Steelhead Fishing

Fishing Again

Well, I got some new wheels and the rain finally let up so we were able to hit the river once again!

Although it’s still fairly early in our winter steelhead season, there were a lot of dark fish and kelt. We didn’t see many native fish, but the one we did see was dime bright and in perfect condition which is always a great sign. We brought a few good keepers to the boat and definitely enjoyed the nice weather and good company! We had one guy that beat his personal best steelhead size and one guy that got his first steelhead ever!

It was awesome to be back out, and hopefully I can keep up with my studies to allow for at least 1 day a weekend fishing!

A Blessed Start To The New Year


It’s our tradition to fish January 1st, no matter what the water conditions are. We actually had great conditions for Friday and headed out with our friend Trenton who is still a little green to the fishing sport.

We ended up getting to be first boat down the river and in the very first hole, I hooked up. You’d swear I never fought a fish in my life. Jeff loosened all the drags the night before (because it’s bad for the reels to always have the drag tightened) and we forgot to tighten them back up. It was a big huge steelhead mess as I tried to find the right tension while fighting a fish that had free reign over my line. I ended up losing that but we got all the rest of the drags set appropriately :)

After the third hole, we found a pod a fish. It took a bit of work pulling the boat back upstream after each fish, but we managed to go 2/3 out of that hole.

The rest of the day had the same landing ratio, but we had a great time. Jeff likes to get the boat limited, even if he doesn’t want to bring home any fish so he was a little frustrated that we ended up going 4/10 when there was 3 of us and we should have had all 6 hatchery fish by 9 AM. Trenton and I had a fantastic time and got quite a few laughs in despite our “sometimes grumpy captain that let a few swear words slip.”

We were headed back to the river with our friend Andrew Saturday morning and we noticed that it was a bit foggy and icy when we left the house. The morning was full of ironies which we realized after the next thing happened…..

We were headed on I5 south near Nisqually when out of nowhere, we began sliding. Jeff was driving, Andrew was front passenger, and I was behind the driver seat. What seemed like the next 30 seconds was probably only 4 seconds. We slid across 4 lanes on the freeway, hit the guardrail, and flipped a few times eventually landing upside down in the far right lane. The boat thankfully detached sometime between hitting the guardrail and flipping and ended up in front of the truck about 50 feet.

After we stopped moving, we all gave our noises indicating we were okay and got ourselves out of the truck and off the freeway immediately. Thankfully, a few others stopped to call 911 for us and ensure that we were in relatively good condition. Jeff took an ambulance ride for some minor back discomfort and some X-Rays just to be cautious. The drift boat, rods, tackle, waders, etc were all recovered and in perfect condition to our knowledge. The truck on the other hand, isn’t going to seeing anymore boat launches.

I shared on Facebook around 11 AM and the support and concern was overwhelming. Literally, overwhelming and I ended up turning my phone off so that I could try to get some rest. We are all still doing fine other than some bruises and soreness. I’ve experienced a lot of support from our fishing community but this was by far the most. There were several people in the morning that made posts regarding the accident just sending prayers and wishes to the unknown victims. A few friends drove by and recognized our truck and stopped to check on us although we had already left the scene for the hospital. The amount of prayers we received reinforced my feeling of love and support from our amazing industry and circle of friends that share our passion. It just goes to show that fishing is so much more than a fish.

It wasn’t the way we wanted to start our New Year, but we are all feeling blessed beyond words. The Man Upstairs had his angels looking out for us and I’m a great believer that everything that happens to us, was supposed to happen. There is no doubt that we were meant to be in that accident and walk away essentially unscathed. Who knows if I’ll ever find a reason or understand why, but perhaps it’s just to keep us grateful for our lives.

1st Winter Steelhead Trip

We finally got to head back out fishing after the long closures in our state to ensure coho returned to the hatchery and to successfully spawn. The rivers were in shape, and we were anxious to hit the water!

Saturday started off pretty good as far as hook ups go, but not so great on the land ratio. We watched a few trees fall in from the dropping water (pressure against the loose banks from the high water is released as the river drops) and watched the dirt and mud follow creating almost no visibility for that bank. The lower in the river we went, the more clarity we lost and as the afternoon went on, we hooked up less and less.

Sunday was a very slow start but quite the opposite as Saturday. We went 8 for 10 so our landing ratio was great and we worked hard to stay above the falling banks and trees to keep our clarity. I think at the end of the weekend, we only hooked 2 fish on eggs! The rest were either on yarn balls, cured prawn, or sandshrimp rags.

