4 Must-Have Gear for Winter Steelhead

It’s in the winter time when many anglers try their luck on the local river hoping to muscle mighty steelhead to the bank. I plan to drift baits for steelhead more than a couple times before the spring arrives again, and I know I’m not alone.

When you’re fishing a river for steelhead there are a few essential items that will make your trip more productive and ensure you don’t miss out on the run. Here are four must-have items for any angler looking to try their luck at catching winter steelhead.

Rod, Reel and Line

The ideal rod for floating baits along the current will be between eight and 10 feet with a flexible action and a strong butt for providing the strength you’ll need. You’ll find that the longer rods used for steelheading are great at keeping your line out of the water, too. You can use your baitcast or spinning reel for steelhead with no trouble, but just make sure your reel is strong enough to handle big fish. When it comes to picking your line, you’ll need something strong enough to withstand rocks and timber, but limp enough to cast far. My go-to here is P-Line CXX, which is inexpensive and tough to break off.

RELATED: 3 Tips for Cold Water Steelhead 

Terminal Tackle

There are a few bits and pieces of terminal tackle that you’ll notice no steelheader leaves home without. Firstly, when the river bottom is a little too congested to drag bait, maintaining a desired depth using a slip float is the way to go. Slip floats allow your line to pass through the float itself and choose your bait’s float depth at any time. Split shots are also vital, as they get even the lightest baits down to your preferred depth and keep them there.

Clothes Horse

If the river is shallow enough along the bank, a good set of waders will be your best friend. They’ll keep you dry and warm (be sure to wear clothing beneath them); just be careful not to stir up the water while you’re wading or you’ll quickly make enemies of other nearby anglers. One more useful piece of attire is a reliable fishing vest. It’s hard to carry around a tackle box on the river, but a fully equipped fishing vest provides quick access to tools, baits and anything else you might need. You can also pick up a gear belt or even a chest pack.

Give ‘Em Something to Bite

There are several types of baits and lures that are popular on the river for steelhead, so you’ll want to maintain a solid variety on-hand. As far as the live stuff goes, I’ve had great luck with small mesh sacs or cured roe, as well as precooked salad shrimp from the grocery store that I toss in salt before hooking. As far as artificial lures go, you’ll have luck with inline spinners (gold and silver Mepps are ideal), spoons and hair jigs.

Photo credit: Vimeo