Depth, movement, visibility mantra for steelhead achievement


Angler holding steelhead

It is not just a spot for Americans to get their driver’s licence DMV — depth, movement, visibility — is a mantra for steelhead-rigging achievement.

Not extended ago, I was fishing a moderately deep run for steelhead right after a rainfall. The water had cleared just sufficient that I could see the algae-covered rocks littering the bottom of the river. Drift right after seemingly promising drift did nothing at all but deepen the mystery this had been a incredibly productive run the day ahead of. Exactly where had all the fish gone?

I was about to pack up my rod in resignation when I noticed anything the configuration of the rocks had changed! They weren’t stones at all They have been steelhead, hugging bottom and almost certainly feeding. I’d been fishing this stretch for more than an hour, so why hadn’t I hooked any?

If you guessed that I was fishing with the incorrect bait, you are only partially suitable. Switching from roe, to worms, to nymphs, to streamers produced no distinction. What brought me achievement that day was considerably easier than that. I switched up my rig. When I lengthened my lead, added a handful of tiny split shot, and slowed my drift, all of a sudden the game was on. The subsequent hour saw at least half a dozen vibrant, aggressive fish come to hand.

3 basic variables

Fishing with the suitable stuff is only aspect of the equation. Making use of the suitable rig is even additional crucial. There are lots of complex elements to get suitable, but it all begins with a technique that is founded on 3 basic variables: depth, movement, and visibility (DMV). Paying close interest to these 3 items and producing them perform in unison will enable guide all your selections, from bait, to float, to shot and shot pattern.


Depth may well look virtually as well clear to mention, if it weren’t for the reality that steelhead are virtually generally hugging bottom. There are exceptions to this of course, but nine instances out of 10 it is correct.

There are lots of factors fish stick to the bottom. The deeper the water, the additional depth acts as cover. The bottom of a river, typically covered with rocks, boulders, logs, and other structural components, is one particular huge present break exactly where fish can keep away from the most important force of the moving water and catch drifting meals additional conveniently. They are also much better camouflaged on bottom and additional away from airborne predators.


Movement is not only about the strength and speed of the present — each of which are crucial — it is also about how the river is moving. For instance, is there an eddy in the pool you are fishing? Occasionally, present can gush upwards, dragging your bait with it, pulling it out of the strike zone. How the water moves determines how your float and bait will move, and maintaining it as organic as probable is the target.

Exactly where the river is not moving considerably — in estuaries and extended, slow pools about log jams or organic barriers — fish will typically suspend. Fishing deep for fish who are only a handful of feet from the surface is a popular error and is conveniently avoided in a slow-moving water column, in some cases even in the middle of the quickest stretch of river.


Visibility also virtually goes with no saying. A lot of water situations exactly where they can see the fish, having said that that clarity also signifies that the fish will see them, get skittish, and turn into additional tough to entice. I do not know about you, but if I was becoming chased by King Kong I do not assume that missing dessert would be one particular of my priorities!

The opposite scenario is higher, muddy water with incredibly tiny, if any, visibility. It is tough to discover fish in these situations, as they are typically pushed into locations exactly where they would not typically be located, in some cases inches from shore. Rocks and boulders that are submerged right after a huge rain can act as present breaks for sheltering fish in these situations.

Even so, in medium clarity, involving 12 to 24 inches of visibility, fish are typically calmer and precisely exactly where you would anticipate them to be. The added sedimentation in the water acts as cover, and, ideal of all, the turbidity stirs up scrumptious tiny meals stuffs that make them additional apt to feed actively. Visualize that — content, feeding fish!

Placing it collectively

Placing the DMV variables collectively will generally dictate the length of your rig, the size of your float and shot, the baits or lures you will most most likely want to use, and how considerably trot or physically slow down your rig. Right here are some examples.

Deep, slow, clear

To quite a few anglers, this is the most tantalizing of circumstances. Who hasn’t attempted, in some cases fruitlessly, to entice steelhead that are hovering just inside sight? Based on the time of year, dozens of them can be lazily holding in a pool, entirely disinterested in feeding.

steelhead float with shot

Steelhead are sensitive fish and they turn into pressured conveniently. Little floats with light line, tiny shot, and even tinier offerings — as compact as you can reasonably get away with — are the ideal way to obtain achievement. Any uncommon movement in the float or bait can trigger panic, so dead drifting with tiny or no trotting (holding back on the float) is encouraged.

Retain split shot far away from your hook. You can jam your shot just below your float, sufficient to hold it cocked, or wrap a handful of inches of lead line about the bottom of the stem in lieu of split shot.

If I know I’m going to commit most of the day float fishing “frog water,” exactly where snags are unlikely, I will rig with just one particular length of eight- to 10-lb. fluorocarbon. It is a minimalistic way of avoiding added knots or swivels beneath the float, producing for the most unobtrusive and upkeep-absolutely free presentation probable.

