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Chasing Bigger Steelhead by Jerid Doering

big steelhead fishing

Ike, The Unicorn, The Slob, The "You Should Have Seen It Man!!," The Great White Buffalo (whisper... great white buffalo). It has many names.

They are unforgettable and unless you have been hiding under a rock in the steelheading world for the last millennia you know what it is. The famed “oversized steelhead.” I say oversized because I think 20-pound steelhead have become this nasty misnomer. I don’t know of any steelhead angler worth his three to four salt that wouldn’t get a little shaky over seeing any steelhead over 16 pounds jumping out of the water on the first hookset.

Words like "Holy...(insert expletive)" usually get said. Faces fill with awe. Ginger handling. Giggling. You aren’t reeling in an 18 pounder and going "ahhh it ain’t 20" dropping your tip and heading for the woods like it’s a snag. You are screaming like a little girl trying to tape it hoping your buddy can hold the fish because you noticed he is shaking worse than you.

"Bill that’s the second time you've dropped the tail, you are married to my sister but I swear if you don’t hold this fish…!"

underwater steelhead release fishing

So you want to catch one?

Well, it just so happens that I have caught a few and I have been around a lot of people who have too. Let’s break it down.

First off. Get away from the hatchery holes. Very few hatcheries produce consistent oversized fish. I will tell you which do. Any broodstock program and the Quinault in Washington State. Plain and simple. All Google accessible. Both produce big hatchery steelhead for the same reason.

So when you get away from the hatcheries next up you need a stream that actually produces oversized steelhead. Again, Google, talk to steelheaders, make friends, I know it’s not Facebook, but you can actually talk to guys on the river. Take 50% of what they say as total fabricated lies, entertaining! But lies nonetheless.

"Frank I’m serious, this sockeye was 30 pounds on the mark! Tommy saw it!"

But get a fisherman talking... he rarely stops. Research. Plenty of information everywhere on where to catch big fish. Second time I have mentioned Google or third. Yes? Okay just checking.

I have a few quotes from really good fisherman that I have heard that I think embody catching oversized steelhead.

steelhead fishing lael johnson jerid doering cowlitz steelhead beads

Heard a guy at the Sportsman Show in Washington State say this to a well-known, prominent guide on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington:

“Big plugs catch big fish."

He looked very non-plussed and responded

"Smaller plugs catch all fish." 

Just talking to my guide friend in Oregon and I quote: "Well you can fish a #5 Blue Fox and catch 10 fish and 3 will be oversized fish, or you can fish beads and catch 15-20 and 3 or 4 will be oversized." 

steelhead limits fishing lael johnson jerid doering jared cady

I mention guides because they fish almost every day of every month they can, every year. They have the most applicable knowledge of anybody you can come in contact with these days with few exceptions. Hint.

I can say the first few oversized fish I have landed were on huge Spin-n-Glos, Corkies, huge Cheaters on short leaders and big chunks of lead drift fishing.

That first hookset was like hooking into a Bullet.

Fishing heavy water and all the water I could drift fishing. My biggest steelhead ever came on an almost micro jig with a tiny tuft of red marabou in gin, low-clear water. Yeah, that will make you scratch your head. There are a lot of factors that must line up to hook an oversized steelhead. But I think two different baits for any angler will increase your hookups for all steelhead.

Big beads and worms on jig heads. I said it.

It’s not a secret but I think it is overlooked.

Medium to large-sized beads like the ones from BnR, will pretty much catch you every steelhead that swims with a bonus oversized thrown in when fishing the peak “big boy season”. 

Heck, you can even double down if the regulations permit and fish both at the same time with a worm on a jig head and bead dropper. I have hooked some seriously large steelhead on big beads. Even 18mm and 20mm. Whoa. Big. But, those same beads produce smolts, 9 pounders, cutthroat, coho, Chinook and pretty much anything that has eyes.

beads steelhead fly nymph soft beads fishing

What I’m getting at is that you aren't diminishing your chances of hooking a normal-sized fish and even maybe, MAYBE increasing your chances at all steelhead. Old-timers on the Olympic Peninsula have been whacking big and all fish for over 50 years on "Sol Duc/Hoh river" bobbers. Corkies you can use for a bobber/float they are so big! Yet cookie-cutter hatchery fish bite them. As do huge monsters. Same thing with worms. Worms on jigs stay down in heavy water, they fish consistently, they are large and visible.

You just spelled out any successful bait for steelhead. 

Two more pieces of advice that are similar.

If you catch a hen in a hole, keep fishing. If you keep catching hens, keep fishing. Chances are Big Ike is in there. Can’t tell you how many times I hooked either the big buck first and then 3 to 5 hens or the other way around. Switch tactics and throw everything and the bathroom sink in there, no technique is too weird.

steelhead soft bead fishing

A guy I know hooked two oversized steelhead in three casts on a rubber herring, yeah bet that will bake your noodle for a minute. The other piece of advice is: If you catch a big one, see a big one caught, or even hear that “Bob hooked a monster in a hole,” fish the crap out of it.

Big fish love the same type of spots. Sometimes that water is hard to spot from the surface. Big steelhead can be found in any good-looking water, but trenches are my number 1 big fish spot. Once you hook a monster from the depths he has given you a good piece of info, use it.

Hope this helps. Remember we are all in this together, I’m pullin' for ya. 

- written by Jerid Doering

 


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