Fishing with jigs is one of the best ways to catch steelhead. The way they look in the water draws in strikes from steelies all across North America. These little lures can catch fish from the Great Lakes tributaries in the East all the way out to the native range of steelhead on the West Coast. So you should definitely carry some jigs for steelhead in your vest.
A jig is a basic term that denotes a type of fishing lure. So there are jigs meant for everything from bass to walleye. The jigs used for steelhead fishing are normally in the 1/100 ounce to 1/4 ounce range. The smallest jigs are used on small clear waters around the Great Lakes. The big jigs are used in large rivers in the west or in big eastern rivers like Niagara.
Some jigs are made for steelhead. Others are more general lures that just happen to work. Jigs for steelhead typically have some kind of body or tail tied right on the hook. Marabou and hackle are the most common materials used. But some jigs are made of hair, synthetic materials or plastic beads. There are a lot of options available. A general rule is to use subdued colors and smaller jigs in low clear water. In high or discolored water use bigger and brighter jigs.
Jigs for steelhead?
If there is a traditional steelhead jig, I guess it might be something like the Weldon Mini Foo. They’ve been around since the last century. I’m actually not a big fan of those in their current form. But they give you an idea of what steelhead jigs usually look like.
Now there are a lot other jigs sold specially for steelhead. They come in different patterns, colors and sizes. A great example of an effective marabou jig for steelhead is the Jiggy Bugger. The Aerojig Steelhead Jigs are more modern with details like yarn and hackle. The Jiggy Stone is a more realistic jig that looks like a stonefly nymph. Newer jigs like the Beau Mac Salmon and Steelhead Jig tend to have beads incorporated into them. These are especially popular in bigger rivers on the West Coast. But they can work around the Great Lakes too.
For decades it has been common to use jigs for steelhead around the Great Lakes. At least in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. For a while they seemed to be the most popular lure of all on some of the tributaries. As noodle rods became less popular jigs seem to have gone down in use too. But now there are more jigs than ever on the market and most of them can catch steelhead. These days angler’s are using them across the continent with great success. So there is no reason not to use jigs when you’re out to catch steelhead today.
How to rig steelhead jigs
Steelhead jigs are normally ready to go right out of the package. You can add a small piece of soft plastic, a maggot or even a bit of shrimp for taste and flavor if you’d like. Otherwise, they are ready to fish. They look like any number of aquatic insects, shrimp or even minnows in the water. So that explains why steelhead like them. But how do you fish them?
There are two ways to fish steelhead jigs. You can drift them or you can jig them. Sometimes you can do both at the same time. When you drift fish a jig, you want it to float along at the same speed as the current. When you “jig” a jig, you work your rod tip to make the jig move and look alive in the water. You can also give a few “jigs” to a jig when it is drifting through a hole. A lot of times that will draw a strike.
If you want to work your jig you don’t need much more than the jig itself. You might want to add a little weight in the form of micro split shot to help cast or get it down deep in the water. Then you just twitch it. This is especially effective in slow current. But I have seen it work in a lot of different situations. You can also twitch a jig under a float.
To dead drift a steelhead jig you normally want to fish it under a float. Sure you can bounce it along the bottom but it’s not as easy to detect bites that way. Jigs also have a tendency to snag up on the bottom. So the best method is to attach a float several feet above your jig. You’ll want the jig to be close to the bottom without getting it stuck on the rocks. In smaller Great Lakes tributaries you can use small strike indicators or E-Z Floats. If you’re fishing larger waters or want to cast further out, then the specially made floats like the Clear Steelhead Floats and Aero Jig Steelhead Floats can work wonders. Just match your tackle to the water and the fish and you should do alright when fishing jigs for steelhead.