Saturday, March 8, 2008

Drift fishing

Drift fishing is the most common method used for steelhead; it is also one of the more difficult to become skilled at. You need to have the right gear, know what type of water steelhead hold in, and the hardest part is learning the difference between bouncing over rocks and a steelhead strike.

How tough can drifting a piece of lead and hook along the bottom bouncing over rocks and knowing the difference between a rock and a steelhead's bite is. Well I have been a Steelhead fisherman for over 40 years now and there are times where I just end up hooking a fish without even realizing I had a strike. For being such a large fish steelhead have one of the light bites and until you fish for awhile it is hard to explain just what you need to be watching for. All I can tell you is that there is a different feel to a strike and the bottom and once you fish for awhile you learn to detect these subtle differences, once you do then you are on your way to becoming a true drift fisherman.

Let's look at what you need to start drift fishing:

The Rod Your Fishing rod needs to be sensitive enough to give you a good feel of the bottom as you bounce over rocks and gravel, and at the same time it needs to be strong enough to give you a good hook set when you have 30 to 50 yards of line strung out across the river. Your rod choice will be the most important piece to the drift fishing equation so choose wisely.

Here are some things to consider when you are selecting your rod: 1. What's the size of lure or bait you will be using (heavy, light, ultra light?) 2. The type of reel you will be using on rod (spinning reel, or bait casting) 3. What is rod made from (graphite, fiberglass ) these will determine the feeling and strength of your rod 4. Rod action this is the bend in the rod (Fast, Medium, Slow). 5. What size of line you plan on using (2 lb, 6 lb, 10 lb, 15 lb, 30 lb test) 6. The length of rod, if your casting from the beach or open area and need to make long cast you will want a longer rod 8 feet or longer, if you are going to be fishing from a boat or where there is a lot of brush you may want 7 foot or shorter. This will determine what type of reel you use to keep a good balance of your rod. 7. What type of warranty does it have (Rods do break when fishing these large fish) The Reel The reel is the second most important part of your gear it needs to match your rod having a well balanced rod is the key. My personal preference is a bait casting reel (some fisherman call these level winds) they do take some getting use to however they are very effective when drift fishing, the bait casting reel will allow you to release line while maintaining control and you can follow the drift longer you want to stay where the fish are holding. The spinning reel works well for drift fishing also and is preferred when cast light lures or fishing along banks with heavy brush.

Choosing a reel: 1. Matches the style of fishing you intend on doing 2. The amount of line the reel can hold (if you are fishing big water you will want more line) 3. The type of line you are going to use (braided lines can cut into the metal of a reel) - (newer reels use titanium for the new lines). 4. Look for a quality manufacturer as your reel will be tested by these big fish 5. Make sure the drag system works smoothly

Line The line you use should match the rod, reel and the conditions you will be fishing. The Rule here is that the clearer the water is the lighter the line you want to use. I have gone as light as 2 lb test when fishing in clear slow moving pools but you need to have a rod matched to this. Normally you will want to use line in the 10 to 15 pound test range. Braided or mono lines is a matter of your preference.

Lures This is where steelhead fishing gets tricky and experience comes into play. What you will be using will again depend on the water conditions, low and clear keep your lures and bait small and pale. If the rivers are up and murky you will want to use a larger lure and dark and bright colors. Sometime just using a small piece of shrimp or a small cluster of eggs is what you will need. You can check with the locals and see what they are using for the conditions. As for the color of lures this is any bodies guess so make sure you have a good assortment to choose from as this changes continually even through out the day.

Bait Steelheads use their excellent sense of smell as well as their eye site they also have an uncanny scents to detect movement. When the water is so muddy you can't see any thing in the water, steelhead can find your bait by movement and smell. Some of the most common baits are shrimp, eggs, night crawlers, and sand shrimp. Some fishermen combine these baits giving they feel this gives them a little edge over other fishermen.

Swivels Barrel Swivels and three way swivels are used to attach a lighter leader to a heavier main line. This allows you to quickly change your rig to water conditions and it reduces your mainline loss due to snags and helps keep your line from twisting from the lure action.

Hooks Your hooks will range in size from 12 to 3/0 depending on the type of lure and bait you are using. Make sure that they are strong enough to hold a fish without bending when they make their runs. They need to be kept sharp for a good hook set, and it is a good idea to have a hook file or stone to touch them up when needed. Check the point of your hook often or it may cost you a fish. I'm not much on the double hook theory however many Steelhead fisherman swear by them and is a choice you can make.

Lead Lead weight come in a number of styles and shapes for drift fishing I prefer to use either a pencil sinker or what is called a slinky. Pencil lead comes in sizes of 1/8' 3/16" and 1/4" diameters and is usually used with surgical tubing. The slinky is lead shot inside if parachute cord and is flexible this seems to keep it from snagging as much as the pencil weight but you are unable to trim them quickly should you find you have to much weight. Lead weights can be tied a number of different way either fix or sliding I prefer the sliding weight as I feel it is easier to feel the strike with a sliding weight, however a fixed weight will get you to the bottom faster.

Leaders Make your leaders from a little lighter test than your main line. This will allow your leader to break off when you become snagged instead of your main line which leaves a long piece of line in the river for you to snag onto the next time you cast. It will also prevent you from have to go home early because you for got to bring extra line for your reels. An rule I use successfully is that the clearer the water the longer the leader normally I use a leader 18" to 24" long but you will find that sometimes changing this will pick up more fish don't be afraid to experiment. I seldom us a leader shorter then 12 inches though and I have used leaders as long a 4 feet.

My next article will cover likely holding water for Steelhead and how to fish them so keep in touch!


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