My favorite presentation at Steelhead University this year was Cody Herman’s and this was the perfect time to put my new knowledge to use. It became a little joke because I was trying to convince the boat that the fish would hold on the opposite side of the river as the slide, even if the bank with the slide is where we would normally catch fish, inside and softer edges, maybe deeper, etc. I didn’t think the fish would want to swim/breath in the muddy river with all the silt because it gets in their gills, and their migration path would move from the bank to either the middle of the river, or the opposite side.

Jeff wanted to make fun of me, but we actually ended up catching over half of our fish on the opposite side of the muddy bank. Thank you Cody!!! It could be a variety of reasons why this happened including coincidence, but I was excited and felt that I was able to contribute to the captaining which is rare.

It was a great weekend and while I only landed 2 fish, one was this great 13lb hatchery buck. The rest of the boat landed hatchery hens so we got a few quarts of eggs to make up for what we weren’t able to get during coho season :)

Back at it next weekend and I get 3 days to fish! Then, I’m starting the last leg of my educational journey……..Starting to study for the CPA exams. Woohoo!

Steelhead University Notes

Kelcey Berto, Ashley Lewis and Bryanna Zimmerman showing off new women’s G Loomis hoodies

Steelhead University – Winter Steelhead 2015 was probably the best fishing seminars I’ve attended. Not only was it full of some of the most knowledgeable speakers in Oregon and Washington, the place was crawling with knowledge filled veteran anglers to share stories and tips with.

Nick Amato and Ty Wyatt sharing stories 

The venue was Sportco which was awesome because we got to go buy the products that the speakers shared (good marketing, eh). They also offered tons of discounts that made it worth attending and in my case, I saved more in discounts than the price of a ticket to Steelhead University.


Another bonus? TONS of free give gear was given away, Louie G’s pizza, cookies, and Starbucks coffee was free!

And to start the morning at 6 AM, Northwest Wild Country hosted several of the presenters to get us pumped and ready for a steelhead packed day and then came down to Sportco to join the party.

Duane Inglin and Joel Shangle from Northwest Wild Country

 Scott Haugen – Diversifying Your Approaches to Catch More Fish

Big Water:                                                                                                      

  • At least 10’ rod
  • Preferably spinning because the reel will hold more line which allows you to fish further and cast easier
  • Braided main line – it’s well worth the investment. Not only can you fish the same spool for at least a year, you can spool it back up and then flip it around so the fresh line is back on top. It’s like having brand new line that’s never seen daylight or water.
  • Typically around 50lb braid. Not for the weight, but the diameter is bigger and it floats on the surface better than a thin diameter line.
  • Sliding float set up: stop\bead\float\swivel\leader

Small Water:

  • Generally start with a float/jig set up and switch to drift fishing if that doesn’t produce a bite
  • 7’6”-8” rod
  • Spinning reel
  • 25lb braid
  • Fixed float set up because it gets down immediately for smaller holes or casting right behind rocks.
  • Move the stop until you begin dragging the bottom then adjust it 8-12” so that you are that far from the bottom
    • Snell’s Window is the view in which fish can see. Basically put a funnel on the top of the fish’s head and this is where they can see. This means is always better to be above the fish than below the fish
  • You can tie a 18-24” dropper leader from the jig with a bead or corky
    • This creates action for the jig and the jig creates action for the corky
  • If drift fishing, use a sliding weight so you can control your leader length to each hole
  • When bank fishing, try to carry as much as you can on your body. If you’re busy walking back and forth to the bank to tie up, bait up, or get some pliers, you aren’t creating an opportunity to catch a fish.


  • 8’6” rod
  • 15-17lb test
  • Tune plugs to ensure they are running straight and not flipping
    • Maglips have a naturally erratic movement, but should not flip
  • Try to use a plug with a rattle to produce more sound and vibration
  • Your goal is to irritate the fish enough to make them want to attack


Cody Herman – Water Hydraulics and Fish Behavior

Small Rivers blow quickly and recover quickly

Precipitation Absorption: Pay attention to the type of terrain at the head waters of your river system

  • Big slope with clear cuts is going to produce more mud and faster. These rivers will blow faster
  • Rivers like the Willamette will lose clarity faster because there is nowhere for the rain/mud to absorb into the ground because it’s surrounded by a concrete city
  • Head waters with a lot of lush, green bank with a lot of trees might rise, but generally won’t lose much clarity
  • Steeper gradient surroundings will move larger objects like boulders (Olympic Peninsula is a good example of this)
  • Contrary to most people think, a rising river with good clarity is the most ideal condition
  • Headwaters clear faster than the lower river so when the rivers are blowing, keep moving upstream to find better fishing water

