Eel River Steelhead Fishing Techniques

Eel River Steelhead Fishing Techniques

The Eel River, located on California’s northern pacific coast, is the state’s third-largest watershed. About 196 miles, it extends up to the Pacific Ocean. Moreover, it is a good food source for marine animals like cohos, rainbow trouts, chinooks, and steelheads. The Eel river steelhead can weigh up to 10 pounds. Now, what are the fishing techniques you can do if you want to fish these steelies?

There are various techniques in fishing for Eel River steelhead. One is the fly-fishing technique which utilizes single or double-handed rods to fly through the current. Also, there’s an indicator to lure the nymph near the bottom. Another technique is stripping. Using your finger, you need to trap the line and control the rod or set the hook.

Lastly, you need to also execute the drift fishing technique. How? With the assistance of a heavyweight, the lure recoils at the bottom. Given these fishing techniques, you probably want to learn how to catch steelhead in the Eel River. If so, continue reading!

How do you catch steelhead on the Eel River?

You can catch steelies in the Eel River during the early spring up to winter or early January. Also, you can always fish at the shore if you choose to. Before doing so, here are the things you need to do.

1. Prepare Equipment

Compared to salmon rods, you’ll need a lightweight rod when fishing for steelies. A rod with medium action and an 8-12 pound test line is a good choice. For experienced anglers, they choose bait casting rods. Moreover, don’t forget to consider the following when you choose a rod;

  • Type of reel
  • Line size
  • Type of Fishing technique
  • Length of the Rod
  • Lure/bait sizes

2. Execute the Fishing Techniques

After you’re done preparing your equipment, you can learn how to execute the following fishing techniques.

A. Fly-Fishing Technique

The first technique is called fish-flying, which can be done in 2 ways; nymphing and wing flying. 

Nymphing is a technique wherein you lure the steelies by using artificial flies, worms, and crustaceans. In addition, you can use large eggs and nymphs. You can use a 9-12 pound line test and with a 9-foot leader for the nymphing. Make sure to check if it’s complete with a tippet, split shot, and indicator. 

On the other hand, swinging flies is a technique in which you cast across the river and let the current “swing” its fly. Check the rod and make sure it’s altered to lead and follow the fly while on water. Moreover, the mend can significantly impact the swing, so throw in upstream mend to get the wing deeper.

B. Stripping Technique

The next is the stripping technique, in which you place the fly under the index finger of your rod hand. Use an 8-pound rod and California’s steelhead patterns such as Comets, Bosses, and Chihuahuas. If the water is muddy or murky, you can use the following ties; Eel River specials, Fall favorites, and Thor.

First, you have 9-12 foot leaders and medium sinking lines. Next, taper the leader to 8-pound test tippets. Once the water is clear, spook the fish by using a 14-foot leader and 6-pound test tippets. Use a wet fly swing in the riffles and glide to the mainstream South Fork of the Eel.

Finally, if you see the river levels dropping, you can use medium to extra fast sinking tips. Swing low and deep using an 8-weight rod and 3 to 6 feet, tapered to 8 or 10-pound-test tippets.

C. Drift Fishing Technique

The third technique is known as drift fishing. This method is to let your bait flow naturally together with the water. One crucial thing is to keep the bait at the bottom of the water and have little to no trigger by hand. 

Moreover, it would be best to use 8’6” to 9’6 rods, which are also available for spinning and baitcasting. For the rod action, it should be medium (casting or spinning) or medium-heavy casting. 

First, you have to cast the bait and let go of your reel. Next, once the rig swings near the shore, make sure to reel in and cast again. Take note, drift fishing is all about cast, drift, and retrieve.

On the Eel River, what’s the best method to catch steelhead?

Given the techniques above, the best way to fish for steelhead in the Eel river is to use the drift fishing technique. It is the most popular and successful method of catching steelhead. While it is traditionally utilized in bank fishing, you can use this method for boat fishing. The best baits to use for drifting are sand shrimps, salmon roe, and plastics.

 Pro Tip: To keep your bait in the right water depth, you can use yarn or corkies to attract more steelies. 

There’s a variation of drifting called the side drifting technique. It is a technique that can cover a large amount of water. Like traditional drifting, you can also use this method when you’re on a boat. Use your dominant hand and cast your rod with a suitable hook for the steelhead to carry out this technique. 

Furthermore, you must use a 9’2’ fishing rod with a 6-10 pound test line. The rod should also be paired with a suitable leader and line depending on the fishing conditions. As for the lures and baits, you can work with double hook bait setups with a drift dobber. 

On the Eel River, what is the best bait for steelhead?

