Smith River Steelhead Fishing Techniques

Smith River Steelhead Fishing Techniques

The Smith River is regarded as California’s premier steelhead fishery. It is the only river in the state where anglers are permitted to keep wild fish. Despite being only 25 miles long, the Smith River is California’s largest river system that flows freely along its entire length. More so, it is the number one destination for trophy salmon and steelhead. 

Steelheads are formidable fighters, and the river’s terrain makes landing one an unrivaled challenge. Therefore, you’ll need to know some fishing techniques to catch one. For Instance, plunking is one effective technique that will surely work for this kind of fish.

This article will cover strategies to help you become a successful steelhead angler in the Smith River. Moreover, we will also discuss the best baits and lures for a guaranteed catch. Continue reading!

How do you catch steelhead on the Smith River?

There are several ways to catch steelheads in the Smith River; here are some:

Bobber Fishing

Steelhead fishing with a bobber and bait or jig is similar to when you’re fishing for bluegill or trout. The bobber allows you to cover a lot of water while still in front of the fish and maintain your hook just above the undesired snags.

Drift Angling

Drift fishing is among the most prominent and commonly used methods of catching steelhead. While this is primarily a bank technique, it can also be done from a boat. When drifting, baits such as salmon roe, shrimp, and soft plastics are common.

You may also use corkies or yarn to add an extra attractor, and the tiny floats will also help keep the bait at the proper depth, just above the bottom. The setup is straightforward. Use just enough weight to make your line tick off the bottom and natural flow in the current. Depending on the water, many drift anglers will use a small bait sac to hold the roe in place with a 2/0 hook.

Along with the attractors, you can cast upstream above your primary target area. This will allow the bait to flow down into the zone naturally. It should bounce off the bottom now and then. Retrieve and cast back upstream once it starts dragging for the majority of the drift. The longer the bait is drifting naturally just above the bottom, the better.

What’s the best method for catching steelhead on the Smith river?

Begin with a technique called Bobber 

Bobber fishing is thought to be the simplest and most effective method. Remember that steelheads stay on the bottom. These fish are also drawn to colors. They will attempt to grab the jig if they see it. You may adjust the length from the bobber so that the jig drifts to the bottom. If it is constantly dragging, the bobber will alert you.

Purchase a quality spinning rod and reel that is equipped with a floatable line.

If you’re fishing, you know how important it is to set your line. It doesn’t matter which rod you use; it’s the same idea. When you use a floatable line, it’s easier to set your hook and retrieve your lure. You’ll be able to catch more fish and keep them in the water longer.

What’s the ideal steelhead bait for the Smith River?

Roe, worms, and flies are the best steelhead baits for fishing in the Smith River. Using the right steelhead bait will significantly increase the number of fish you catch. Which bait to use relies on the clarity and flow of the water and the time of year and activity patterns of the fish.

We will give you detailed information about the best baits mentioned. Keep on reading!

Salmon Roe

Salmon roe is the number one choice of steelhead for tributaries throughout North America. Due to its strong color, large size, and softness, it performs well in almost every water condition. If you are looking for an easy way to catch steelhead, look no further than a roe.

Trout Worm

The trout worm is one of the most effective steelhead baits in the Smith River. This lure is efficient when fished on a 1/64 oz jig head with a floating drift rig. You should also consider the best colors for fishing in the Smith River: bubblegum and pink shad, but others could also work.


When the rivers are clogged with roe baggers, flies such as a black or brown stonefly can be the best steelhead bait these days. Remember that baby steelheads eat flies daily to grow. While adult steelhead see them as a valuable food source when they are in the rivers, especially after the salmon have spawned and there aren’t many eggs to eat.

How to Determine which Baits are Best

Generally, baits are effective under certain conditions. You could try rotating the use of your baits to figure out exactly what to use. This way, you’ll be able to determine which bait works best on any given day or situation.

Moreover, you can start with your best guess based on the current conditions in each location. You can also move the bait from one side of the spot to the other systematically. Simply stay in the strike zone and cover the entire area.

Nonetheless, if the bait isn’t working, you can try a different one and repeat the process until you finally get a catch. If they still don’t bite, it’s time to move to the next pool and repeat the process.

Many anglers have found that rotating baits work well. However, it will only work if you use the right bait and understand how to get it into the strike zone.

What are the ideal steelhead lures for the Smith River?

