BIG Steelhead- The Quest

BIG Steelhead- The Quest

Over my 30 plus years of chasing Steelhead, I have been blessed with the opportunity to catch some very large fish.
While some will say you have to be lucky to encounter these rare, extra large sized Steelhead, I believe that there are numerous tactics and choices that can lend to specifically targeting and finding these great fish.

Firstly, you want to be fishing the rivers in which the above average sized Steelhead is known to be found. Once you are on the right water, you can hone your tactics to increase your chances of encountering the BIG fish.
When I say BIG Steelhead, I am speaking of females over 15 pounds, and males over 20 pounds. My home river, the Chilliwack/Vedder River does get a few of these fish every season. Typically, they are wild fish and most often they are encountered late in the run. My findings have been that once the river gets its first bump of snow melt and you see fry in the water, some big Steelies will be in the system. Over the years, the majority of truly huge Steelhead I have caught have been Fall run, Summer Steelhead. While some of the rivers I have caught MONSTER Steelhead in are now closed to fishing, others remain open. Your best chance at catching one of these magnificent fish is to travel North to the Skeena or Nass River systems, to target those rivers which are known to hold such fish.

If something closer to home is more realistic for you, consider Washington State. Both the Olympic Peninsula and Skagit River systems hold some incredibly large Winter run Steelhead. This coming Spring there is a catch and release fishery being opened on the Skagit River and if I could personally get down to fish it, I would jump at the chance!

Once you have found and chosen a river where you are confident that some big fish are known to be found, you can turn your attention to equipping yourself with the appropriate tackle for targeting and landing BIG Steelhead.
Do away with light line, light leaders, and wispy rods. Landing big Steelhead requires strong line, strong knots, and a rod with some backbone. When you are specifically looking to do battle with hard fighting, extra large Steelhead, I strongly suggest 20 lb mainline with 15 lb leader, minimum. I would also avoid using hooks smaller than 1/o. Knowing that most giant Steelhead will be wild fish, you will want to keep your hooks no larger than 2/o, to avoid injuring the fish. You will want a medium power rod at minimum, my personal choice being a medium/heavy rod, when travelling to the land of giants.

Let’s fast forward for a moment and assume that you have done everything right and hooked into a biggie (congratulations!!!). Remember to let the fish run early in the battle! If you immediately recognize that you have a huge Steelhead on your line, let it run. Even if you must give chase down the river to the next run, LET IT RUN! This mistake of putting the brakes on a big fish has cost many anglers that fish of a lifetime! I offer this advice to both the reader and to myself. I seem to need a reminder, as I have broken my own rule too many times.

So now that you are on the right water and set up with the right rod and line, it’s time to focus on what’s on the end of your line to entice these fish. While the huge Steelhead can be caught on a tiny bead or bait where allowed, most of my biggest Steelhead have been on jigs, worms, spinners, and spoons. Part of this could be that the types of water they sit in are waters where you would be less likely to fish the tiny bead or bait. I am more confident however that in most cases, the big males who make up the majority of these big fish, are triggered to bite by pure aggression, making the latter options far more enticing.

You are now on the right river with all the right stuff to throw at them, but in a vast river that may be new to you, where do you focus your attentions?
Most of my big Steelhead have been caught in fast buckets with large boulders, typically at least 4-5 feet deep. It amazes me that Steelhead will actually hold in these turbulent waters, but since they have proven to produce time and again, I am always on the lookout for these spots. Last year while out walking with friends (one of the few times I was at a river and NOT fishing), I identified such a spot and prophesized that in the later season, I would find some biggies in there. Sure enough, later that year both a fishing buddy and I hooked large male Steelhead right there. While my fish was not a true giant, it did tip the scale at 17 plus pounds, my largest hatchery fish of the season.

Another spot where you can find giant Steelhead, is in deep holes with a fairly swift current. I can recall a trip to the Skeena system years ago. Our guide was driving us up a river in a jet boat on the first day, and we were running through a very deep, swift run. I asked him why we weren’t fishing that spot. He told me it was a little too deep and not known as a good spot for Steelhead. My experience on other rivers had taught me otherwise, and while not wanting to be a know-it-all, I had a strong feeling that this run was holding some giants. I had specifically made this trip with the goal to catch BIG Steelhead, so I really wanted to give this spot a whirl.
The next day as we were heading up river, I asked our guide to drop me off at the deep fast run so that I could fish this run for a few hours while the rest of our group headed up river to the next run which was a more classic, inside bend, obvious Steelhead run.
Fast forward 30 minutes, and I had landed my two largest Steelhead of the trip! One was easily going on 25 pounds!!! After my seemingly unlikely success, the rest of the group joined me down river where we proceeded to catch a bunch more fish from this deep, swirly, fast bucket of a run.

Cut banks with overhanging trees and branches is another type of spot you can look for. Again, the water in these spots tends to be rather swift with a decent depth of around 4-6 feet and the defining feature being the overhanging trees and branches. The overhanging vegetation provides the fish in these spots some protection from predators and prying eyes of anglers. I’ve lost many gear set-ups in these overhanging trees in an attempt to get right into the lair of a giant, angry male Steelhead.

If catching that Steelhead of a lifetime is your goal, gear up adequately, seek out these not so easily fished spots… and hang on tight!
Tight Lines & Bent Rods!
~Rod Toth