Lee Geist: Strobe Probing For Steelhead

In Lee Geist, Steelhead Etiquette, Steelhead Files, Washington by Kyle Smith

Wild Steelheaders United ambassador Lee Geist with some well-worn advice on how to catch steelhead using a spinner- in this case his favorite #5 Blue Fox. Catch Lee on Instagram @lee_geist and check back for his semi-weekly Wild Steelheaders United blog updates.

The force is strong with this one.

If you told me I could only fish one steelhead lure for the rest of my life I would smile, reach into my pocket and pull out the number 5 Blue Fox spinner attached to my key chain. The bell is worn to tarnished silver but you can still see a glimmer of blue at the top of the bell. Mepps, Buds, Panther Martin, R and B, Pentac and the most recent Steelhead Slammer are all tried and true steelhead spinners; every type works and if you catch fish with it you should stick with it. My particular choosing of the Blue Fox is based mostly in nostalgia or some kind of superstition. For me, many memories of clanging hardware in the face of an airborne steelhead began by tying on a blue belled, #5, Blue Fox spinner.

Summer steelhead are clearly more susceptible to spinners than winter fish. The spinner excels at fishing the slow and shallow water that comes with summer. Spinner blade surface area catches plenty of water even in a frog pond. This particular characteristic has made the spinner one of my favorite choices for low water conditions both in winter and summer. Steelhead can’t stand the existence of some strobing flash ball swinging through their lie; I like to keep this concept in mind every time I approach a juicy seam with a piece of hardware. Knowing what that lure means to a steelhead will help any angler master their approach. Simply put, spinners piss steelhead off.

The closer you get that twirling piece of hardware to a steelhead the angrier it gets. One of the best things about a spinner is its ease of use. When I say ease of use I am referring to the spinners ability to cover water effectively and efficiently. When an angler becomes comfortable with a spinner they can perfectly cover an entire run with a single cast. There is no better teacher than time on the water but here are a few tips for those picking up spinners for the first time.

In expert hands, spinner fishing can be highly productive.

Rod and Reel:
When it comes to rods for tossing hardware it is unanimous amongst PNW
steelheaders that a line class of 8-12, 8-14 or 8-17 with a fast action is the rod you are looking for. Rod length is entirely subjective but most anglers would agree that 8 feet 6 inches is the shortest you should go and ten feet is the longest. Personally I prefer 8-17 lb fast action 9 foot 6 inch rod coupled with the Shimano Calcutta 201B levelwind reel. Spinning reels and levelwinds are the preferred medium, choosing between the two is completely subjective.

Heavy mainline, heavy leader:
Always get your spinner back! I prefer 15-17 lb leader and a 20 lb or more mainline. Whether it’s hung up on a chunk of clay or waded up in some over hanging branches, heavier leader will likely be your spinners saving grace. Personally I use 20 lb Maximum Ultragreen monofilament for my mainline, but in recent years braided line which works equally as well with added benefits has become the hardware mainline preferred by most steelheaders. My leader is always 15 lb clear model STS Seagar fluorocarbon. I choose fluorocarbon simply because it does not
stretch before it breaks – this ensures my monofilament mainline will not stretch when I hang up. Monofilament stretches before it breaks, which can create bad line memory and a litany of other problems. Anglers with braid as a mainline are not concerned with this because braid does not stretch.

I prefer to tie my mainline to a barrel swivel with a 12-inch leader tied from the swivel directly to the spinners wire loop. There are many other ways to rig a spinner and they all work great. When it comes to hooks I prefer the siwash style Big River Bait Hook by Gamakatsu, although an Octopus style hook is also an effective choice. Simply cut off the hook the spinner came with using dikes and use split ring pliers to attach a split ring to the wire loop. Next attach a barrel swivel to the split ring and add your hook of choice, in a size relative to the spinner itself; a general rule of thumb is to choose a hook one size smaller than the spinner. For example, on a number 5 Blue Fox spinner I choose a 4/O hook. Steelhead are crazy critters. They
twist, they jump and they have a knack for tossing hooks. When it comes to summer steelhead you will likely need all the help you can get and the hang back swivel method is the kind of help that will lead an angler to many successful days.

Low and slow:
It is a cover water frame of mind. You must check every nook and cranny, run your spinner under every branch and submerged log, swing all tail outs, probe all boulders and squeeze the juice out of every seam possible. Just a few casts in a run will likely suffice, allowing an angler to move through a large stretch of river in a timely fashion. Perhaps the most important part of fishing spinners is learning your angles. Angles are everything. The angle at which you retrieve your spinner should be in direct correlation with the area you tend to swing your spinner through. Adjusting your cast angle to allow your spinner to get down to a desired depth before retrieval is also a key component. When retrieving a spinner, low and slow is the preferred method and often times the river will do all the work for you. With the proper angle a steelheader can use the resistance of the river to keep a spinner rotating clear through an entire run at a walking pace. Your cadence should be consistent all the way to shore. From my personal experience steelhead prefer a slow, completely unchanged retrieve and do not seem to be enticed by a spinner erratically changing action. Run that spinner through a fish’s wheelhouse on the first
cast, because the first look a steelhead gets at a spinner should be the best look. The fact is, steelhead lose interest fast and in most cases the more times they see it the less likely they are to grab it.