Where to find fish:

  • Inside bends will have more sediment which isn’t always good, but the outside bends will have heavy current
  • Head of hole will always have more oxygen and will be cooler as the water cycles and turns up from the bottom
  • Think about where you weight is placed in the water column and the type of bottom:
    • Bottom third of river will have moving sediment, and big rocks rolling and will be significantly slower than the surface speed
    • The middle of the column will have the strongest speed because it has no obstacles or interruptions
    • The surface is faster than the bottom, but the wind can greatly slow it down
  • Steelhead may lay in front a rock because it’s clean and warmer; behind the rock may kick up too much sediment.
    • You’ll need to determine the bottom of the river to determine whether the fish will be behind or the bottom because that sediment will be the only thing keeping the fish from laying behind a rock

Light Absorption:


  • Low albedo=high absorption
  • High albedo=low absorption – light penetrates and heats the water to the bottom. Bottoms like sand heat faster thank rock
  • Muddy rivers grab and hold energy
  • Fish the edges because there is less sediment and stream power
  • Use contrasting colors in low clarity water


  • Change the color/size/scent/etc every 5-10 casts until you can develop a pattern
  • Keep a log and view trends frequently
  • Garlic in warm water, anise in cold water
  • Squid for steelhead


Mike Zavadlov – Trophy Steehead Tactics (+photography tips)

Float Fishing Set up

  • 9’6”-10’ float rod
  • 30lb Power Pro
  • 3/8-1/2 oz float with 3/8oz weight and ¼ oz jig
  • Center Pin with 15lb mono – no braid on center pins


  • Black, white, or green jigs with 2/o hook
  • Nightmare jigs are great as well
  • His favorites are jigs with orange or pink beads on the collar
  • Rig worms wacky style (tail up and hook comes out halfway through the worm)
  • Rig worms normal with tail down and threaded all the way through the worm with the hook coming out where the tail flattens
  • Colorado spinner blade under a  float but making sure you have a good swivel is key

Other tips:

  • Hi-vis main line for plugs with 20lb leader
    • Use nail knot to tie leader/mainline
  • When sidedrifting 10-12lb leader with cheater between 2 hooks when legal to fish 2 hooks.

Photography tips:

  • Nikon D700 or you iPhone6 actually has a great camera
  • Most important to have a fast lense (2.8) with good low light condition features
  • 24-70mm allows for no fish eye effect or distortion
  • If light conditional allow, don’t use a flash so the fish doesn’t get washed out
  • Cradle the fish’s head and keep the head in the water
  • Place the fish head in one corner of the frame, and the angler in the other corner and only focus on those 2 things; the rest of the picture will come into place
  • Try to fill up the entire frame with the fish and angler


Ty Wyatt – Bead Fishing for Steelhead


                                                      Ty uses Quinnault Guide Ashley Lewis as a “river”

From a boat (fixed set up):

  • 30lb braid with top shot of fluorocarbon
  • Add a dropper from a jig with a bead

 From a boat (sliding set up):

  • Essentially bobberdoggin
  • Leader should be about 3ft
  • Cast upstream and drag behind the boat
  • The slower the water, the less weight – you want the bead and the bobber to float at the same speed
  • Don’t use a yarnie and bead (on a dropper) bobberdoggin because the buoyancy and speed are too different

 From the bank:

  • Fish you float straight up and down or pointing downstream (indicating you are dragging the bottom) is okay as well
  • Use a small float because heavy ones take too much effort to set the hook

Pegging the bead:

  • Allow the bead to slide on the leader so that it moves freely between 3-4 inches
  • Don’t let the bead sit right on the hook because it closes the gap on the hook
  • Allowing too much room for the hook to slide may result in foul hooked fish
  • Don’t set the hook really hard, simply reel down until you feel the fish

Terminal gear:

  • Octopus hook – fine wire, but string metal
  • Black hook over red to be stealthier
  • Hook size 4, 2, 1 (10mm bead)
    • The biggest hook you can get away with without snagging up
  • 15lb test
  • Uses acrylic beads more than soft plastics because the soft plastics get hard and become heavier than you originally started with
  • Change the color of the bead depending on the bottom and water clarify
    • Example: dark bottom and a blue bead don’t work well
  • Fast snap instead of swivel; snap leader with Duncan loop
  • Gel scents or add a little piece of bait on the hook if you want bait, although it’s not necessary


