By Ben See | 10/02/2012
It’s the beginning of steelhead season in the Northeast and the most common buzz, aside from finding steelhead, is where can I get eggs? Historically, Steelhead Alley is approached with roe bags and or skein attached to a hook, using an egg loop. However, many anglers forget our steelhead eat more than just eggs.
Consider our Steelhead Alley fisheries in Ohio and Pennsylvania are stocked fish. Smolts are released annually and swim the Lake Erie Basin feeding on baitfish and other critters, thus returning each fall and spring as adults.
To strengthen my argument, biologists have conducted stomach samples of steelhead and discovered their top two food sources were emerald shiners and smelt. Conversely, eggs were not on the list.
While early season fishing from break walls, harbors and sandy Erie shores, anglers casts jigs, spoons and spinners that imitate the baitfish our steelhead most commonly feed on during the summer. Meanwhile, the majority of anglers target the chrome once they are in the streams where drift fishing your presentation under a float is the most common technique.
Traditionally, this is practiced with eggs. On the other hand, when eggs aren’t available we tap into other bait to convince fish to feed. I’ve opted to use smelt, something our steelhead are extremely familiar with. By following the procedure below you can also catch steelies – even without eggs. Using smelt has enabled me to always have good bait, even when eggs aren’t readily
In Steelhead Alley jigs are commonly overlooked, yet can be effective. I often want to toss emerald shiners, night crawlers, maggots and wax worms on them, but don’t have them readily available, nor do I want to make a stop at the local bait shop in the morning because I want to be on the water at first light. Now, I don’t need to anyway. These Smelt Fish Sticks are the ticket and are easy to prepare.available.
Ben See’s Steelhead Alley Smelt Fish Stick Recipe
Start off by using fresh or frozen Lake Erie smelt. Frozen often already have the heads removed. I prefer frozen due to their availability.
Using a pair of scissors split the smelt down the center, in essence making two filets. Bones left in is fine at this point.
Fill disposable Tupperware containers with the Fire Brine color of your choice. In order to make green I follow Duane Inglin’s process of mixing blue Nectar and chartreuse Fire Brine. You can checkout his Pautzke FireBlog for the specifics on getting your desired green hue.
Measure one tablespoon of sugar, one tablespoon of canning salt and a dash of Pautzke Fire Power (powdered krill). Mix these contents into the brine. Then place smelt filets into the brine and let sit in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Check them a few times, gently shaking container to ensure good brine coverage throughout the filets.
Remove filets from brine and air dry on paper towels.
Using scissors, trim the bellies off the smelt. This makes them look similar to a trout worm, yet they come loaded with scent, unlike trout worms.
*Rigging can be done many ways. Most effective for me has been either wacky style or with a jig trailer. The bait is firm enough to stay on the hook. Anglers can fish these presentations under a float just like roe bags and skein. The scent is incredible!
*To produce a deeper color, use a dash of BorX O’ Fire along with the salt and sugar in Step 4.
*Hooking the bait through the skin will ensure the bait stays on the hook longer.
*Stinger hooks can be used if the smelt filet is longer. This helps with fish that short strike your bait.
*For every smelt you get two baits. It’s an effective way to conserve bait.
*Smelt bones can easily be removed once the curing process is complete. Simply grab the spine and strip out with one pull.
*Matching the color of brine to the color of jig has been effective in Steelhead Alley
*The more sugar you add, the more shine the smelt have upon drying. The more salt you add, the tougher the filet will be.
Editor’s Note: Pautzke Pro Staffer Ben See lives in Steelhead Alley and operates www.steelheadalleyangler.com