes efficient at jig fishing I feel it will help them move into fly fishing rivers, with more confidence and understanding about the effects of fur and feathers on salmon and steelhead.
I have purposely avoided too much reference to jig patterns, specialized techniques and types of water to fish, these are things that should be awarded to an angler with time and practice and along with discovering places to fish, make the sport of angling fantastic.
Good luck on the water, Bent Rods and keep our rivers clean.
Rod Toth, Bent Rods Guiding and fishing Co.
Fraser Valley- A Fly Fishers Paradise
The Fraser Valley of British Columbia is world renowned for its lush forests and beautiful scenery, but for the fly fisherman there is so much more.
The Fraser Valley in January is normally cold and wet; temperatures are typically between 2-10 degrees with the odd colder spell that will freeze local ponds.
During this early part of the year the main focus for the fly fisher is the amazing Winter Steelhead Trout.
The Steelhead is nothing more than a Rainbow Trout which has migrated to the ocean to grow fat and silver. Three to four years of ocean feeding turns these once spotted and colorful creatures into silver sided missiles with huge energy reserves, and amazing power.
For the fly fisher these Winter Steelhead present a great challenge and formidable quarry. Cold water and large flows that often run colored make tough conditions for the angler. The most common technique fly fishers employ is that of the swung fly on a sink tip line. Typically fly fishers will use a dry line with a loop on sink tip, with type 6 and 8 being the favorites. Some anglers build their own tips using heavy T-14 line and these tips drop very quickly in the water column.
Long days and thousands of casts is the recipe for success with Winter Steelhead.
The flies used for this fishery are much varied and normally quite large. Anglers typically tie very colorful creations using all manner of materials.
Some local favorites are “popsicles” made from Marabou, “intruder” style flies both beautiful and buggy and traditional “Spey” flies also seeing much action.
While fly patterns can make a difference, Steelhead will take most bright and lively patterns put in front of them, with presentation being the key to success.
In the last few years two handed rods and huge flies have become the favored method of presenting to Winter Steelhead. This technique allows for casting huge, colorful creations and keeps line stripping to a bare minimum.
Winter Steelheading really gets going in February and stays strong until the end of April. March and April present the best opportunities for the Fly Fisher with warming air and water temperatures making both fish and angler more active.
As Winter releases her grip on the Fraser Valley, fly fishing options become many and varied.
With the warming of local rivers, Salmon fry are hatching in great numbers and many predator fish begin to target these tasty little Salmon.
Cutthroat Trout, both coastal sea runs and Fraser resident fish are determined in their single minded pursuit of Salmon fry. Small realistic fry patterns are popular for Cutthroat, with the “Rolled Muddler” a local favorite. Anglers seek out the nomadic Cutthroat in the Fraser River, her many tributaries, sloughs and backwaters.
Another predator fish that is actively feeding on fry during the spring is the Dolly Varden or Bull Trout, part of the Char family.
While these are actually two separate species, they are extremely similar and behave in much the same way. For all intents we consider them a single species and target them with the same fly fishing techniques.
The favored method for catching these aggressive fish is to cast very large attractor style flies that loosely resemble Salmon fry. Our flies for catching Bull trout can be up to six inches long and can attract fish from long distances.
The most popular technique is to cast the large weighted flies with a floating line and sink tip. Casts are made 45 degrees downstream and a quick mend is made to help the fly sink.
As the fly swings around, large strips are made to trigger the Bull Trout’s predatory instincts and strikes can be violent and spectacular.
Special attention must be given to spots that provide ambush for the Bull trout, casts made near logs and overgrown brush are often met with violent takes from a hiding fish- great sport indeed!
This fishery carries on until late May or until rivers are blown out from Spring Freshet.
While summer provides all manner of possibilities to the fly fisher in the Fraser Valley, most options are for small Trout in lakes and rivers, as well as some opportunities for Summer Steelhead in very remote locations.
Just a short trip from the Fraser Valley is the Thompson River ,and the Fly Fishing on this stream is world class.
As summer turns to fall some of the greatest fly fishing opportunities on the planet present themselves in the Fraser Valley.
In Late August on odd numbered years (2005, 2007….) the return of Millions of Pink Salmon is met with joy by
flyfFishers from around the globe.
This event must be witnessed to be appreciated; the Fraser River literally boils with these silvery little fish.
The Pink Salmon weighs from 4-10 pounds and is an eager biter. Fly anglers have had success with all manner of flies and it seems everyone has their favorite.
Pink flies with lots of sparkle and flash are my favorites and range from small and sparse to large and gaudy, depending on where you are targeting Pink Salmon.
I’ve witnessed anglers become completely arm weary from catching hundreds of Pink Salmon in a day.
The prediction for 2007 is for the return of 25 million pinks; my arms ache from the thought of all the great days ahead, fly fishing for this wonderful little Salmon.
Also of interest to the Fraser Valley fly fisher is the many other returning Salmon.
Sockeye Salmon also return in the millions to the Fraser River and early fall witnesses a great run of these hard fighting fish to the Fraser Valley’s “Harrison River”. Harrison Sockeye can be great biters and spectacular fighters, with aerial displays a trademark of these fish.
The flies we use for the Sockeye Salmon are very small and sparse, with pink, red and chartreuse being my personal favorites.
I like to target Sockeye in brackish water and use cast and strip techniques to entice them to bite.
As the Sockeye tend to school up, casting near a shoal of them and trying to draw some away from the pack is my favored method.
Another exciting sport fish for the fly fisherman is the Chum salmon. While Chum Salmon often return to the area with colorful sides and large teeth, their sporting qualities are certainly still there and I can think of no fish that puts up a more determined fight than these brutes.
Chum Salmon are typically targeted with light sink tips (type 6, 15 ft) and colorful flies.