Terry Wiest – Float Fishing for Steelhead

Strike Zone:

  • 6”-2’ from the bottom
  • Move the stop until you begin dragging the bottom then adjust it 6-24” so that you are that far from the bottom
  • If it’s extremely cold, you’ll need to have your presentation closer to the fish than if it’s warm.
    • They get lethargic  and won’t want to move far to bite your presentation
  • If you find a snag, cast right on the snag so that you drop in right next to the snag; fish prefer this cover
  • Fish the seams of current
  • Fish behind boulders which is where fish can get more oxygen to rest
    • Fish on each side of the boulder
    • Fish boulders hard trying to present from every angle
  • Avoid holes with sandy bottoms


  • 9-15’ designed for float fishing
    • Longer than 11’ designed for center pin set ups
  • 6-15lbs
  • GLOOMIS IMX 1262 6-12lb $395
  • GLOOMIS 1262 6-10lb $325
  • GLOOMIS E6X 6-12lb $240


  • The most important thing is a good drag system
  • Shimano reels: Stella, Stradic, Symetre


  • 30lb Power Pro – The thicker diameter floats better and is easier to see
  • Hi-Vis and you can black out the first few feet with a Sharpie if you’re concerned with the fish seeing it
  • Fluorocarbon leader 5-12lb – Lighter and more limp for a more natural presentation

When jig fishing, follow this equation: Float size= weight + jig head weight


Bob Kratzer –Plug Fishing

7’10” heavy rod with medium action

 Bass Style Plugs:

  • Storm Wiggle Warts
  • Brad’s Wiggler’s
  • Yakima Fat Fish
  • Luhr Jensen Hot Shots

Banana Style:

  • Luhr Jensen Kwikfish
  • Yakima Flat Fish
  • Brad’s Killer Fish

Combo Style:

  • Heddon Tadpolly’s
  • Yakima Maglips (these have an erratic action, but should not flip)


  • Always clean your plugs with Dawn, Lemon Joy or Crest Original
  • Add scent: shrimp, craw/anise, anise, squid, tuna
  • Pinch the barb on the belly hook so that when the fish rolls with line, it doesn’t get cut on the barb
  • If running a single hook, use barrel swivel in the middle to compensate for the missing weight of the hook
  • Use a bent hook shank at the eye for better hook up ratio

Bank fishing:

  • Side planer: 30lb hi-vis mono/Casting: 30lb hi-vis braid
  • Leader: 20lb

Boat fishing:

  • Use a line counter or mark the feet with a bobber stop
  • Let the fish commit to hooking itself instead of you doing it
  • The higher the water, the slower you should back them down.
    • But if the water is clear and extremely cold, move slow as well
  • Let out at least 60-100’ unless it’s a short run because the bite takes so long to commit
  • Action speed should be fast-slow-fast (not consistently the same)

Wrapping Plugs:

  • Kratzer prefers to put bait in a spawn sack and simply hook it on the middle hook
  • This allows him to quickly change the bait and have many different options that he can prepare the night before
  • Dime size or smaller sacks
  • Can use sardine, eggs, prawn, shrimp, tuna, squid, anything

Tuning Plugs:

  • Tune your plugs so that they run straight and even (not pulling to one side or flipping)
  • Hold in the water and feel it – don’t pull it quickly through the water yet
  • Once you can feel it’s swimming consistently, gently pull it through the current and look to see:
    • Is it rolling/flipping?
    • Is it swimming towards one side or lifting up?
    • Diving straight down? – This is good
  • If it’s not swimming straight, use pliers to gently move/turn the eye of the plug the opposite direction that it’s pulling/flipping
  • If it’s a molded eye (not screwed in), gently bend the eye instead of turning
  • If you find that you have a perfectly tuned plug (and you will have some that are great, some that never swim right), you can use calipers to get the exact dimensions of that plug to hopefully replicate it on the plug that isn’t swimming well
  • Measure the butt to the eye and the bill girth to the top of the eye and then create the same dimensions on the bad swimmer


Terry Wiest outdid himself this year. As an avid angler in our community and owner of website Steelhead University (and the brains behind Steelhead Girls), he found the best of the best in the NW and he listened to his peers to put together an amazing seminar. I look forward to what he has in store I the coming months and years!