How to catch steelhead on soft plastic worms
Steelhead are an anadromous form of rainbow trout. This means they spend most of their lives in large bodies of water like ocean or Great Lakes, but make "runs" into tributaries to spawn.
Whether they run from the ocean or the Great Lakes, steelhead tend to be larger and stronger than other rainbow trout. Every year steelhead enter tributary rivers and streams where they are caught by anglers who pursue these strong and fast fish.
Soft plastic worms are excellent lures for steelhead. Steelhead may mistake them for small fish, shrimp, or actual worms. Or the fish may just strike soft plastic worms out of instinct since they look like food. Whatever the reason, steelhead are regularly caught on soft plastic worms.
It was once rare to see anyone fishing for steelhead with soft plastic worms. Today soft plastic worms are one of the most popular lures around for steelhead. Anglers across North America use them regularly. For many, a rubber worm is the "go-to bait."
Soft plastic worms for steelhead
Soft plastic worms come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Many companies make rubber worms. At Angler's Emporium, we offer several different worms that work well for steelhead. They are:
All of these worms catch steelhead. Though some work better in certain situations than others. The general rule is to match the worm to the conditions. Bigger, brighter worms work better in deep or stained waters. Smaller, more naturally colored worms tend to be more effective in shallow or clear waters.
Steelhead anglers fishing larger rivers on the West Coast and in the Midwest often use larger worms like the paddle tail. Anglers fishing smaller streams around the Great Lakes often go with smaller trout worms.
We've had a lot of success with the small 2-3/8" trout worms in pressured Great Lakes tributaries. This is especially true when the flow is low and the water is clear. Fish that have seen lots of lures (and anglers) are more likely to snap up smaller baits in our experience.
The most popular colors for steelhead are all shades of pink. That means pink, bubblegum, pink shad and neon pink. Though some other colors like white and purple are also popular and effective. Of course any color worm can catch fish. If you need help with color selection read our guide to choosing trout worm colors.
How to rig steelhead worms
Just as there are various types of "steelhead" worms there are also different ways to rig soft plastic worms for steelhead. We will cover the three most popular ways to rig these worms. These methods cover most steelhead situations you will encounter.
The first way to rig worms for steelhead also happens to be our favorite. We use this method in almost every situation. It is the simple jig head rig. A jig head rig requires nothing more than a worm and a jig head. Run the jig hook through the "face" of the worm and out the side and you are ready to fish. If you need more information on this rig, take a look at our guide to rigging soft plastics.
Drifting a soft plastic worm on a jig head under a float is probably the best all around way to fish these lures for steelhead. This setup creates a horizontal presentation that matches perfectly with soft plastic worms and the feeding habits of steelhead.
You can also remove the float and drift the worm without any kind of indication. This and jigging or twitching the worm along the bottom can catch fish when it seems nothing else will work.
The next plastic worm rig for steelhead is the wacky rig. This sort of rigging is also used for bass and trout. This is another very simple rig. You just run a hook through the middle of a worm and out the other side. That's it!
The wacky rig lets both sides of the worm move freely in the water. You can drift a wacky rigged worm or twitch it in the water to create a lot of action. In our experience, the wacky rig tends to work best on aggressive fish and in slower water.
Lastly there is the float dogging rig. This is an especially popular way to fish on the larger rivers along the West Coast. The float dogging rig is a bit more involved than the other two rigs on this list.
First you run one end of a leader through the worm and out the back near the tail with a needle or bait threader. The bead keeps the hook from sliding back up through the worm. Then, you add a small bead and tie on a hook to the tail end of the leader. Next, the other end of the line is attached to a large float. Weight is often attached to the float for balance and casting distance.
This rig is also used for float drift fishing. As usual, the key is to keep the rig drifting along naturally with the current. Though sometimes steelhead will hit a worm while the drift is being paused or "checked."