Spinners are a very effective lure for both winter and summer steelhead. I used to fish summer runs almost exclusively with spinners and had tremendous success with them. Today I actually spend more time fishing jigs for summer steelhead, but I still enjoy swinging my favorite #2 tarnished brass spinners through some choice riffles during the long, hot days of summer. I have not fished spinners very seriously for winter runs but intend to start using them more in the coming seasons.
Summer run steelhead seem to respond well to spinners in virtually any conditon you may encounter. With the higher metabolism due to warmer water, summer runs will strike a rotating spinner with wreckless abondon, often as soon as it hits the water upon making a cast. Other times they will attempt to seperate your arm from its socket with an arm wrenching yank as they hammer your spinner while it swings seductivly through a shallow riffle. These types of solid strikes will forever be embedded in your memory and be relived many times over when discussing summer run steelhead with your buddies.
When choosing spinners for summer steelhead I tend to stick with just a few proven patterns that have worked well for me over the years. These are typically smaller darker spinners without a lot of flash. You do not need the same flash and vibration that is required to wake up lethergic steelhead found in the cold water of winter. You only want your spinner to have a presence in the water, enough to elicite a strike without spooking the fish. Summer steelhead rivers will usually run much warmer, and the result is that steelhead holding in this warmer water become hair trigger torpedoes, ultra aggressive. A small spinner cast anywhere close to these fish will be attempted to be removed from the food chain with savage strikes. Surface strikes are fairly common with fish in this state of aggression. These surface eruptions have provided some of my fondest summer run memories.
The spinners I use for summer steelhead would never do well on a retail tackle shop. They are meant to catch steelhead not steelhead anglers. I purposely tarnish my brass components to reduce the flash that may spook a ultra agressive summer run in low clear flows. This can be accomplished in many ways,but the quickest and easiest is to hold your brass parts over an open flame such as a candle for a short time to dull the finish of a shiny new blade. I explain this process in more detail on our tips & tutorials page. Another finish that does well for summer runs is black oxide. These can be purchsed from several mail order stores including rvrfshr Products, Fisherman's Shack, and Pen-Tac. The only commercially made spinner that comes in this finish is the Vibrax spinners made by Blue Fox. These are readily available in most retail tackle shops.
Spinner sizes for summer steelhead fishing vary a little depending on many factors including water temperature, lighting and angling pressure. My choices in spinner size range from #3 down to #1, with a #2 spinner my preferred size for most of my summer fishing. I tend to fish the larger #3's early in the summer when water temperatures are a little cooler, but after the spring runoff I will usually reach for my favorite #2 McKenzie Medium as my spinner of choice on the small streams that I like to fish.
If I could only choose one size and finish of spinner for winter steelhead it would be #5 genuine silver with red adornments called the "Winter Standard" by spinner guru Jed Davis. During the cold flows of winter, steelhead behaviour is very predictable and the maximum flash and vibration put out by this spinner will work in almost any conditions you may encounter during the winter months.
Winter steelhead will be found in awide variety of holding water during the winter and it is up to the angler to decide where to fish for these steelhead by understanding the ever changing river conditions encountered during the rainy season. A specific type of holding water that you found fish in a few days ago under normal winter flows may be barren of fish today with the river a foot lower due to lack of rain. It is important to adjust your fishing to match the ever changing conditions we encounter during winter.
Spinner selection is far less important for winter steelhead, but reading water and knowing where fish will hold at varying levels of river height and clarity is critical for consistent success. Learn how to read water and fish spinners that provide maximum flash and vibration to wake up those lethargic winter runs, and you will get hooked up.
When fished properly spinners will catch steelhead in any season, under a variety of river conditions. A must read for anyone serious about fishing spinners for steelhead is the legandary book, "Spinner Fishing for Salmon, Steelhead and trout" by Jed Davis. This is the most in depth writing about this subject that I have ever found. I highly recommend it for all steelhead anglers as it goes into great detail about steelhead behaviour as it relates to water temperature.
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