Steelhead Fishing with Eggs
Egg sacs and egg clusters are considered to be delicacies for steelhead. Fishing with eggs is a basic method, yet still considered to be highly effective when utilized properly. Especially during spawning periods, the rivers fill up with loose eggs and egg chunks. Steelhead will hone in on these meals.
Let’s discuss the eggs themselves. Fresh trout eggs are considered to be “gold,” especially brown trout eggs. Once you get your hands on fresh eggs, you must take care of them immediately. There are many different ways in which to cure or preserve eggs. The easiest way is to simply rinse off the eggs with water, then let them dry for a few minutes. Next, wrap them up and throw them into the freezer. The night before fishing, remember to take them out to defrost, and they’ll be ready to go in the morning.
My favorite method to cure eggs is one that could possibly be easier than the freezer cure is to simply pour 20 Mule Team Borax into a one-gallon Zip-lock bag, until it’s about half full. Take the skeins of eggs and drop them into the borax, fasten the bag closed, and shake until all of the eggs are covered. Attempt to work the borax into the crevices to make sure the inner eggs are covered. Let them sit in the bag for approximately 24 hours, then take the eggs out and rinse them with cold water, and they’re ready to go. The eggs can now be made into sacs or chunks and stored in the refrigerator for a long period of time. For storage over four months, it’s necessary to freeze them.
Why borax? Just see for yourself. Take the borax cured eggs and dunk them into the river. The eggs will start to milk, right before your eyes. Even after several casts, the eggs will still have a milking effect in the water. Steelhead love this! All they can see is a smoking cluster of eggs drifting down river, so hold on tight! To obtain maximum milkage, bring the borax filled zip lock bag down to the river with you. Take out a cluster of eggs and shake off the excess borax. Then, create an egg sac or just cast out the cluster itself.
Different cures can be created by experimented with your own recipe. Blue Goo eggs and carmel eggs are made of oils, brown sugar, salt and whatever concoction you can come up with, providing you use some type of preservative. Sodium Sulfite also makes nice milky eggs and is used in the same way as borax. However, the Sodium Sulfite cure can be mixed with some sugar and salt to create sweeter, juicier eggs. After curing, store the eggs in the freezer. When fishing the mouth or estuary of a river, I use egg clusters without any mesh. Be careful not to lose the eggs during the cast or drift. To secure the eggs to the hook, use a larger size hook and secure it with an egg loop knot.
Mostly, I prefer to fish with the eggs in a sac form. The egg sacs provide different colors and patterns. When I tie my egg sacs, there will be a large variety of colors...blue, pink, orange, chartreuse, white, and even black. Different sizes depend upon the weather. For colder days, I use the smaller sacs, ranging from dime to penny size. In warmer conditions, I use nickel to quarter size sacs. Also, the speed of the water will determine the size of sacs to be used. The large sacs work great in the slower pools, especially in warmer water temperatures. The quick stretches of water will require a smaller sac to obtain a better drift. The larger sacs will feel a bit clumsy and heavy for fast runs.
The sacs should be tied tightly and wrapped with white or red stretch string. Many fishermen automatically trim the string and the excess mesh off the top of the sac. My suggestion is to try some without trimming anything. The excess mesh and string sometimes drives steelhead crazy, by adding more action to the sac which acts as an attractor. When using this technique, hook the egg sac directly on the bottom of the sac. This will allow the milking effect and the attractors to work better as a team.
When using a trimmed sac, hook the sac in the upper area near the knot, but not directly into the knot. Be sure to break one or two eggs when sinking the hook into the sac. This will create even more of a profuse discharge of juice during the drift.
Eggs offer endless creativity for shapes, colors, styles and cures. Be versatile...go the extra yard to throw a new offering to steelhead. Dying mesh is one way to confuse the fish, simply by adding a spot or by creating a whole new color by dying the white mesh from scratch. Back in 1994, two clients from Pittsburgh, PA came aboard my boat with tie- dyed egg sacs. These multi-colored sacs resulted in what would be considered a banner day, landing over 12 chromers between the three of us. Indeed, we were in a good stretch, but after landing the first fish on their groovy sacs, a degree of confidence and excitement placed us into the Steelhead Zone and made that day memorable.
Another excellent attraction method that works great is the application of a few strands of yarn fibers above the egg sac. Hot pink and chartreuse have provided excellent results. There are different ways to adhere the yarn to the hook. The quickest way is to cut off a two-inch piece and simply tie the yarn to the hook with a square knot. A less clumsy way is to tie an egg loop knot to secure the yarn. This will allow the two ends to dangle over the sac, creating a wild effect under the surface.
