By | 03/20/2012

There’s many different ways to catch steelhead. However, I prefer fishing under a float. Steelhead are aggressive at times, but can also be stubborn. Personally, I take into account river flows when deciding which technique to use. There are many reasons I choose float fishing as my method of choice, but most important is no other method matches its’ natural presentation. Being confident that my bait is drifting naturally with the current gives me assurance that we’ll hookup.

Meanwhile, key aspects of float fishing must be understood to make the perfect drift. Mending your line is crucial and I stress this to my clients. By constantly mending your line upstream and releasing line from your reel it assures that your bait is in the strike zone. Consequently, a downstream mend pulls the float downriver causing your bait to rise above the fish and out of the zone. I opt for a slightly slacked mend upstream from my float and roughly six-to-eight feet of line out.

Most guides recommend keeping line off the water when float fishing. However, this leaves a lot of margin for error. If you keep line off the water and aren’t releasing more from your reel as necessary your drift can become unnatural causing the fish to not take your bait. Fortunately, a slight upstream mend prevents this and gives you an extra few seconds to remember to release line from your reel.

For example, I ask my clients cast 45 degrees upstream, slowly reeling in line as the float meanders downriver. When the float reaches 90 degrees is when the first mend occurs. Once the first mend occurs the boat is drifting at the same speed as float. Nevertheless, constant mending throughout the drift is crucial. This keeps your bait in the strike zone.  In fact, mending your line when floating fishing can dictate success.


Different Water Levels, Different Drift, Different Bait

For those who know me they know I’m big into bait and yarn. Which I choose to use depends on water levels. In medium-high to high water I turn to larger presentations or baits that emit scent. Eggs, prawns and shrimp all qualify, but eggs are my go-to bait. Meanwhile, all are effective. When using bait for steelhead I prefer a drier, tougher egg. This gives me more casts out of each bait.

Egg Cure

To get the egg I want I mix pink Pautzke BorX O Fire and red Fire Brine. The BorX makes a tough egg with great color. There are many ways to cure eggs, but what I like to do is (depending on the amount of eggs I’m curing) let my eggs sit in red Fire Brine for 8 hours. I’ll also add some sea salt and sugar to give it a strong red base color. Then sprinkle the BorX over the skeins liberally. This creates a drier egg that still milk perfectly. Put them in the fridge for 24 hours and your ready to role.

Even though Fire Brine already has salt in it, I add more sea salt because it’s a similar smell. Steelhead spends most of their lives in the ocean eating, hence being familiar with the smell of salt. I believe the smell of sea salt can entice a bite and also helps produce an even drier egg. Steelhead have a sweet tooth. Adding white sugar can keep a steelhead chomping on your bait once it picks it up.

To Recap: The Lynch Cure Contents

Red Fire Brine

2 Tablespoons Sugar

1 Teaspoon Sea Salt

Sprinkle Pink BorX O-Fire evenly across skeins


High Water Conditions

In higher water I do a lot of bobber dogging. And, when doing so calculating flows is imperative. Flows dictate the weight needed to get your bait down where it looks more natural. Also, when water is high it will be greener. Therefore, slowing the presentation to ensure fish smell the bait before it gets to them is crucial. If a steelhead is looking for the bait before it arrives chances of catching it increase.

In high water I fish one-and-a-half the depth of the drift. Doing so guarantees my bait is consistently in the strike zone. If you’re getting a good drift your bobber should be pointed downstream. This way you know your bait is being dragged down river. I like using one-ounce floats with four or five shot Slinkys in it. As mentioned prior, you’ll find that mending your line is extremely important in faster flows. This technique shows exactly when the weight reaches the bottom from your mend. By monitoring your float you should see the ticking of your slinky on the bottom. This technique slows your presentation, but gains a natural drift.

Medium-Low Water Conditions

My approach changes when the water becomes low and clear. When it does I use less bait and turn to yarn balls fished under a float. Peach, orange and pink yarn balls soaked in Pautzke Nectar is my forte. Nectar has great bite stimulants. I call it “The Love Juice” because steelhead can’t resist it. I choose yarn balls under floats because they have action as they pulsate under the water. Action and a natural drift entice the most stubborn steelhead and is effective when trying to fill your boat full of chrome. In medium water conditions one can get away with larger offerings. However, in clear conditions my approach changes.


Low Water Steelhead Technique

When low, clear water presents itself I use a fixed float and split-shots to get yarnies in the zone and maintain natural presentation. Personally, I avoid lead weights bouncing near what I’m trying to present to steelhead. Depending on the drift, I’ll use three to four 3/0 split shots about two feet from my yarn ball. While it’s subject to the river you are fishing, I use a 6-8 foot leader so I can be in the zone the entire drift. I also move to 8-pound Maxima Ultra Green.

The reason I use fixed floats and light line in clear water is steelhead can be spooky. Steelhead have a wide range of vision and when their visibility increases I’m still confident I can catch them with clear floats, light line and small offerings. Regardless, mending remains vital. It’s always important to make flawless drifts, especially in clear water and when there’s high fishing pressure.

As I tell clients, being able to read water and knowing where the fish are positioned increases strikes. Oftentimes, guests ask why I didn’t fish a certain piece of water. I tell them it isn’t good holding water. I’m trying to fish high percentage water almost exclusively. Try to focus on water that is similar to where you have caught fish previously. These techniques have proven themselves in my boat repeatedly. Hopefully these techniques will bring you success. They’ve worked well for me!

Editor’s Note: Chad Lynch operates Chad Lynch Guide Service where he guides for steelhead along the Oregon Coast. For more information on this steelhead trips please visit