When fishing in a river, whether for steelhead or one of the many salmon species, there are basic items which will make your trip more productive as well as more comfortable. If you are not prepared before you get to the river, you may miss the opportunity to catch the fish you are targeting. Certain items are basic and should always be with you, you may add more as you gain expertise.
Rods: There are many fishing rods to choose from and they are specific for type of fish, size of line and lure. For the beginner, look for a fishing rod which will handle 8-15 pound line and lures to about ¼ ounce and over. The basic drift rod should be no shorter than 8 feet and no longer than 10 feet (a good 8 ½ to 9 is ideal) with a flexible top section and a strong “butt” section. For float fishing, a longer rod is appropriate since it will help keep your line off the water. When a rod is held in one hand and shaken, the top section should move and the bottom section should stay stationary. When stopped, the whole rod should stop moving quickly. A good medium weight graphite rod will work well and may be picked up for under $100.
Reels: There are many variations of reels but the ones to use in the river are either good quality bait casting reels or good quality spinning reels. A good quality reel will catch fish for years while a cheap reel will fail quickly under the stress of a big fish. I prefer the round, bait casting reels because of the line capacity and control over a similar quality spinning reel but good quality spinning reels have become a standard due to their ease of casting for beginners. A good quality spinning reel can handle large fish but you can cast farther (once you learn how) and control fish better with a bait casting reel. Also, if you turn the handle without retrieving line the spinning reel will throw a “twist” into the line causing it to weaken. The “flat” reels lack the line capacity of the “round” reels requiring re-spooling more often as well as threat of a huge fish “spooling” you (taking all your line). There are some excellent reels on the market, talk to an expert about what your needs are.
Line: I often see people on the river with a $200 rod, a $150 reel and line which sells for $6 per thousand yards. You can catch fish on a broom handle but if you don’t have good line, the fish will break off. For fishing a river, line must be strong at the knots, have good resistance to abrasion, be limp enough for casting long distance and be darn near invisible to the fish. I prefer Maxima for bait casting rods and Trilene XT for spinning rods but there are other lines on the market which are equally good. Get harder surface lines for a bait casting reel and a “limp” line for spin casting. There is little need for more than a 12 or 15 pound line even for beginners unless you are targeting very large fish such as chinook. See types of line below for more information on lines and uses but never use fluorocarbon line as your main line on a spinning reel. The surface is too hard and it will cause you grief. Be very careful when you put line on your reel so the line comes off the spool and onto the reel at the same turn. If you reverse the turn you will give a “twist” to the line.
Leader: I use a leader size smaller than the line size. If I am using 12 pound line I will not use more than a 10 pound leader (I may go lighter but not heavier). You do not need buy separate spools of leader, just use line. There is no difference generally except the leader is placed upon smaller spools and priced higher (for tippets in fly fishing this rule may not apply). Leader size is dependent upon water conditions and size of fish you are going after. Low, clear conditions will require a much smaller leader size (or fluorocarbon) than high and muddy water as well as a different leader length. Check your leader frequently for nicks or abrasions, especially when coming off a snag and retie frequently since knots will weaken over time or after landing a large fish..
Hooks: I am very particular about the hooks I use. You may only get one chance at a good fish in a day, make sure you have the opportunity to hook it. Stay away from “cheap” hooks. I use Mustad hooks or Gamakatsu hooks and am quite satisfied with them although Gamakatsu hooks are more expensive. Hooks must be kept extremely sharp at all times and checked frequently for dullness. Use a file!
There are as many types of terminal gear as there are people who fish. Look at the examples shown; this is just a small number of the different ways to tie gear. I usually prefer corkies or wing bobbers with yarn and bait unless the river is catch and release, in that case I don’t use the bait. If the bottom is too snaggy for drift fishing I use floats with either bait or a jig. I also use flies, spinners, and spoons which can be very effective at times. Watch what others are using and what is catching fish and copy the successful people (third rule of fishing). This will require you to have a large assortment of terminal gear on hand when you go to the river. Remember, 95% of the fishing gear available is made for the fisherman, not for the fish. To start with, take corkies of various colors, some type of bait and different colors of yarn. Expand your supply from there such as a few spinners and spoons (I recommend Dick Nite spoons rigged properly). I almost always use yarn except for spinners and spoons; it is the cheapest terminal gear available and one of the most effective. Yarn is an attracter, it holds scent tangles in fish teeth and gives you that extra second to set the hook and helps when hands are cold and you can’t get a hold of the leader. There are many reasons to use yarn and I know of none not to. With floats, feather jigs or fur jigs are good but you can also use a hook, bait and yarn. Baits can include eggs (roe), sand shrimp and prawns.
