Sacramento River Steelhead Fishing Techniques

Although Northern California has many unique water fisheries, nothing is more versatile than the Sacramento River. This river runs 400 miles and is popular with many freshwater anglers. In addition, the fishing scene in the Sacramento River is well known for its great catches and beauty, making it perfect for steelhead fishing.

Anglers can catch fish here all year round, adding to the river’s significance. Having this great reputation, it’s also considered the “Nile of the West.” There are numerous possibilities when you start fishing here. So, what are the recommended Sacramento River Steelhead fishing techniques?

How do You Catch Steelhead on the Sacramento River?

There are various techniques that anglers can choose from when steelhead fishing. The three ways that can work with any gear are the following: 

1. Covering water efficiently to keep your bait and lure near the bottom and systematically catch fish in every part of the water.

2. Spending time in the water to get familiar with the river and hone your techniques.

3. Maintaining a positive attitude and being confident you will catch fish with that bait or lure you are using. 

Recommended Steelhead fishing techniques:

1. Drift fishing

The lure or bait is bounced at the bottom with the aid of significant weight. You should keep your bait near the water’s bottom and drift along with the current’s speed. Detecting subtle steelhead and getting a natural presentation make this technique difficult. However, it’s effective and one of the most reliable techniques.

2. Pulling plugs

Back trolling is another name for this technique. Here, a plastic lure or plug will wiggle and dive in the current. You can cast the plugs from the bank and swing with the current while being pulled behind a boat. They can wiggle and move in the water while boats drift downstream.

3. Spinners 

Several anglers know about the cast and retrieve technique. However, one can get better luck with catching steelhead using the cast and swing presentation. Casting spinners lightly upstream and letting them drift through the current and the swing to the bank is how it works.

4. Fly fishing 

Fly fishing is the challenging yet rewarding method for catching steelhead. Anglers can use double or single-handed rods to swing flies through currents. Another way is using an indicator rig to drift nymphs near the bottom.

5. Plunking 

Here, a heavyweight holds a spinner or bait-type stationery into the river’s bottom current. It’s an ideal technique when water levels go too high and steelhead is traveling and holding into soft water along the bank. Also, it’s good for anglers and beginners with low mobility.

6. Bobber and jig/bait

Bobber and jig baiting is a great technique for beginners and bank steelhead anglers. The bait or weighted jig will be tied below floating bobbers and drift through the current. After letting the bobber dive, set the hook once it wobbles or stops.

Get ready with your best catches in the Sacramento River.

Sacramento is home to many appealing and coveted fish species. If you ask the locals which is their favorite, their answer will depend on which part of the body of water they are from. 

The favorites of people coming from near the Sacramento River are rainbow trout and steelhead, the river belles. It’s the ideal fishing place to go if you want to catch your favorite type of fish.  

If you’re confused about where to start, we have some great recommendations for the ways to catch steelhead, the best lures and baits to use, and more!

How do you catch steelhead on the Sacramento River?

When fishing for steelhead, different options can fit your needs. It can be joining a guide, renting a kayak, or navigating on foot. The Sacramento River offers lots of opportunities for every angler, adventure seeker, or those who want a relaxing fishing day. Here are ways to catch steelhead in the river.

Have a Fishing Guide

Picking a guide is the easiest way to plan your fishing trip. They can take you directly to the area’s most productive fishing spots. Also, there is nothing comparable to the Sacramento fishing guide’s local expertise in fishing.

Guides are available throughout the region and can accommodate all kinds of anglers. There are lots of choices to choose from flyfishing and trolling to drifting. If you want to participate in top-notch fishing, there are the right guides along in the city. Natomas Oaks, Discovery Park, and Miller Regional are ideal launching points with access to Sacramento, American Rivers, and more.

Also, guides can provide everything you need, such as tackle, fuel, and bait. The only you need to do are pack some drinks and snacks and purchase your fishing license!

Navigate on Foot

Sacramento is a safe place to go to and explore on foot. Several accessible areas are available for bank fishing and wading during low tides in the winter season. 

You can go fishing in the Sacramento River and other surrounding lakes in the area. The lower Sacramento River is a great spot to check out because lots of food is available. This means the fish in this part grow fast and big.

Keep in mind to bring waders and extra layers because water gets old during the fall and winter. Lastly, it’s recommended to have a weather forecast before heading out. 

Rent a Kayak boat

Kayak fishing has been popular among the locals. Also, there are growing businesses providing accommodation for kayak rentals. Kayaks can let you hit the rivers for an unforgettable adventure!

Also, kayaks are great for fishing in the shallows. You can catch a target swiftly without being detected by the target fish. In addition, you will be closer to the water, and you will find easier spots for your catch. Sacramento’s port on the town’s west side is also a good place for kayak fishing. Lastly, you can catch steelhead, bass, shad, and more during the spawning season.

What’s the best fishing techniques for catching steelhead on the Sacramento River?

Steelheads are one of the world’s most precious trout because of their beautiful appearance, big size, hard fighting abilities, and difficulty to catch. Although there are various ways to catch them, fly fishing from a small boat is the best technique.

