Catching Winter Steelhead in The Pacific Northwest

While some anglers have to put away their tackle for the winter, others put on their waders and brave single digit temperatures to experience some of their favorite types of fishing. Anglers in Pacific Northwest fisheries target winter steelhead and with help from PNW pro staffer Jake Reardon, we’re sharing the best ways to catch winter steelhead with you.

Jake Reardon with PNW Winter Steelhead

Meet Pacific Northwest Pro Staffer, Jake Reardon

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Jake spent the vast majority of his life searching the creeks, rivers, and lakes for any and every anadromous fish that swims.

Spending summers in Alaska on the Nushagak River fishing for kings, sockeye and trout further embedded a love for fishing deep into his being.  Now a family man and professional photographer, Jake spends all of his free time on the water as a pro staffer for Shimano and G. Loomis.

He shared a few of his favorite techniques with us and hopefully they will help you next time you're out looking for chrome. Follow Jake on Instagram


Three Tried & True Methods for Catching Winter Steelhead


1. Float Fishing

Float fishing is nothing new to the salmon and steelhead fishing community, proving itself over and over again as one of the most effective ways to target these slippery critters.

Float Fishing Setup for Winter Steelhead

When choosing your tackle keep in mind that matching your gear to the conditions is critical. For instance, when choosing a float setup for water that with one to four feet of visibility, Jake recommends using a larger float (1/2 -1oz floats). It is critical to streamline your setup from top to bottom to keep the float riding evenly.  1/2 oz Af-5 Aerofloat slipfloat with a 3/8oz inline weight with a 1/8 aerojig will match the weight perfectly. 

As your water continues to get clear, Jake slims down his presentation as well as float size.  With four to seven feet of clarity, use an AF-1 Aerofloat fixed float with an aerojig of your choice or a split shot and a 12mm bead to keep your float riding evenly.

Recommended Float Fishing Tackle



2. Drift Fishing

Drift fishing is one of the oldest techniques in the book, but sometimes takes a back seat in favor of newer methods. It’s one of the harder techniques to master so don’t get frustrated on your first go-round. It takes some practice but once you’ve got it down, it may become your go-to. Jake says, “Drift fishing has always been my go-to technique. I rig an old school Okie drifter with a 2/0 hook and a tuft of yarn in the egg loop.

Drift Fishing for Chrome

If the water is high and green with one to three feet of visibility, Jake will sometimes add a bait of eggs for scent and profile. Anglers can also add scent to the yarn for an added attraction. If you can't get your hands on okie drifters, a good old corkie in size 10 with a 1/0 hook works just as well. Adding a bait of eggs or a sandshrimp tail will greatly increase your odds. Jake uses a hollow core pencil lead for weight so that he can cut it down to size.

Recommended Drift Fishing Setups


3. Spoon Fishing

Another old school technique that is sometimes neglected is swinging BC steel spoons. Jake says, “I love to swing spoons in virtually all water clarity. You only need to change colors to match the condition.

Spoon Fishing for PNW Steelies

In green water with one to four feet clarity, Jake fishes 2/5-ounce matte silver, 50/50 silver/gold. If the flows are heavy enough to dictate it, he stacks two 1/4 ounce spoons on top of each other with split rings. The stacked spoons are great for heavier and faster water flow to keep your spoon wobbling correctly. As the water clears and gets from four to eight feet clarity, switch over to 2/5-ounce copper, black or brass spoons.

For best results, cast slightly downstream and give the spoon time to sink. Allow it to swing across the current while maintaining a constant wobble of three beats per second.

Spoon Fishing Tackle Recommendations