By Andy Martin
SMITH RIVER As fall salmon season gives way to winter steelhead season on the Smith River, some anglers are finding themselves in a bind. Bright steelhead are already showing up, but to catch them you need fresh roe. Or do you?
A variety of other baits will catch steelhead if they are presented correctly. Plunkers catch plenty of steelhead each year on the Smith simply still-fishing with a large Spin-N-Glo, but for drift-fishing, adding bait or scent to your offering is often needed to prompt a strike.
Here are five alternatives to roe for steelheaders anxious to hook into their first fish of the year.
Ball of fire
Pautzke's Balls of Fire single salmon eggs have long been a favorite bait for trout anglers. But those same single salmon eggs you buy in a little jar will also catch steelhead if tied into an egg sack, known to some anglers as "berries." Simply take four or five of the Pautzke eggs, add a pink Puff Ball, and create an egg sack with netting available at most tackle shops. Don't add too many eggs. Usually less than half a dozen is all that's needed. Aside from the red eggs, yellow and orange ones are also available. Slide on the hook and fish just like roe. Steelhead love them.
Tie several up before fishing. Because a Puff Ball is added while they are tied, there is no need to add a Corky or additional Puff Ball when you fish them.
After a heavy rain, lots of worms and night crawlers are washed from people's lawns into the Smith River. Often overlooked, night crawlers make excellent steelhead bait. Thread half a night crawler up your hook and add a red or orange Puff Ball to create an egg-sucking leach, which can be very effective for steelhead.
Corky and yarn
Another surprisingly overlooked steelhead bait is a plain Corky with yarn added to an egg loop. Add scent like Pautzke Liquid Krill or sand shrimp oil to draw steelhead in. Pink, peach, pearl and orange are good colors to try. The yarn also sticks to a steelhead's teeth and keeps it from immediately spitting the bait out.
Use the smaller-size Corkies. If the water is high or dirty, use two small Corkies instead of a larger one.
This may seem far-fetched, but steelhead will grab balls of Power Bait rolled up in spawn sack netting, which keeps it from washing off the hook. Power Bait has powerful bite stimulants and was created to trick trout it striking. It can work for steelhead, too. The stuff naturally floats, so it doesn't easily get snagged. Bright colors often trigger steelhead to strike, so use pink, neon yellow or bright red.
Marshmallow and egg
This seems to work better for late-season steelhead on their way back to the ocean after spawning, but a small marshmallow combined with a single Pautzke salmon egg or a small piece of night crawler can be a dynamite steelhead bait. The marshmallow adds the floatation, while the egg or worm create the scent that steelhead like. After steelhead spawn, they begin to feed on their way back downstream, so that's why it works so well late in the season.