Pulling plugs, or "hot shotting" as it is often reffered to, can be an absolutely deadly steelheading technique when done properly. This technique is commonly used by guides in the northwest, and is a great way to get a beginning steelheader onto their first steelhead.
Pulling plugs is a technique that incorporates diving plugs, such as "Hot Shots", "Wiggle Warts", or "Tadpolly's", that are let out downstream from the boat, while the boat is held against the rivers current with oars or a motor. When the plugs have been let out the proper distance from the boat, around 35' - 40', the force of the rivers current will cause the plugs to dive. The boat is then allowed to move slowly downstream, letting the plugs wiggle enticingly into the hole, and hopefully right into the face of a holding steelhead.
I've seen many fish caught by steelheaders anchored up in a drift with plugs working below them. Although plugs will catch fish this way, I have found that they are much more effective when worked slowly downstream through likely holding water. By allowing the plugs to work slowly downstream, any steelhead that may be in the area are forced to make a decision. The fish will either strike at the lure to remove the threat, or move downstream as the plug moves towards it. If the fish continues to be "pushed back" into shallower water at the tail of the drift, it will once again have to make a decision to strike the lure or move out of its way. Many times the decision will be to strike the plug, which can result in savage hooksets that will bury the tip of the rod beneath the rivers surface.
A seasoned plug puller will have the plugs put out well upstream of the area he wishes to fish, and will have them working properly when they drop into the head of the hole. Fresh steelhead will be holding right at the head of the drift, yet many plug fishermen dont let their lures out until the boat is right ontop of the fish. I can not tell you how many times we have picked up a steelhead right at the head of the hole when other boats have already worked the drift. They did not begin their presentation soon enough and as a result missed the fish.
Choice of plugs is a personal decision, as they will all catch fish. My favorites are "Hot Shots" and "Wiggle Warts", but many other anglers prefer "Tadpolly's", "Hot & Tots" or "Kwikfish". As far as finishes go, I stick pretty much with the metallic colors, leaning heavily towards greens, blues, and pink. The general rule of thumb is bright finishes on bright days and dark finishes on dark days.
Pulling plugs will never be my favorite way to spend a day chasing steelhead, but it will always be one of the top producing techniques. If you are having a hard time catching steelhead, and have a chance to fish from a boat, give this deadly technique a try. At times pulling plugs will catch steelhead when all other methods fail.