Here are the best lures to catch steelhead on the Smith River:

Firefly Jigs

The Northland Firefly Jig is one of the most effective lures you may use in the Smith River. It comes in many colors; chartreuse, pink, and black are the best colors, but any will capture a fish.

Remember that subtle colors are best on bright days with clear water, and on dreary days with flecked water, you should use vibrant colors. Don’t hesitate to get multiple jigs. You could cast three different colored jigs through a run without getting a hit, then switch to a fourth and catch three fish in a row. 

Many steelhead jigs sold in the United States are designed primarily for fishing on the West Coast. They are typically too large for the steelhead found in Great Lakes tributaries. Northland Firefly Jigs, on the other hand, is just the right size.

These micro jigs are typically fished on a floating drift jig, but you can also fish on a tight line or by swimming them through the water. In addition to the Firefly Jigs, local variations will also work well. To add flavor, tip these jigs with one or two maggots.

Best steelhead bank fishing techniques on the Smith River

Plunking can be both a relaxing and effective method of steelhead fishing on the Smith River. You’ll enjoy this technique if you grew up casting out bait for trout and then sitting back to wait for a bite. 

Furthermore, plunking works well when targeting traveling lanes because it allows your gear to get in the way of the fish. It requires a small amount of current flow to function properly.

Reel and Rod 

Depending on the current, you may require several ounces of lead to keep your gear in place, while the need to cast out that weight dictates the rod choice.

Terminal Tackle

Many people prefer to use a spreader bar in their plunking setup. These aid in preventing tangles while casting, but they are not required. If you don’t use them, a three-way swivel is very useful. You may also use pyramid weights because they tend to stay in place rather than slide downstream with the current.

To begin, connect the spreader bar to your mainline. 

The weight is then attached with a short dropper line (usually 3-5 inches long). Consider using a lighter dropper line. That way, if the weight becomes wedged, you can pull hard enough to break it near the weight, releasing everything else. Moreover, attach your leader and spin & glow setup to the other end.

How To Fish

When fishing, attach a bait to the hook. Salmon roe, trout, and flies all work well. Small pieces of bait are usually best – you want to add some scent, do not feed them.

Then cast straight out from a spot just upstream of where you want to fish. Remove all slack and pull back a little on the rod as soon as the gear reaches the water. This helps to keep everything straight and prevents tangles.

Depending on the depth, the weight may take some time to settle on the bottom. It should come to a halt due to the weight and tension on the line.

Increase the amount of weight used if you’re having trouble getting the gear to stop where you want it. Wait while you place the rod in a rod holder. When a fish strikes, it is usually pretty obvious. When this occurs, grab the rod, set the hook, and reel in.

Best techniques for boat fishing for steelhead on the Smith river

We’re all aware that drift fishing is an effective method for catching various river fish, including steelhead. Because it simply puts fish in the boat, this boat-based fishing technique is very popular among fishing guides and recreational anglers. 

It doesn’t necessitate a lot of specialized gear or lures – aside from a boat, of course. The execution is straightforward – an experienced hand at the helm and a well-placed cast puts one on the right track to hooking up with a fish.

Here are some preparations for drift fishing steelheads in Smith River:

Gearing Up 

While the fish are unconcerned about the specific gear you use, you will find that using the right gear makes fishing easier. It can also become more enjoyable and ultimately helps you catch more fish.

Reel and Rod

One of the common aspects of side drifting is that it is best done with lighter equipment. The smallest amount of weight is used to achieve the desired drift. A long light-action rod is required to cast that weight effectively.


Whatever rig you use, you’ll need some weight to cast it and keep it close to the bottom where the fish are. There are numerous drift weight options, but most guides use pencil lead weight. It is inexpensive and simple to assemble in a variety of lengths.

Get ready to catch your first fish on Smith river!

Are you ready to catch your first fish on the Smith River? Steelhead fishing on the majestic Smith River is one of most anglers’ favorite places to be. If you want to enjoy your time, you must know and follow certain tips and tricks, especially if you’re new to fishing.

You should not only have the proper fishing skills and techniques. But also select the best fishing gear and equipment, as well as the appropriate steelhead bait.

Furthermore, conducting extensive research and seeking expert advice will be beneficial. Steelhead fishing can be challenging at first, but it becomes much easier once you get the hang of it.

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