By Kyle McClelland | 03/14/2013

Throughout winter in Northern Michigan I’ve been testing many techniques to try and improve my success steelhead fishing. I’ve caught fish fly-fishing, with BorX O Fire cured spawn and, most surprisingly, on brined shiners.

In the past I haven’t used shiners for steelhead. However, after having success on the hard water while using the Fire Brine cured shiners for pike and walleye I decided to try them for steelhead and was impressed how well they worked.

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I bought a dozen small shiner minnows and cured them in Fire Brine, honestly not knowing how the fish would respond to them. In the first hole I float fished a jig tipped with a small spawn bag. I knew there were fish in the hole so after 20 unsuccessful casts I threw a minnow on the jig. Minutes later I hooked an eight-pound, pure chrome, Northern Michigan steelhead!

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I proceeded to land eight more steelhead that day before running out of minnows. I’m still surprised how well they worked and now hit the bank with about four-dozen Fire Brined shiners. My trips since have been much more productive, especially when the wax worm, spawn and fly bite is slow. When fishing for browns and steelies I always bring brined minnows. Having them gives me a compete arsenal.

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There are many reasons why I believe cured shiners are more productive then regular shiners. The brine really firms up the bait (which means you use less bait, and they won’t fall off your hook as easily), keeps the scales intact longer and brings color to the bait, making it more visible in off-colored water. Personally, I match the color of brine with the color of the jig, normally opting for a size 12 nymph hook.

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The minnows fish well on just about any rig, but float fishing them is my favorite. Generally, I target the bottom foot of the water column, however I’ve caught a lot of fish while setting the float deep enough so the minnow ticks off the bottom.

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How deep you fish all depends on the fish. If they are aggressive fish it off bottom about a foot or so. However, when steelhead are lethargic it’s more effective to tick them off the bottom. It doesn’t take long to detect where they are. I usually make 10 drifts with my float set a foot off bottom and if I don’t get bit I will set it to tick. Normally, I hook the minnow through the jaw.