By: Travis Wendt
When steelhead fishing from a boat tactics have evolved in recent years. There’s so many ways to catch steelhead. Meanwhile, any time I’m trolling plugs, from fall into spring, I run a shrimp on the belly hook. What I believe is it gives the steelhead something extra on the plug to look at.
A cured shrimp also creates more scent. By adding a shrimp to your lure you now have a scent trail that pulls fish in instead of just a wiggle and vibration. When the steelies come up and look at your plug there’s a shrimp hanging off the belly of your plug. It gives the fish something else to key into. I think it helps create a reaction bite.
Scent, color and vibration all generation strikes. All three together is even more effective. This method works anywhere plugs are fished for steelhead. I’ve practice this all season on the Clearwater, Snake and Grande Ronde. To be honest I don’t put a lure in the water without a shrimp. And, I don’t see why this wouldn’t work on any river that has steelhead.
I can tell from experience this work. Back in September and October there were was five Reel Time Fishing boats and 10 private boats running the same stretch of water. Most days, the private boats would get skunked or just catch one or two. The Reel Time boats were catching 5 or 10. We were all using the same lures. The only difference is they weren’t running shrimp and we were. I really think it makes a huge difference.
One common question is when do the shrimp work? When the water gets cold and I start side drifting I side drift shrimp. However, I won’t do this when the water is colder than 42 degrees. If it’s warmer than 42 shrimp will trigger a bite. In late Feb and March when it gets closer to spawning time I’ll use eggs, but the plugs are working right now. If I’m throwing bait I’ll be a shrimp. I never used to drift shrimp. I didn’t start doing this religiously until two years ago. Now I drift them a lot and it works good.
How to do this:
Step 1: Got Bait?
Most tackle stores carry uncured, quart size bags of shrimp. It has to be uncured, natural coon shrimp.
I start from frozen and place them in a quart bin. Without the shrimp in it I’ll sprinkle Red Fire Cure, Pautzke Nectar for scent, regular sugar and salt. I use sea salt, but you can run rock salt, too. Then shake it up a little bit.
Add shrimp. I’ll fill the bin up halfway. You don’t want it to be full. Then sprinkle more Fire Cure on top of that. Use enough to cover the top of the shrimp. You want all the shrimp to be covered with a fairly generous amount of cure. Too much cure won’t hurt your shrimp. With coon shrimp it’s better to go too heavy than too light. Then I’ll add more sugar and salt. The sugar and the salt helps the firming up process. The salt and sugar aids the firming process.
I’ll put them in the fridge and let them sit for a week before you fish them. I’ll flip them so make sure you have a tight fitting lid. (You can use a mason jar as well.) It takes this long because it takes this long for the shrimp to soak up the dye. I’m looking at them to make sure they are vibrant. Vibrant red is what we want. When they get that color they are good to fish.
Rigging & Usage
Any plug, I like using the Maglip 3.5, but some might prefer Hot Shots or Brad’s Wigglers or the Storm Wigglers. They all fish the shrimp well. I’m placing the shrimp on the belly hook. You can fish it bare on the belly hook, but it you do the head will fall off within 15 minutes. That’s thanks to the wiggle of the plug, the current and the back hook will knock the head off.
Longer Usage: Wrap it Up
If you want to prolong the life of your bait you are going to wrap of the head is going to fall off. I’ll take the Miracle Thread and start wrapping around the head, where the head attaches to the body. Then wrap towards the eye balls and the back towards the body. I’ll do a couple half hitches and tie off the thread. Doing this, the bait will last a long time until it gets hit.
This season I’ve been suing the red and pink Miracle Thread to match the color of the bait to the thread. When the bite is tough I’ll try the chartreuse to see if it makes a difference and sometimes it does.
Editor’s Note: Travis Wendt guides the Clearwater River for world class steelhead daily during the season. To book a trip with him please visit Reel Time Fishing: https://reeltimefishing.com/