By Andy Martin
Few anglers have had a bigger impact on salmon and steelhead fishing on the West Coast than Buzz Ramsey, the person who introduced plug fishing for steelhead to the masses, made Kwikfish a household name among Chinook fishermen and spent three decades promoting top techniques for coldwater fisheries.
Buzz was a regular fishing partner of the late Willie Illingworth of Willie Boats during the enhancement derbies on the Smith and Chetco rivers. During one of those derbies a few years ago, Buzz tried a new technique on the Smith River. Instead of side-drifting roe and Puff Balls like everybody else, Buzz flipped a pink PowerBait Steelhead Worm fished below a float into the green waters of the Smith, and to the surprise of the anglers who witnessed it, watched the bobber disappear, followed by the splash of a steelhead.
As the staff salmon and steelhead expert for Pure Fishing, the parent company of Berkley, Abu Garcia, Fenwick and Stren, Buzz has spent the last two years perfecting float fishing for steelhead using Berkley PowerBait scent-filled worms and Berkley Gulp! baits.
Fishing with Buzz last week in Tillamook, Ore., I got a chance to see first-hand how effective the PowerBait worms suspended below a bobber are for winter steelhead as we drifted the Wilson, Nehalem and Nestucca rivers.
"This method performs best when rivers are medium to low in height, when fishing slow-water areas or current edges," Ramsey says.
The technique is especially effective on larger wild steelhead. It provides a natural presentation and triggers strikes from steelhead that have been pounded by side-drifters floating by with roe clusters and often bite because of the different-looking bait that is floating by.
Fishing a steelhead worm under a float is also a good way for beginner steel headers to detect a strike. Instead of trying to decipher a light bite from a steelhead from a tap of the bottom, the bite with a float when fished correctly is obvious. "When your bobber goes down, signaling that a fish has taken your bait, immediately set the hook," Ramsey says.
There are a few keys to fishing steelhead worms. Berkley PowerBait and Berkley Gulp! pink worms already include scent, an important ingredient for steelhead fishing. "Gulp! is a water soluble, biodegradable bait that contains the strongest fish-attracting scent ever developed and disperses it up to 400 times more than equivalent plastic baits," says Ramsey, who adds it often outfishes live bait.
The worms are fished with a jighead for a horizontal presentation. When a 4-inch hot pink worm is naturally floating a foot above the bottom with no line in sight because it is coming from above the bait, steelhead can't resist striking it, whether it's out of curiosity, or for a quick snack.
Buzz has developed 16 models of salmon and steelhead rods for Berkley sold under the Air IM7 name.
Floating super or braided lines work better for float fishing because they cause less drag in the water than monofilament. Buzz likes Fireline as a mainline, fished with a 2-foot section of Trilene Professional Grade fluorocarbon connecting the jighead and steelhead worm.
"For best results, suspend your bait below your float half to two-thirds of the way toward river bottom," Ramsey says. Three feet is a good starting point. If you bobber isn't vertical, you are probably tapping bottom or have drag in your line. The longer rod allows you to pick the line up from the water to allow the float to drift down naturally.
More tips for Buzz's hot new technique appear on my Web site. Visit www.wildriversfishing.com/buzz.html.
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.