Shallow, riffled, clear

When there are lots of anglers about, deep pools have a tendency to get as well considerably interest. Fish that have been pressured will typically seek refuge in rapidly water, behind huge stones or boulders, exactly where they can continue to feed in relative peace. The riffled surface also acts as cover, distorting your view of the bottom and filtering out sunlight. It is excellent water to appear for, even when you have the river all to oneself.

steelhead float with shot o

The crucial to presenting in rapidly water is to find seams on the surface, which permit you to slow items down. A excellent seam, in reality, can be surprisingly slow. Nevertheless, trotting your float is virtually generally vital in these situations, which calls for a longer lead. Bigger floats and heavier shot are also typically named for. A larger float is simpler to manoeuvre, and additional shot aids you get down deeper, quicker.

Regularly, some split shot will have to be placed close to the hook in order to hold the bait down. Based on the force of the present you are tackling, you will have to decide on involving a pretty even shot or a bulk-shot pattern. An even pattern will give a additional predictable drift, but bulking your shot will enable your rig reduce down exactly where the water is quickest.

Trial and error is a vital aspect of getting bottom in this form of water. You need to have to continuously adjust your lead and trot to exactly where the float regularly registers the tap-tap-tap of rocks and other obstructions on the bottom.

Deep, rapidly, clear

In these situations, you seldom get to see the fish. They’re down as well deep. In a way, you are caught involving two worlds you need to have a huge float and heavy shot to discover bottom and get your bait down, but you also have to take care not to spook your quarry. The trick is to get started at the prime and perform your way down.

steelhead float with shot

Start with a huge float, either a fixed or slip float. Then, primarily based on your selection, choose your weight. For a fixed float, pattern your shot from heavier to lighter down to roughly 3 feet from your hook. For a slip-float, you can bulk your shot or use a single 3⁄8 to 1⁄4 oz. egg sinker, stopped once more, about 3 feet from your hook. I typically spot a compact bead and a compact split shot straight beneath the egg sinker. The bead absorbs the impacts of the sinker as it slides up and down your line and the split shot permits you to adjust its position relative to your bait.

Add split shot

As a finishing touch, I add 3 to 4 “dust shot” (tiny split shot in 3BB size) evenly distributed from about six inches above the hook to about eight to 10 inches. This adds just sufficient added weight to hold your providing from fluttering up out of the strike zone, and however it is compact sufficient not to attract undue interest.

With regards to tippet size and strength, I choose to go as light as probable given that I really feel that thinner, limper line imparts a additional organic motion general. Even so, in deep, rapidly situations I will go as heavy as I can. Commonly, eight- to 10-lb. fluorocarbon operates just fine. If there’s colour to the water, Maxima Ultra Green or Berkley Trilene XT also perform wonderful. I like a size eight- or six-specialist hook when applying bait given that these bigger hooks hold fish much better with no becoming oversized.

Medium depth, speed, and moderate visibility

If you assume back to your ideal day on the water, it is most likely that it occurred in this situation. Shortly right after a precipitation occasion and as the water clears, steelhead can congregate in water just a handful of feet deep and exactly where the present is neither as well rapidly nor as well slow, given that it serves as a transitioning space exactly where they can rest and feed on their way up or down the river.

steelhead float with shot

As usual, rigging is vitally crucial. Though fish are additional apt to feed in these situations, producing a bite additional most likely, they are also normally seeing lots of things on the menu that are actually drifting suitable into their mouths. This signifies that they do not have to move far to grab a tasty morsel, so they will not. You have to strategy them at the suitable depth and speed to make the magic occur.

Spacing your shot evenly, or at slightly longer intervals, will give your rig the ideal mix of quickness to depth, strike sensitivity and accuracy. A slight trot will also be valuable, to impart a organic velocity to your providing, so generally add six to 18 inches additional than your ideal guess at the actual depth you are fishing.

Finishing touches

As with any craft, it is generally the finishing touches that reveal the ability of the practitioner. Small items imply a lot. Right here are a handful of extras to hold in thoughts.

angler fishing

Slip floats

There are lots of circumstances exactly where slip floats apply. Most certainly, when a extended lead (10 ft. or additional) is needed, and longer casts are vital. Pairing one particular with an egg sinker will permit you to attain water that may well be inaccessible to other shore anglers. Smaller sized slip floats are also successful accomplices for jigs and reside bait, in slow, clear water. They permit you to gently jig your providing with minimal interference on your drift.


Lead options. Lead, as a toxic substance, has been scrutinized and will continue to be so. It is a excellent concept to get a leg up on options. Tungsten is a effectively-identified substitute that is heavier than lead, but is tough to discover in shot. There’s a putty on the market place, typically utilized in “chuck and duck” presentations by fly fishermen that can serve for float fishing as effectively. As the name implies, you merely mould and squeeze a gob (or gobs) of it on your line. Tin is lighter, so the shot has to be larger, but coloured tin split shot is also obtainable, which treatments the need to have for added visibility.

Dust shot

Dust shotting, or the putting of tiny shot in pairs or triples close to your hook, is not only a wonderful way to safe your bait against increasing currents, it is an successful pairing with snag-resistant rigging. Bulk heavier shot beneath your float, and add a slightly bigger split shot BB, two or three) just above the dust shot. This causes the intervening line to balloon forward whilst nonetheless maintaining the enterprise finish down. It gives added sensitivity and the potential to distinguish involving strikes and snags, so you have a likelihood to pull out if vital. Attempt it subsequent time you fish a deep, woody river with moderate present.

Initially published in the Fall 2017 edition of Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine.

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