In this Steelhead / Salmon Fishing post you will learn:

  • What type of fishing pole is best for float fishing

  • How to setup your fishing rig properly for float fishing.

  • How to select a good assortment of jigs – Best color?

  • What other baits you can use when float fishing for Steelhead and Salmon

Spring Chinook Salmon

The use of a float when fishing for Salmon and Steelhead has risen in recent years to be one of the most popular methods of catching these powerful fish.  The main advantage being able to see the when the offering is taken.  Even someone new to fishing for Salmon and Steelhead can recognize when the float is taken under.

Other methods such as drift fishing takes some skill in differentiating a bounce off of rocks or a strike.  The most difficult part of float fishing with a jig is learning where salmon or steelhead are holding in the river.

One other advantage to float fishing for salmon and Steelhead is that is keeps you bait above the rocks so with the right rigging tackle loss is kept to a minimum.

Use the Best Fishing Tackle

One thing you need to learn up front is that when fishing for Steelhead and Salmon you don’t want to buy cheap fishing tackle. Buy the best fishing tackle available. These are very powerful fish and using cheap tackle will result lost fish.  You may spend hours fishing before you receive that strike that will give you a hookup.  The last thing you want is to loose a nice Steelhead or Salmon because of a weak swivel or broken rod. Cheap fishing tackle will eventually cause you problems.

Float Fishing Poles

The best float fishing poles are long enough to keep your line up out of the water. Usually that requires a pole length between 10 to 14 feet.  A shorter fishing rod length, down to 8 feet, may be used for short casts however the key is to keep your line out of the water which is much easier with a long rod.  Allowing your line to drag on top of the water causes an unnatural presentation of the jig or bait.  Fish will recognize the drag and it will result in fewer hookups.

The fishing pole you select should also be capable of supporting the line weight you are using.  Summer Steelhead are smaller fish ranging from 5 to 10 lbs. These can be caught on long light to medium action poles with a 6-10lb leader.  Fishing for Winter Steelhead and Salmon requires a sturdy medium to fast action rod and reel capable of handling 20-30lb line.

Float Fishing Rig Setup for Steelhead & Salmon

The correct setup on your rig for float fishing is important to insure that the float will be at the right depth in the water and the jig will sink to near the bottom where the fish are holding.

The items needed for proper float setup:

  • A good quality float. I recommend thrill floats, in a size capable of supporting 1 once of weight.
  • Bobber  stop,  – adjustable to keep your jig just above the river bottom – tie your own
  • Beads, One small bead that will not slip over the bobber stop, a larger bead below the float.
  • Double eyed lead, 1 oz. – may be adjusted for ease of casting and float height.
  • Leader line, Leader weight should be lighter than main line, 8-12lb for summer steelhead or very clear water, 12-20lb for winter steelhead and Salmon.
  • 1/8th once jig, – use up to 1/3oz if using a heavy leader. insure float is not too low in the water.

Float rigging instructions are detailed in the photo below; Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Steelhead Float Rig

 The above rig should be drifted just above the bottom where steelhead or salmon are holding.  The float should be adjusted so that there is an occasion bump on the rocks of the river bottom.   You will notice a slight dip in the float height as it hits rocks.  When the float goes completely under the hook should be set.

Best Jigs for catching Steelhead and Salmon

pink marabou JigLike all other types of lure fishing the fish don’t always follow the rules.  Your best bet is to carry a number of marabou jigs in various colors and weights.  Usually one of the best things you can do is check with your local fishing tackle shop and ask questions.  Find out where, when and what colors the fish are being caught on.  If you’re not able to get any information there you can remember these suggestions The colors mentioned below refer to the marabou feather colors.

  • Generally a 1/8th oz. jig can be used for most circumstances
  • The head color of a jig is not important.  Jigs that have been used and lost the all color will work just as well as those that are brightly colored.
  • The darker the day is, cloudy or late evening the darker color you should start fishing with.  On bright days use bright colors.

The best time of year to use a specific Color Marabou Jig

  • Red, Red/White, Red/Pink & White work well year round.
  • Orange/Yellow & Yellow works best in the spring.
  • Black jigs as well as Brown/Orange jigs represent leaches and crayfish that hibernate during the winter. Therefore use these colors only from June through December and only in slow moving pools.
  • Black/Red, Black/Pink, Black/Chartreuse & Orange work well in the fall months.
  • The best color for August through December is Blue/White which represent juvenile salmon.
  • Winter is the best time for Chartreuse jigs.
  • Purple represents a squid so only use it in faster water where the fish can’t get a good look at it.
  • Purple/Pink, Pink & Pink/White are great for sunny days over a sand bottom.

Other Baits to use Under a Float for Steelhead or Salmon

Using a float is very versatile.  Fishing a river with a float not only works well with marabou jigs but you can use other artificial soft rubber lures such as frogs, insects and worms.  One very productive lure is a 4 inch pink worm. For whatever reason it is a favorite for Steelhead.

pink soft wormFresh bait can also be used witch adds scent to the water. Often these may work better than jigs because a fish will hold onto a natural bait longer than it will a hard jig. Most often used are sand shrimp and eggs.  Both will work very well. You will need to add a split-shot lead above the hook to insure your bait gets down to where the fish are.

Enjoy your Day and Good Fishing !




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