The use of Marabou, Ostrich, schlappen feathers and other materials with much lifelike movement works well for these Salmon.
The rods of choice, are beefy 9 weight outfits with a big emphasis to having a longer butt section. Two handed rods are great for Chum fishing, with good back bone and greater line control. The key to enjoyable Chum fishing is to avoid foul hook ups. Casting downstream and very slowly swinging your fly in front and above their holding position will result in many good hookups.
Fly fishing for Chum Salmon is a full contact sport; broken gear, lost flies and the rare nasty gash typically accompany the sore arms at the days end.
Another Salmon that anglers target in the fall months is the mighty Chinook, often referred to as the King Salmon.
The Chinook is the largest of all Salmon and the Fraser River boasts one of the largest runs of wild Chinook Salmon on the planet.
From mid March until November, Chinook can be found within the Fraser River Basin.
While a few anglers access remote locations in early spring for a chance at Chinooks on the fly, typically September and October is when access to these fish is best.
Swinging large gaudy flies in the Harrison and Fraser Rivers in the fall can result in a hook up with a mighty Chinook Salmon. Hold on tight when a Chinook grabs your fly as they quickly head down river, every bit determined to go back to the ocean.
The same flies that will take Chum Salmon will catch the Chinook. Big, bright and plenty of movement is a good recipe. Dark colored “intruder” style flies have been used with good success in recent years.
Long hours are spent casting in hopes of an encounter with an awesome Fraser River Chinook, but catching one is a memory to last a lifetime.
The last of the Salmon to arrive in The Fraser Valley is the Coho Salmon, known to many anglers as the Silver Salmon.
Coho once were very abundant throughout the fall, but recently have been much easier to find late in the season.
Coho are great sport with a fly rod. Anglers prefer the use of single handed rods in 7 and 8 weights and normally use slow sinking lines or a dry line with a slow sinking, clear tip.
Flies are mostly lightly dressed ones, with a lot of flash and dark hues. Local anglers all have specialized patterns that they favor and most work well.
The key to a great day of Coho Fishing is finding a group of “players”. These Salmon will mostly be found in slow water with access to deep holes or cover. The Coho tend to stay in groups and once you are into a bite, it can usually last until the fish are spooked and move.
The technique is to cast near the group of Coho and use stripping techniques to get them to chase down your fly. Coho love to chase their food and drawing on this instinct is the best method of consistently hooking up.
Those days when the conditions are perfect, with Coho plentiful and biting well, come often enough to make this fishery quite addictive.
Fly fishing for Coho can last well into December and barely gives the angler time to clean up his gear in preparation for the arrival of Winter Steelhead once again.
The biggest dilemma for the Fly Fisher in the Fraser Valley is finding time to tie flies, as opportunities exist 365 days a year in this Fly Fishing Paradise.
Till Your Arms Hurt-
Fall Fishing the Fraser Valley
Fall time in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia is one of the great wonders of the world.
Here, on the outskirts of the beautiful city of Vancouver, is a gathering of life seldom seen in our modern world. As summer turns to fall the Pacific Salmon make their massive return to once again seed the rivers from which they were born. It is a gathering for many species. The majestic Bald Eagle arrives by the thousands, seals; fat and full of life are also in good numbers. For the angler though, it is the Salmon and the Sturgeon they have come for.
Many anglers from around the globe are now fully aware of the fantastic fishing, and most return year after year to partake in it. There are five species of Pacific Salmon found in the Fraser Valley. Four of these return every season, with the Pink Salmon only returning in odd numbered years.
The Pink Salmon are the smallest of the Pacific Salmon and make up for this with astounding numbers of returning fish. Sections of the Fraser literally boil with these small silvery fish and there are as many ways to catch them as there are places to. Anglers use shiny lures, pink colored jigs and flies of all sorts to entice Pink Salmon to bite, and catching them is almost too simple at times. Pink fishing is best during September and can last well into October.
One of the other sport fish of the Fraser Valley, the Sturgeon, is well aware of the Pink Salmon’s arrival. These behemoth fish seem to flock to the Fraser Valley at this time to gorge themselves on this bounty of fish. Some truly huge specimens are caught every fall- and pink years seem to bring out some of the biggest and fattest Sturgeon swimming our waters.
Angling for Sturgeon is best described as rugged and awesome. Sturgeon flat out fight! Long runs, magnificent jumps and fierce tug of wars almost always result in a tired angler, with shaking arms and a wide smile. Sturgeon fishing can be great most of the year, but the fall is often the best fishing, and a busy time for most guide companies.
Also lurking beneath the Fraser’s surface in the fall is the Chinook Salmon; also known as Kings. These large bodied, sharp toothed Salmon are ferocious fighters and some of the greatest sport in our rivers. Due to their aggressive nature, Chinook are caught with many different lures and the bites can be violent, nearly tearing the rod from its holder. It is very common to witness anglers floating down the Fraser River chasing a huge Chinook Salmon, often floating a mile or more before the net is used. One of the largest of Fraser Valley tributaries, the Harrison River, receives a run of fall Chinooks that grow to massive proportions. These white fleshed Chinook can weigh upwards of 70 pounds- and 50 pound Chinook are caught quite frequently. Super aggressive and hard fighting, best describe Harrison White Chinook, and many anglers come back year after year to try and catch a larger one.
As if that is not enough, the Fraser Valley also witnesses the return of millions of Chum Salmon, hundreds of thousands of Sockeye Salmon and many thousand Coho Salmon. All of the Salmon are great sport for gear and fly anglers and their timing is usually very predictable year to year. All anglers should plan on visiting the Fraser Valley of British Columbia in the fall; it is truly a one of a kind experience.
Great fishing in majestic surroundings and fighting fish till your arms hurt!