When fishing egg sacs, I use Mustad egg hooks, #37132 sizes 4 to 8. Yes, this is a fairly small hook for fighting 20 pound steelhead, but I believe the smaller hooks land more fish, especially if a barb is involved. Look at a barb on a large hook and take notice of how far the barb sticks out from the hook. Then compare the distance to the smaller hooks. The fact is, when fishing with a long, flexible rod, it takes a tremendous hook-set to bury the barb attached to a large hook, especially if using monofilament that stretches, such as the popular bass lines on the market. Also, the large hooks usually have a longer shank, which allows the fish to gain a small degree of leverage. As the fish shakes its head back and forth, the hook creates a small hole, sometimes allowing the hook to slip out during a jump or any other loss of tension during the fight. The smaller hooks will zip into the fish’s mouth and the barb will sink in deeply. In all my days of fishing, I have never brought back a broken hook after losing a fish. Once that hook is buried, and the fish is lost, chances are that the line broke or a knot gave out. These little Mustad hooks are tough and very sharp and provide little or no leverage in the fish’s favor.
Using an egg sac on a fly rod? When the fish are really pounding eggs, fresh sacs will usually catch more fish than any fly. Also, in some rivers and streams, a fly rod will offer better drifts and control over the bait. We’re out there to battle with big, smart steelhead, and the difference between an egg sac and an egg pattern seems insignificant to the overall concept.
The type of rod used is very important for battling these fish. I use exclusively the same type of rod for both fly fishing and spin fishing, and as a matter of fact, I use the same rod blank for both. It is a 10 1/2 ft. St. Croix rod blank, traditionally a spinning noodle rod. However, rod builders can make a fly rod out of the same blank. Here are the specs for ordering:
* Action: Ultra Light; Slow
* Line Weight: 5 or 6 weight
* Blank Weight: 2 oz.
* Over-sized hard chrome snake guides and tip top with double foot ceramic stripper guides in sizes #16 and #12.
* Stainless hook keepers on all rods
* Super quality cork grips
* Aluminum reel seats with Rose Dynawood inserts and double locking nuts. Rubber O-rings embedded in front lock nut for secure locking.
*Detachable Fighting Butts
*Epoxy finish on wraps
These fly rods can handle as light as a 4 pound test leader, which comes in handy for cold water steelies. The oversized guides enhance the outstanding casting ability, and help on icy mornings. This long fly rod will help you in such a situation as a confined area, in which a roll cast will come easier with a longer rod, as there is less fly line on the water. Using this technique with shrubbery around you, allows you to keep all the line out and away from you. Another advantage to the longer fly rod is that when drifting, the length of the rod will allow you to keep most of the fly line off the water, granting you not only a truer drift, but also a more direct route from the rod tip to the bait. Also, having the line off the water will contribute to the easy manipulation of the fly line by mending and moving the line. I also have the same rods in a 9 1/2 ft. size, for fishing smaller rivers with better control. Either fly or spin, I refer to these rods as noodle rods throughout this book. These noodle rods may take a while to get used to, but once you get the feel for them, they are deadly for steelhead.
The technique for drifting eggs with a noodle rod is a little different than drifting flies. The rod tip should be pointed out with your arm fully extended. During the drift, be sure that the rod tip is no higher than slightly over your head. This will take enough line off the water for a true drift and will allow enough distance for a good hook set. If the rod tip is too high, due to the length and flexibility of the rod, the hook will not completely set and a lost fish will be the result. If the rod tip is too low, a thunderous hit may result in a snapped line, due to lack of rod to absorb the shock.
Always have a finger on the line to feel every little nook and cranny. I use the pointer finger on the hand that holds the rod. If you’re not used to this, after much practice, it will become second nature and will allow you to distinguish rocks from fish. Normally, when fishing with eggs, the hit will be obvious, but sometimes it may be a slight bump or even just the fact that your line has stopped drifting.
Be sure to apply enough weight to feel it tapping the bottom every couple of seconds. Casting out 5 to 10 yards upriver from where you’re standing, the weights should hit the bottom directly in front of you, or slightly upriver. This is ideal, as casting too far up river will result in many snags and hang-ups.
Noodle rods require a strong hook set, due to their flexibility. When setting the hook, your hand should move from the position of being out and extended, to back behind your ear. A very slight whipping sound should be heard.
Another technique is drifting the egg with floats. This is very popular in the western rivers and can be deadly for steelhead. The idea is to minimize snags, to have excellent control, sense very obvious strikes and to locate the feeding depth. Start high and work your way down, slowly but surely. Using floats will allow a true drift, even during a long cast to the other side of the river. Noodle rods are excellent for float fishing for keeping the line off the water, and avoiding drag.
Float fishing is a successful technique, used widely in Canada. Advanced float fishermen will use a long rod with a centerpin reel. These long rods are similar to a Spey rod, often exceeding fourteen feet. The centerpin float reels allow the longest drift possible. An angler can spin the reel at the same speed as the current which allows very little slack in the line. As a fish hits, the line is quickly picked up off the water and tension is applied immediately. Theoretically, the drifts can be as long as the fisherman can see the float. Drifting eggs a long distance in one drift greatly adds percentages in your favor. Remember, steelhead love eggs and cannot resist the taste of exploding eggs as they smash their jaw down on them. Fresh eggs spell consistency and will continue to be the top steelhead bait.
Note: For fishing west coast rivers, noodle rods should be built slightly heavier to accommodate bigger fish.
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