Using pink worms for steelhead

Pink worms are one of the best lures for steelhead you can find. Whether you are spin, float or fly fishing, pink worms simply catch fish. In the past I have written about how good these worms are for many other species of fish including trout and even panfish. Yet pink worms work incredibly well for steelhead all over the United States and Canada. So it’s definitely something you should try when you’re fishing for steelhead.

Why do pink worms work so well for steelhead? Who knows. Some combination of the shape, size and color simply draws strikes for fish. Some people claim that steelhead confuse the pink worms for shrimp they encounter in the ocean. But what about the steelhead that live in the Great Lakes? And what about their fully freshwater trout relatives that also attack pink worms all over the world? Perhaps it’s just a strike reflex embedded into the fish. In any case, pink worms definitely work for steelhead.

Pink steelhead worms

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What is a pink worm? Well, there are a wide variety of them on the market these days. The most famous when it comes to lures is probably the 3″ floating trout worm from Berkley. When it comes to flies the most well known pink worms are the San Juan Worm and the Squirmy Wormy.

There are others around too. Custom 3″ floating trout worms are good when you don’t want the scent that comes with Berkley’s products. There’s even a “condom worm” fly that sinks well and catches fish. So you have a lot of tackle to choose from.

pink trout worm

Around the great lakes the most common pink worms used for steelhead are probably the Berkley 3″ trout worm in bubblegum or pink shad and the squirmy worm in sizes 10 up to maybe 6.

Out on the West Coast of North America anglers will typically use a larger worm. That is the native range of the steelhead. The fish typically run bigger rivers than they do around the Great Lakes, though there are of course some exceptions (Niagara comes to mind).

In big rivers the fatter paddle tail worms are more popular for steelhead. Good examples are Berkley’s 4″ steelhead worm and 3 1/2″ paddle tail worms.

How to rig a pink worm for steelhead

The pink worm flies are the easiest to rig. Whether you are fishing them on traditional fly tackle or spin fishing with flies you basically have two choices. One is to add a little weight to your line and bounce the worms along the bottom. The other is to fish the flies under a float. In both cases you’ll want to make sure that you have a drag free drift. In other words, you want your worm to drift along at the same speed as the water is flowing. If your worm goes too fast or too slow it won’t look natural and fish will most likely ignore it.

The same general principle applies even if you are float fishing with spinning, casting or centerpin gear. You basically want to drift your pink worm along naturally with the current. Typically you’ll want to have it close to the bottom, though you might run into a few exceptions. Again you can either bounce the worm along the bottom or drift it under a float. I’ve caught plenty of fish both ways, though I do seem to pick up more fish under a float when using pink worms.

Pink worm flies are of course already tied onto hooks. Soft plastics need to be rigged. Around the Great Lakes the most common way to rig pink worms for steelhead is to insert a lead jig head in the front of the worm. Typical sizes range from 1/64 up to maybe 1/4 ounce in the bigger waters. Some people also rig the worms on straight hooks then just add weight above on the line. I think having the weight at the head of the worm is better, but you can catch fish either way.

As I wrote above, they tend to use bigger worms on the bigger rivers on the West Coast. Some will still use jig heads, but they’ll go up a couple of sizes. The best jig head for the larger paddle tail worms is probably the Freaky Head, which also comes in pink. Another common way they rig worms is to fish their leader through the front of the worm then out the back near the tail. There they will typically tie on a bright colored bead and a hook. This is just another way to fish the pink worm for steelhead. They all work in their own ways and the key ingredient is the pink colored worm that steelhead often can’t resist.

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