By Andy Martin

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.

Drift fishing

The most common method used to catch steelhead, drift fishing is relatively easy to learn, but often takes years to master. The basic concept is to present baits - usually small roe clusters and a Corky - naturally by casting upstream and letting the current drift it downstream. The basic rigging is a 2- to 4-foot leader with a size 2 to 2/0 hook. An egg loop knot is tied to the hook to attach the roe. The leader is tied to a barrel swivel, with is attached to the mainline. When tying on the mainline, leave a 2-inch tag, on which a 1- to 2-inch section of hollow-core pencil lead can be pinched on. A slinky can also be attached to a snap swivel. The rig is cast upstream at a 45-degree angle. Ideally, the weight will tap bottom every couple of seconds as it naturally drifts down. Start at the head of the water you are fishing and cast out 10 feet, and then increase the distance of each cast about 5 feet to effectively cover all the water before moving down 10 feet and repeating the process. After the water is covered, move on to the next spot. Steelhead will generally bite as soon as they see the bait.

Side drifting

Done from a drift boat or sled on the Klamath, side-drifting is highly effective, as it allows anglers to cover lots of water and present bait as natural as possible. Rig up the same way you would for drift fishing. The person operating the boat either rowing or running the kicker motorwill get the boat in position as the anglers cast to the side. The boat is then allowed to slip downstream just fast enough to allow the baits to naturally drift down without being drug downstream. You want a natural presentation.


Very effective as the Smith River drops from high water conditions, plunking allows anglers to present their bait in travel lanes where steelhead will come across them as they head upstream. Remember, steelhead will take the easiest path upstream, which is often 5 to 20 feet from shore. This is where casts should be made. Rig up similar to drift fishing, but instead of using pencil lead, use a larger pyramid sinker that will stay where it is cast. A larger Spin-N-Glo is often used ahead of the bait to float it off the bottom and attract steelhead to the bait.

Pulling plugs

Plugs like Hot Shots, Flat Fish, Fat Fish and Kwikfish are very effective for steelhead. By holding a boat against the current, the water flow will work the plugs and entice strikes from aggressive fish. It is important to let out the same amount of line usually around 40 feon each rod to create a wall of plugs.

Bobber and jig

As rivers become low and clear, jigs fished below bobbers are effective. A bobber and jig is also one of the best ways of fishing in boulder-strewn streams. Bobbers can be fixed or sliding with a bobber stop.

Outdoors writer Andy Martin, a former editor of Fishing andamp; 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