By Andy Martin
Despite an exceptional return to Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery, steelhead fishing has only been fair on the Smith the last few weeks, although some anglers have done very well.
As the river falls after the rain and snow over the weekend, anglers expect fishing to improve as the peak season gets closer. Mid-January through February are prime time for steelhead fishing on the Smith.
Through Monday, more than 450 steelhead had returned to Rowdy Creek's fish trap. That's way up from less than 200 through the same time last year.
When fishing high water, which anglers have had to face several times this season, scents can help increase success.
Some anglers like to add yarn to their bait loop and apply scent, while others will add scent to the roe they are going to be fishing.
Scents help draw fish to your bait in high, off-colored water. They also help mask human odors, which will often turn off steelhead.
Some of the best scents for winter steelhead are Pautzke's Nectar, which can be applied to yarn or added to egg cures, or Liquid Krill, which works for just about any fish, freshwater or saltwater. I know big fish like Liquid Krill because I nailed a 15-pound native rainbow on the Kenai River in Alaska this fall with yarn soaked in the scent. The Kenai's water is always colored and has limited visibility, so the fish was drawn o the yarn by the scent.
Some anglers add scents to their roe while they are curing it, but that's not always a good idea. Sometimes steelhead like plain eggs and won't bite roe with scents. When fishing two anglers aboard my boat, I'll often have one angler fish plain eggs and another use eggs soaked in scent. If one type of bait is working best, I'll have everybody use it.
Salmon can be much more particular about scents, and will even change their preference throughout the day, but steelhead are typically less finicky. That's why I generally just stick with Pautzke Nectar and Liquid Krill, but sometimes will use shrimp oil, sand shrimp oil or even crawfish.
When fishing plugs, like Hot Shots, FlatFish or Kwikfish, Pautzke Gel Krill can be smeared on the lures to draw fish to them. Gel Krill is also perfect for smearing on Spin-N-Glos when plunking on the lower Smith.
Adding scents to roe
Before launching, I cut roe into dime- to nickel-size pieces in place and place in small plastic containers lined with a paper towel. I'll add several drops of the Liquid Krill to one of the containers so it will soak into the baits.
Although I don't add the scents to the eggs while curing, I use Pautzke Fire Cure, which includes krill. I also use a borax cure for steelhead.
If you do decide to add scent to eggs while curing, wait until the eggs juice up and then add the scent before the liquid is reabsorbed by the eggs, usually about 12 hours into the curing process. When it comes to winter steelhead fishing, anglers employ five basic techniques: drift fishing, side drifting, plunking, pulling plugs and floating a jig below a bobber. All are highly effective, and each shines during specific water conditions.
Outdoors writer Andy Martin, a former editor of Fishing & Hunting News, runs a halibut charter boat in the Gulf of Alaska during the summer and guides on America's Wild Rivers Coast during the winter. His Web site is www.wildriversfishing.com.