A quick stroll across my social media news feeds tells me that most Western New York anglers are patiently waiting for the rains to raise the Lake Erie tributaries just enough to bring in the first batch of steelhead of the fall. Ok, so maybe you aren’t waiting patiently-it’s more like an on the edge of your seat, last second of the game type of feeling… Anyway, if you are new to steelhead fishing, deciding which tactics to begin with can get very overwhelming and that’s why we’re here to help! You don’t need all the glitzy gadgets that the fishing industry is trying to slam down your throat, all you need are these three tactics that are simple, versatile, and proven to be effective.
#1 The Float Rig
This is just a fancy way of describing a bobber, hook, and a worm. Believe it or not, this is one of the most effective ways to catch a steelhead. These days, many anglers are doing this with all types of equipment to gain different advantages, but all you really need is a spinning combo, live bait (night crawler, minnows, eggs, etc..), a few split shots, a hook, and a float. The float rig can be used with a slip or clip-on float depending on preference and skill level.
The float rig should be used in deep, slow moving pockets or pools within the stream. The float allows your bait to move at a natural speed through the current and also acts as a bite indicator. Use split shots to get your bait to the bottom of the creek bed without snagging bottom. Experiment with different live baits until you find the bait the fish prefer on that given day. A float rig can also be fished with hair jigs instead of live bait which is also a great tactic.
#2 The Woolybugger
Yes, a woolybugger is a fly. No, you don’t need a fly-rod to use it. In fact, during my college years when time was limited, all I would bring to the local stream was my spinning combo, waders, split shots, and a small box of different colored woolybuggers and I did very well. These are also dynamite on smaller tributaries like Walnut Creek and Silver Creek. In my opinion, this is one of the easiest techniques to master on the Lake Erie tributaries.
How to use it:
a. Tie woolybugger on with an improved cinch knot. (Olive or Black works great)
b. Add a few split shots to your line about 12″-16″ above your fly. (Add/Remove weight as necessary depending on current speed and depth)
c. Face somewhat perpendicular to the stream and cast upstream. Let your bait fall naturally down the current until it gets to the end of your drift.
This tactic works great in shallow water, but can be used in deep pockets as well. When you can see the steelhead in the current, this technique can be deadly. Although I mentioned olive and black as prime colors, don’t be afraid to throw every color you have at the same group of fish until one bites. My brother Tom and I once had a pocket of fish that bit on bumblebee flies…you never know what they’re going to want on that specific day.
#3 Casting and Retrieving
Before we get into this technique, be sure to follow NYS fishing regulations regarding the use of treble hooks in Lake Erie tributaries.
Not every steelhead angler needs to get upstream to take advantage of the steelhead run, in fact, as you are reading this the bite is probably on at your local pier or break wall. Late September is a great time to cast spoons and spinners into the lake and tributary mouths. All you need to do is tie on a swivel and your favorite spoon or spinner, cast it out as far as you can, and retrieve it at a moderate speed. That’s all there is to it! If you want to take the boat out to cover more water, do it. Trolling for steelhead is one of my favorite types of angling. Little Cleos are my go-to spoon for targeting steelhead.
Written by Chris Postle of Postletown Woods and Water.