Over the years, I have taken stream Trout and Salmon on a variety of methods ranging from a fly rod to chucking spoons, plugs and spinners. They all work well at given times. But day in and day out, nothing has ever produced as consistently for me as drifting with a float. It has worked for me in high water, low water, fast water, slow water, and on both large and small streams.
Float drifting, quite simply, is drifting a bait below a fixed or slip float. Traditionally, natural baits like spawn or wigglers are drifted below the float, but that has expanded to all kinds of offerings that resemble eggs.
In recent years, Midwest anglers have discovered a tactic that west-coast Steelheaders have been doing for many years. That tactic is drifting jigs. No eggs to mess with. No bait to keep alive. Armed with a handful of jigs and a couple floats, you can catch Trout, Salmon, and Steelhead on any stream under almost any conditions.
But here’s a fact. Streams eat jigs. And if you’re not loosing a few jigs here and there you probably aren’t fishing close enough to the bottom or close enough to cover. There’s only one way to ease the pain of losing Steelhead jigs. Make them yourself.
In the past, the lighter weight jigs needed for drifting jigs could only be poured with small light wire hooks designed for panfish. These hooks didn’t always hold up well under the pressure of heavyweight Salmon or Steelhead. Now, that isn’t a problem with Do-Its STL-6-A round head jig mold. This mold was specifically designed with the Steelheader in mind. It produces round heads with no collar and accepts a strong O”Shaughness hook like Eagle Claw’s standard #630. All the sizes in this mold are perfect for Steelhead applications and range from 1/32nd to ½ ounce. For most of my Great Lakes Tributary fishing, I use the 1/32nd through the 1/8th ounce.
I powder paint all of my Steelhead jigs using Pro-Tec powder paint. For most situations, blaze orange and hot pink heads will cover most applications. After that, black and purple would round out my top four.
Now it comes to dressing the jig. The standard for Steelhead jigs in Marabou. It breathes, flows, and comes alive in moving water. It is easy and very inexpensive to tie. One small clump of Marabou on each side of the head and you are done. Some can’t miss combinations are orange head/white body, orange head/orange body, pink head/pink and white body, and orange head/black body. The orange/black combo is a perfect representation of the “egg sucking leech,” a fly pattern which is very popular amongst Great Lakes angers.
If you want to get even fancier, almost any fly pattern that is tied for fly fishing can be tied on a jig head. With jig tied flies, spinning anglers can enjoy the same success that fly purists do in clear water situations. Even nymphs can be tied on jigs and drifted for Trout and Steelhead.
Drifting jigs is easy and deadly. It’s often said that a bad jig fisherman will catch fish and a good jig fisherman will catch a lot of fish.
A long light action spinning rod is perfect for drifting jigs. A quality spinning reel loaded with eight pound test completes the outfit.
Most any floats designed for slip-bobbing will do. Floats like Thills Turbo Master in #3 and #4 are standards on the west coast. I tend to rig them stationary for depths of four feet or less. For stationary situations I secure the float to the line at the top and bottom with surgical tubing. For deeper situations, rig the float in the typical slip-bobber fashion.
The jig should run as close to the bottom as possible without constantly snagging. You may have to adjust the depth several times till you get the drift just right. When it’s right, the float will drift straight up at approximately the same speed as the current. If the float is tipping forward, the jig is too heavy. If it’s tipping back, the jig is too light. Resist adding split shot to the line. Instead, change the jig weight. That’s what’s so great about making them yourself. You can make the same color in three or four weights to adjust to different current speeds.
Cast the rig upstream and let the current carry it down stream, letting the jig comb the bottom. It could take ten to twenty drifts to cover a stretch of water completely. If the float disappears, set the hook, it’s probably a fish!
I never get tired of watching that bobber pop under the river surface. And it’s even better when it’s on a jig that you made yourself.