It is the best way because steelhead migrates up and down the river. Also, fly fishing allows anglers to have adaptability and flexibility out of all the fishing methods. This applies to all trout, including steelhead, brown, cutthroat, and rainbow.

Artificial flies mimic natural baits and can be used directly to what food trout are attracted to. A trout’s favorite is bugs. With your flexibility to change your approach and rod, fly fishing is successful in large rivers and small streams. 

What is the best bait for steelhead on the Sacramento River?

Steelheads love hunting for fish eggs or roes. It’s because they have an instinct to kill other fish’s eggs. So, it’s an effective bait that can surely lure this fish. Also, it’s one of the most well-known bait, and anglers and guides agree on it.

The interesting part about steelheads is they don’t consume roe. They only destroy it because they do not want the predators to locate the eggs. So, the freely floating eggs can easily and rapidly catch their attention compared to other baits. You won’t even need the real egg, but you can cure the fish eggs to be used as baits.

What are the best lures to catch steelhead on the Sacramento River?

Here are the top and recommended lures to catch steelhead and why they are useful when fishing in the water.

Acme Kastmaster

The Acme Kastmaster is one of the most efficient lures for trout fishing. It can work in any water type and catch anything from small brookies to large steelhead. Kastmasters are spoon types and work by mimicking the movement and look of fish trouts love to eat.

What is more is, they can swim with the erratic fish motions that are helpless and dying. So, trout will see an easy potential meal and will lunge at your lure in an instant.


Spinners are one of the best steelhead lures because they can move fast and cover water fast. This makes it a good search-type lure. The technique to fish this lure well is by letting the current do most of the work while getting the spinner down to two or three feet of steelheads. Sizes 3 and 4 are the best spinner size for steelheads. These sizes work best in most river situations.


Kwifish works best in all water conditions, even in cold water. It is also great for the west coast and great lake steelhead. This lure is good with its action and can move slowly in the water. The lure’s back and forth crazy wide wobble can make steelhead go crazy. Neutral fish and aggressive ones will start coming your way and smash it once it wobbles in their sight.

Best techniques for bank fishing for steelhead on the Sacramento River?

Many techniques are available to catch steelhead from river banks. Here you will learn the basic techniques. 


Plunking is the term used for casting out into the river. It works by allowing a sinker to hold your bait near the bottom in the upstream swimming fish’s migration path. The best bait choice is cured salmon eggs. 

The best thing to do from the bank is to fish the outgoing tide when you are in the lower part of the system. Outgoing tides produce heavier currents that can push fish closer to the shore while following the path with the least resistance. Current is needed if you will use spinners and Kwikfish. If the current is slower, you can use Spin-N-Glos as they need little current to float.

Casting lures

In casting lures, you can choose from various lures, plugs, spinners, or roe. Each has its retrieve speed depending on the water depth, flow, target fish. Cast the lure to your targeted area and reel it back to let the make swinging action with the current. Don’t fish too much at the bottom as it may hang up from the obstructions.

Also, you’ll need to experiment if you should reel immediately or keep waiting until your lure has sunk to your desired depth. Lastly, it would help determine how quickly you will reel back. Keep in mind that reels do not have the same gear ratio.

Float fishing 

In this technique, you will use a bobber to hold your lure at any depth for suspended fish. Adjustments may be needed for the bobber height from the bait until finding the right water depth for the specific drift you will do.

You can cast farther with this fishing type and can let your line payout on the drift’s lower end. It can cover more water depending on the conditions. This fishing type requires having the bobber as straight as possible. Also, this lets you meld the line to take the slack out of your line and keep the current pulled off. 

The float fishing method can use any lure from worms to jigs and eggs but not plugs and spinners. Then, the leader will be tied to the swivel under the sinker. The leader length is up to you and will depend on water clarity. Choosing a longer length will reduce your ability to cast well and increase the chances of tangling upon casting.

Best techniques for boat fishing for steelhead on the Sacramento River?

Boat fishing lets you have more water coverage and go to distant spots than fishing from the shorelines. Different boats are made for different water types, such as skiffs, Jon boats, kayaks, and canoes. 

Back trolling

Back trolling is a method that needs a small boat and keeps it steady to manipulate the boat movement while slowly dragging the bait or lure behind. The wind direction ensures that the bait is intact in its proper place. This is best when aiming for steelheads packed in one area.


Trolling baits and lures behind a slowly moving boat can cover a large area of water. This method is effective for species of fish that feed on smaller ones like steelhead. Downrigging is a trolling method that uses weight and a winch. It works by carrying the lure and line to the feeding fish’s desired depth. 

You can use downriggers to control your lure depth. It can be any depth from below the surface up to 200 ft. deep.

Start using these Steelhead fishing techniques in the Sacramento River Now! 

Sacramento River steelhead fishing is a great way to spend time with friends and family. It’s also an excellent way to get outside, enjoy the fresh air, and have fun. These fish are plentiful and provide a challenge for anglers of all levels.  

With the right techniques, you can successfully land one of these beauties. I hope our guide has provided all the information you need to make your next trip a success!

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