A good set of neoprene or “breathable” waders are essential to fish the river. Nothing is more uncomfortable and can ruin a fishing day more than to have wet, cold feet. Wear additional clothing under the waders as needed for cold water and consider some good quality, warm socks.
Fishing Vest: You will need a method of carrying all of the gear you feel is essential on the river and nothing will help more than a full fishing vest. These can be bought for a reasonable price and easily replace that bulky tackle box left on the beach. It also allows you to change gear without leaving the water. Some people go to a gear belt which does not carry as much gear but is more comfortable to wear.
appropriate than the other.
- Learn to use and make both “slinkies” and pencil lead for the river; sometimes one is more
while fishing. Time spent tying is not time spent fishing.
- Hook holding devices are important so you can pre-tie your hooks and have them readily available
if too warm but you usually can’t put more on if it is left at home.
- Snap swivels and barrel swivels for attaching everything-I prefer black swivels. Have both types of swivels with you.
- A good hook file to keep those hooks super sharp at all times.
- Pliers to rig gear, cut lead and to help get the hook out of fish.
- Rain gear and warm clothing-do not allow yourself to get chilled. You can always take off clothing
times and find them effective.
- Scents that can mask the “human” smell and attract some bites-I do not always use them but do at
on a bad knot and you will have nobody to blame when it happens.
- Bait can vary but I use egg clusters, sand shrimp and prawn pieces at times, dyed and not dyed. Carry it in bait boxes rather than discarding containers on the beach.
- A good knot tying book, learn the knots and tie them correctly! You will lose the fish of a lifetime
Fishing a river is an adventure itself, catching fish is a bonus. Have the proper gear, use the right techniques and you will have an enjoyable day on the river. Keep you rods high, your hooks sharp and lines tight.
Information on lines:
1. The initial fishing lines were mono-filament and they are still used for the majority of fishing. Mono has many positive attributes: it is relatively inexpensive, most mono line has good abrasion resistance and it is relatively difficult to see in the water. It also has some negative attributes: it has a stretch of 25-27 percent which means when setting the hook you have to account for line stretch as well as the “bow” in the line, it does not float well which will drag your float in the water, some mono lines will suffer from abrasions so check it often, line strength compared to line diameter limits how much line can be put on your reel, line deteriorates over time and exposure to sun and should be changed often (some people change more than every year) and some mono line has problems on spinning reels due to “memory”.
2. Fluorocarbon lines have come out more recently and, when used properly have some positive attributes: it is nearly invisible to fish in the water; it sinks quickly allowing your lure to get down to where the fish are, and it has good abrasion resistance. It also has some negative attributes: it sinks too quickly to use as the main line with floats (it drags the float unnaturally), it has a very hard surface which can cut through mono if you tie a blood knot (it will also cut into itself if you are not careful), it becomes brittle at the knots, it deteriorates quickly if exposed to sunlight, it is stiff and not appropriate for spinning reels and it is relatively expensive. I recommend fluorocarbon only be used for leader when appropriate.
3. Braided lines have become increasingly popular and, although somewhat expensive they have some excellent attributes: braid floats well so it is good for fishing floats, it has virtually no stretch so you can set the hook quickly, it is small in diameter and limp so it casts further and it does not need to be replaced as often. There are also some negative attributes: it is difficult to tie properly, it slips on your reel if not put on correctly, it must be tightly spooled or it will “cut” into itself, it sometimes absorbs too much water and will freeze to the spool in cold weather and because it does not stretch, you can break your rod if you set the hook too hard on a snag. There have been many improvements to braided line such as coatings to prevent freezing and even some stretch ability but the above still stands.
There are many different lines with many different attributes; try to make the correct choice for your fishing needs.
Courtesy of The Everett Salmon and Steelhead Club written by Jim Brauch 2012