Baits are substances or food that are used in catching fish. Among the best baits to use for steelies in the Eel river are listed below. 

If you’re a lure angler, you can use worms, spinners. 

On the Eel River, what are the best lures to catch steelhead?

As opposed to baits, lures are used to attract. Here are the best lures you can employ for steelheads in the Eel River.

Best techniques for bank fishing for steelhead on the Eel River

According to Game & Fish, you can take advantage of the 5 best techniques to bank fish for steelhead in the Eel River.

1. Check the river water levels

The water flow significantly affects the clarity of the water. In return, it could make your fishing trip undesirable. It is then important to check the water level before you proceed. The factors affecting these conditions are:

  • Snowmelt
  • Rainstorm
  • Irrigation canals
  • Dam openings

Since the water level sometimes becomes unpredictable due to these factors, it is best to track weather conditions and possible upcoming storms. Radios and broadcast stations are providing these pieces of information, and it’s worth noting. Moreover, knowing the water level can help you foresee circumstances and an effective approach to catch steelies.

2. Do your leaders at home

The next technique is to tie your leaders at home before you leave. To increase your catch, you need to do this to save time and shift focus to fishing. If you need to change broken leaders, the pre-tied leaders can be used to change them out quickly.  

Another thing you have to note is to keep your lures and baits within reach. Again, depending on weather conditions, you may have to use a lot of baits and lures, while sometimes, all you need is one leader.

Since you’re bank fishing, you can use Pips Hook & Leader Dispenser. It’s handy and can fit in your pockets. Notably, it can hold a lot of leaders and keep them from tangling. These need to be accessible for you to have more time to fish in the water.

3. Move around

For third, If you’re a bank angler who wants to sit all day while waiting for a catch, you might not fish any steelies at all. Moving around means utilizing your gears and equipment while watching the water levels. By all means, be mobile and watchful. Most bank anglers won’t have much time to check hot spots, so you have to do that.

A lot of steelheads are small and reside with one another. You have to note they may have moved, and so you need to follow them. In most cases, these steelies hook the bait within 15 minutes after the initial cast. If you need to change techniques, you may do so. With this in mind, you can modify your baits by using drift baiting yarn balls and floatings jigs.

4. Change the handout

The fourth technique is to change what you’re offering. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending the whole day without a single bite. If the steelheads aren’t responding, be quick to change the course of action. Here are a few circumstances influencing your catch;

  • Size of the bait
  • Color of the lure
  • Length of the leader

Another is the size of your hooks. You can downsize it and tune your spinners as well. Not to mention the use of fluorocarbon leader to fish for steelies in clear water.

5. Fish behind the morning crowd

Lastly, you can fish at a later time in the morning. Most anglers fish around 7-8 in the morning. You can stay behind them and catch steelheads in the same area. Remember, give the steelies something they haven’t seen. Instead of eggs, use shrimp tail or jigs instead of balls.

In like manner, you can fish around 11 in the morning to help the steelies settle down from the early morning rush. A stressed fish cannot respond well even if you offer them something unique.

Best techniques for boat fishing for steelhead on the Eel River

Now that you’ve learned about the techniques for bank fishing, here’s a quick guide when you’re boat fishing for steelheads.

1. Read the water levels

Like bank fishing, you have to read the water levels. Low and clear water can hold lots of fish. The ideal height is a medium flow current. Steelies can hold off, and you can see them along with logs, stones, and side channels. If you’re fishing in high-leveled water and the water appears muddy and dark, check the banks. The slow spots can also be a good location to look for.

2. Anchor the boat

The second important technique you should remember is how you anchor your boat. Don’t anchor the boat in high current and fast water because you risk getting your anchor stuck. Moreover, deep, slow pools can have hidden rocks beneath, so you must avoid these areas. 

3. Use your tackle and techniques

Finally, when boat fishing, use the center reels and pins. Also, level your wind reels in flat rods. The diameter for center pin reels ranges from 4-5”. In addition, a slow-action rod may be more suitable for this case.

Final Thoughts

As you gear up for another Eel river steelhead fishing trip, you have to remember that these steelies can weigh up to 10-pounds. There are various techniques used, namely, fly-fishing, stripping, and drift fishing techniques. Each has its method of catching steelies. Notably, drift fishing is the best technique among the three.

Aside from the fishing techniques, you have to prepare your equipment like a lightweight rod with medium action and an 8-12 pound test line. This type of rod is best for fishing Eel river steelheads. 

You can take advantage of the lures and baits in the list given. To catch steelies, you have to read the water levels for both bank and boat fishing. Finally, check your time and have fun fishing for steelies in the Eel River!

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