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It’s the most wonderful time, of the year…. From the perspective of the passionate men and women of the outdoors I am clearly talking about Steelhead Season! With Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving quickly approaching now is the time to grab your warmest coat, head out to the fishing garage, and let the preparations commence. As a fishing guide, the most successful days on the water are a result of careful preparation and planning. To me, catching trophy steelhead and staying close to where they are doesn’t come by accident (every now and then we all get lucky!). From proper attire, to gear, to technique, here is everything you need to know about being prepared and ready to make the most of your steelhead season.

Hatchery Steelhead: (little to no clipping on these hatchery fish. Bad Ash Fishing is committed to releasing all wild fish!)

As I walk to the garage to prepare, I reminisce about fighting a spirited steelhead in the biting cold of winter. Isn’t it funny that the one of the jewels of the Pacific Northwest comes in the most challenging season the year. The first stop I make in the fishing garage is my gear desk. For steelhead fishing, here are the techniques I will be armed with.

Drift fishing: The Classic

Drift fishing is the art of allowing a bait or other presentation to freely float along the bottom of the river. The setup is simple! (The actual technique, on the other hand is more challenging. (YouTube- BadAshFishing for more techniques)

The rod: The most significant piece of equipment between you and the steelhead you fight, is your fishing rod. When you drift fish for steelhead you want to be precise in how you fish the water, you’ll want longer rod length to move line out of water quickly, sensitivity to feel everything in the water as you fish your way down, strength to handle setting the hook through current, and a light rod to keep you fishing all day.

Ashley’s Pick Gloomis IMX 1165 STDR  

Link to this rod:


The reel: Preference comes into play here. Personally, I like using a low-profile bait caster style reel for all steelhead fishing (except plug fishing). A level wind reel is preferred by many, because it offers the most casting control. Either are fantastic options, and if you haven’t had the opportunity to master the bait caster you can still use a spinning rod. It is a little more cumbersome to continuously flip the bail, however if it’s what you want to use you can certainly be effective.

Ashley’s Pick: Shimano Tranx

Link to this reel:


*If you’re like me and love the idea of buy one reel to master everything, this will be your favorite too. With this reel’s tough 22lbs of drag, you can reel in everything from fresh water salmon to salt water tuna.

The Set up:

  • 50lb PowerPro
  • Snap Swivels
  • Stick Weights
  • 12-20lb Maxima Ultragreen leaders
  • #2 Gamakatsu Hook

Fill your reel with 50lb PowerPro braid. Attach a snap swivel, put a stick weight on the snap, tie a leader to the swivel.

Seriously, that’s it. Once you add your choice of bait, you are dangerous.

Here are my top picks for things you should add!

  • Steelhead Worms- WFO
  • Roe- Pro Tip: Opt for pink/orange cures that are sweeter in makeup for cold water
  • Yarnies with Roe


Disregard the crazy face, I was stoked. Here is a drift fishing catch with a WFO blue/pink worm.

Bead&Micro Jig Under Float: The Fishing Boss

There is something about watching a float dance in the water that makes me a little giddy just thinking about it. Using a bead that resembles a single fish egg, this float fishing style allows you to let that bead swirl and dance through the current just to be picked up by an unsuspecting steelhead. Between your float and your bead is a small jig that acts as a weight to keep your presentation down, and offers another bite option to the fish as opposed to using another weight.

The Rod: Length is important to cast and manage your line, as well as pick up that line quickly when the float goes under water and it’s time to set the hook.

Ashley’s Pick:

The Reel: Preference! I use the Tranx low profile reel for this as well, but a spinning reel is fine too.

The Set Up:

  • 50lb PowerPro
  • Beau-Mac ¾ torpedo floats
  • Beau-Mac in-line weights (1/2-3/4)
  • 10-15 Fluorocarbon leader
  • Micro Jigs (1/8-1/16oz)
  • Beads
  • #4 Gamakatsu Hooks
  1. Slide on your bobber stop and beads that came in your float package.
  2. Slide on your float. (Pro Tip- add another bobber stop under float so if you get caught on something, you don’t lose everything you’ve set up)
  3. Tie on your In-Line weight
  4. Tie on 18” on your Ultragreen, tie on micro-jig (Pro-Tip- tie to the collar for optimal presentation
  5. Slide a bead onto 18” of leader w/#4 hook and a nail knot 2” above hook
  6. Adjust float to appropriate depth

The set-up is more complex than drift fishing, however the fishing part itself is simpler. When the float goes under, game on.

Centerpin Folks- you can use this exact set up! I prefer to use mono line on my pin instead of braid.


Swinging for Steel: For the Fly-Curious

Swinging flies for Steelhead has become one of my favorite parts of the steelhead season. I am still early on in my fly fishing journey, but here are two things you can be sure of if you give it a try. First, it’s not as hard as you think. Yeah, the lingo and all of the new gear can be tricky, but it’s still fishing and the details are learnable. Second, you will catch fish in places you would have thought you would before. It’s addicting and fun to see your river in new ways and like reading your favorite book for the first time all over again.

The Line System: This comes down to preference, but I prefer a Skagit line system for Steelhead. They are the easiest to cast, and great for swinging big steelhead flies. Skagit lines need a front tip added (floating or sinking), and a shooting line at the back before they are ready to fish. I say go sinking lines for Winter Steel on Olympic Peninsula Rivers, but other rivers may vary!

The Rod: The river you are fishing can very much dictate what length of rod you use, however a 13’ rod is a great all-around choice. In terms of weight, choose a rod rated for your line choice and suitable for your steelhead.

Ashley’s Choice: Asquith 8136 13’6” rod

OP Steelhead Flies

  • The Hobo Spey Fly
  • The Bunny Fly- the pulsing movement of this is fantastic!
  • The Intruder

** Credit where credit is due: Richie Underwood of Assault on the Quinault turned me on to these flys. He is Jedi, I am ….. uh…. OH Padawan!

Some of the most arm jarring grabs I have ever experienced have come from this type of fishing. Now that it’s a part of my arsenal of tools, I could never go a season without again.

Weather and Water Watch

Staying on top of weather patterns is not only a good way to ensure you don’t go fishing in a flood, but also a good way to remember what kinds of weather patterns aided in good fishing days and bad fishing days.  Here are the top sites/ Apps I use to make sure I am not surprised by water levels or weather.


  • NOAA Meteorological Forecasts. This is a must, because you will see how much rainfall you get as well as temperature. Temperature can influence how quickly rivers will rise or fall during periods of rainfall. If lots of rain and warm weather, expect rivers to fill up and get dirty faster. If rain with very cold temperatures, the rivers will take a little longer to fill and get dirty.


Go to the page, save it in your bookmarks, use often!

  • USGS Water Data. This will show you the volume of the river you are fishing in CFS ( cubic feet per second). Is your river level rising? Falling? How quickly? These are important factors to note when you fish.






  • River Data: The app icon looks like a white raindrop with a red background. This allows me to store information of my favorite rivers, view their water volume, provides USGS alerts, gives me maps and directions to the area, and a weather forecast. All this at the tips of my fingers is useful!

Go to the App store on your cell phone and search RiverData



Good luck this season! I hope to see you on the river.

Get in touch if you would like more details, or would like to see a video or blog on something else! Send me photos of your Steelhead, and you may see them up on my page or social media.

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