Now, thirty years later I am battling ten to twenty-pound metalheads. After a great day’s fishing, I find myself at the local pub, telling about the biggest fish of the day. I am often asked, “What ya gettin’ em on?” I lower my head, think for a second, and blurt out a complete lie—”Stone flies.”
Perhaps my fishing ego is too large to tell the truth—that they were caught on a simple bobber and worm—as if I am less of an angler, as if others will look down at me unless I am using something fancy and different.
Back to basics, my friends. The more I go back to basics, the more fish I catch. The rigs are easy to tie, which keeps my line in the water. There are very few snags due to the float, which keeps my presentation off the bottom, and when my float goes under, it is usually a fish.
Drifting nightcrawlers, egg sacs and jigs from a float are some of the easiest and most effective ways to catch steelhead. But it’s not as easy as walking in the river and casting a bobber and worm and holding on tight. The key is to perfect this technique and place it in the right spots.
Most anglers will start fishing this spot by first walking out into the river to make a cast to the outer bank. Big mistake. Remember, just because you have waders on, it doesn’t mean you have to use them. There have been many days where I had my waders on all day and barely got my feet wet. Fishermen will often trounce on the water where the steelhead are holding, before their first cast! Steelhead will often hold in the inner slack-water and feed, especially at first light.
The fish have found a good resting spot and they get a great look at your presentation moving slowly toward them. Rarely can a steelhead resist the temptation of a juicy nightcrawler or egg sac drifting through their holding water. Dolly Varden also love this technique, exclusively with nightcrawlers. Having said that, dollies will often stir up the slack-water during the fight, therefore, spooking the steelies. So, in order to target steelhead, start with egg sacs, then eventually move to crawlers. Don’t get me wrong, I love catching Dolly Varden, but you must get your licks in for steelhead first, then play with the dollies.
With so many varieties of floats on the market, choose the one that works best for you and one that’s easy to adjust along your line. Adjusting the float must be done until you have reached a good depth where you are not hitting bottom too often. Also, use enough weight that helps your presentation to drift along the bottom, and also enough weight to where your stick float is straight up and down, not on its side. Once you achieve the ideal depth and weight, your presentation should be right in the faces of the fish and hopefully it will end up in their jaws.
There are many different rig schemes for float fishing. Here is a simple one: drop down to a six-pound test leader from a ten-pound main line, and add three, size 7 split shot,18 inches above your hook. Spread out the split-shot a few inches apart. Make sure the hook is not too big. I use a size 8 or 10 Mustad fly-tying egg hook. Yes, tiny! Again, the length of your leader will vary, so try to “guesstimate” the depth of the water and work your way down. K.I.S.S.