Tandem Trout & Steelhead | Story & Photos by Scott Haugen
One of my favorite times to hit the river during the course of the year is when the nights start cooling and the first rains hit.
It doesn’t take much to drop the water temperature a couple of degrees, and when this happens, fish grow more active. One trip to consider taking this time of year is a combination adventure for rainbow trout and summer steelhead.
Summer steelhead runs took an upswing in some rivers this year—hopefully, that’s a sign of good things to come—and September is a great time to get after them.
With the cooling conditions, these fish will become more active.
If looking to optimize the chance of catching both fish in one trip, consider fishing for both at the same time. To do this, a universal approach is needed.
With cooling temperatures, summer steelhead grow more active this time of year, and there’s nothing like catching these beautifully marked fish in the fall.
You’ll need to downsize your steelhead gear in order to catch trout or upsize your trout gear in order to hook, fight, and land feisty summer steelhead.
A heavyweight trout rod or lightweight steelhead rod is a good starting point. Spool a spinning reel with 8-pound test line and you’re set with the main gear.
I like P Line’s CXX Xtra Strong in green, as it’s the strongest copolymer line I’ve used which maintains a true, small diameter that makes it easy to cast, and it holds up to abrasions often encountered when fishing in rivers.
Next comes the fishing methods.
Today, a lot of folks are taking up fishing for the first time, or coming back to it later in life, after having experienced a couple of memorable trips as a kid. So, we’re going to keep it basic here; simple gear that catches fish.
Let’s start with fishing lures. Tie a size 10 barrel snap swivel to your mainline. Then clip a Thomas Buoyant lure to it. I like the 1/4 oz. gold and copper model of this lure, as they’ve produced more fish for me, in a variety of waters, over the decades, than any other lure.
You’ll also always find me with a selection of green, white, black, and rainbow-colored 1/4 oz. Rooster Tails. With Rooster Tails, tie them directly to your mainline rather than using a snap swivel, as this will optimize their action.
Simply cast these lures out and slowly retrieve them as the current carries them downstream. Cast on the edges of riffles, around rocks, and into shady areas. These are key places where both trout and steelhead will hold this time of year.
If wanting to fish bait and optimize the odds of catching both trout and steelhead, go to a nightcrawler and drift fish it along the bottom. Forget the single egg for trout, right now, as well as the cured egg cluster for steelhead. A single egg is a bit small for steelhead, and trout will peck an egg cluster apart without getting hooked.
A nightcrawler pinched in half and threaded on to a size 4 or 6 worm hook, is tough to beat when going after both trout and steelhead.
After tying the worm hook directly to the mainline, add enough weight to the line so you can cast it a good distance. Add removable split-shot sinkers 24- to 30-inches above the hook. Removable split-shots allow you to quickly change weights until you find exactly how much is enough to keep your terminal gear bouncing along the bottom without getting constantly hung up on rocks. One of the biggest mistakes made by anglers is not using enough weight when drifting bait.
This trout couldn’t resist a 1/4 oz. Thomas Buoyant, one of the best all-around lures out there. Steelhead also love this lure, and it’s easy for beginners to fish.
If the worm is large and heavy, try adding a Lil’ Corky above it, to help keep it afloat. A size 12 or 14 Corky is big enough to add a little lift, but small enough trout will still strike, and it adds more color, something trout, and steelhead key in on. Adding Night Crawler scent made by Pro-Cure, to your worm, can also help attract fish, as they are largely dependent on their sense of smell.
If you’re a fly angler, it’s hard to beat a Muddler Minnow this time of year. Both trout and steelhead love this pattern and fished just beneath the surface, it can be very effective. The same can be said for a Teeny Nymph; it’s a great all-around fly that’s proven to catch trout and steelhead. You can fish these presentations while wading the shoreline, or back trolling from a pontoon or drift boat.
These are just some of the basic ways to hit the river and simultaneously target trout and late-season summer steelhead.
If you can rig a couple rods with different terminal gear and experiment with both, often, you’ll increase the odds of catching fish. Of course, there’s no substitute for spending time on the water, learning as much as you can every minute you’re out there, which is a great excuse to simply go fishing.
- written by Scott HAugen
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