Float fishing for salmon and steelhead is a great way to keep track of your lines and to keep up with these strong fish swimmers. For the most part, river float fishing will require almost the same steps and materials for both fish but there are a couple of things that must be aimed toward each. Here are a couple steps to get you started:
Step 1 – The Right Boat
When float fishing, you want a multi-purpose boat that can hold all of your gear and is still comfortable enough for you to spend some time on, whether sitting or standing. A wide, flat bottom boat will be good for most bodies of water. You’ll want a small outboard motor for long empty stretches, a paddle for when you want to cause the least disruption possible and an anchor when you want to stay still near a deep spot rich with fish. Also, since you will be exposed to the elements, be sure to stow everything away safely and where whatever needs to can stay stationary or dry.
Step 2 – The Right Gear
You’ll want a strong but flexible rod. Length is important in float fishing and strength is important for these two athletic and fast fish that are on their way purposefully to a destination. An open graphite reel will help you keep up with their speed and determination with the ability to reel them in or just hold on in any direction. Bring a life jacket if you will be standing to pull in some of these energetic swimmers.
Step 3 – The Right Floaters
For both salmon and steelhead you will want to use the waggler or the stick float depending on the water. In heavy river currents the stick float is meant to be used, as it lays down into the current and allows for effective control of the lead. The waggler works for the steelhead that sometimes will stay close to the bottom out by the banks where the current isn’t as strong. Wagglers will actually work for both, as they are multi-purpose floats appropriate for use at any depth. A waggler can move around on its own or be stationed in one area. Both are made in a plethora of colors, which is a personal decision, but also might be dictated by the color-coding used in the area. It’s always best to follow local ‘rules.’
Step 4 - The Right Bait
Among both salmon and steelhead, very popular bait is eggs. In the same vein, egg-looking lures work well for both of these fish. The size of a bunch of eggs will depend on the current, the size of the fish in the area and weather conditions. You’ll want to be able to keep the bait near the bottom. So make sure there is at least a couple feet between the bait and hook and the floater.
Step 5 – The Right Fishing ‘Hole’
Both salmon and steelhead are migratory and travel via rivers and their tributaries. They both like rocky upstream treks. The steelhead stay more to the outer, less forceful currents and salmon will take the fastest way they can, usually directly up the center. It’s easiest to float fish from a boat moving at a decent clip in the same current as the fish, so don’t be too quick to anchor. Use the paddles to steer, especially when there is steelhead around, as they can be easily spooked.