Stee-Lee: The Tributary Boss

In Lee Geist by Jonathan Stumpf

The classic blue Stee-Lee spoon.
Image: Lee Geist.

Wild Steelheaders United ambassador Lee Geist with some well-worn advice on how to catch steelhead using the trusty Stee-Lee spoons. Catch Lee on Instagram @lee_geist and check back for his semi-weekly Wild Steelheaders United blog updates.

When confronted with tiny streams northwest steelheaders often reach for a spinner. A spinner is an excellent choice, but there is a perfect small water option for those of us who prefer to wobble our way into a steelhead’s lie.

Acme Tackle’s ½ ounce tear-drop Stee-Lee spoon is a true steelhead hunter and I am not the first to say so.

Spoon swingers from all walks of steelhead angling culture tip their hat to the Stee-Lee wobbler. You may have heard your dad, uncle—or more likely your grandpa—speak highly of them. It seems that many steelheaders regard them as the best steelhead lure of all time.

If you are a spoon swinger you are inherently drawn to the subtle thumping of a spoon as it wobbles its way through a run. Stee-Lees thump hard and catch water like nobody’s business.

Another fish to hand on the swung spoon.
Image: Lee Geist.

Don’t be fooled by the Stee-Lee’s fast-sinking nature—they are not going to get you wedged in rocks right away. In fact, they sink fast but once they catch water they rise even faster. This is why they excel at small water fishing.

Smaller steelhead streams often have lots of short, fast runs and small buckets. This is the Stee-Lee’s favorite environment. The speed of sink and rise of this spoon allows an angler to get into the right depth fast without hanging up, while covering the true nectar of the run.

My father is a big fan of the Stee-Lee and his wise advice was to drift fish them. At the time I didn’t really know what he meant. Like most steelheaders, I associate drift fishing with casting a weight, a leader and something that is either buoyant or neutrally buoyant upstream and letting it drift through a run. Suggesting that I drift fish a ½ ounce spoon seemed preposterous.

What my father was trying to tell me was to approach the run delicately by casting upstream just a hair and allowing the river to wobble my spoon through the run, dangling just off the bottom.

As experienced spoon fishermen would say, “Duh, Lee, it’s spoon fishing. How else are ya gonna swing a run?”

However, the Stee-Lee is a different animal—it requires a finesse that is not needed when fishing other spoons. Where most spoons continue to wobble under heavy water pressure, the Stee-Lee spins. This is not the action you want. The key to the teardrop spoon is a belly in your line. You should still feel a thumping wobble but direct pressure is too much.

Spinners, spoons, and summer runs for days.
Image: Lee Geist.

Learning the art of swinging a Stee-Lee takes practice. Knowing how and when to provide pressure through your swing is something that can only be achieved by time on the water.

You can rig a Stee-Lee many different ways. I prefer to use a bait caster reel spooled with 20 lb Maxima monofilament line and a 9’ 6” medium heavy fast-action 8-14 lb. rod, but you can also use a spin cast setup of similar specifications.

A Stee-Lee it comes with a split ring at the bottom and a treble hook attached to it. I suggest you remove the treble because single hooks are more effective…and using trebles on steelhead is extremely lame. Instead, at your favorite tackle shop purchase a pack of size 1/0 Gamakatsu Big River Bait siwash hooks and use one of these.

Buy a pack of split rings too, (the same size as that on your Stee-Lee). I attach a split ring to the top of the Stee-Lee and tie my line directly to it using a simple clinch knot.

You would be hard pressed to find a color Acme doesn’t offer, from pink and orange to gold and nickel. For me, too many colors in my box can make me feel overwhelmed. I like to keep it simple by keeping four colors in my pocket. These include silver, gold, blue, and green, with my all-time favorite being hammered blue.

If you fish the hammered blue Stee-Lee long enough you’ll eventually bang some of the blue off. That’s when you’re really cooking with grease—a few hints of silver shining through the scars in the blue paint is never a bad thing.

Using Stee-Lees has sharpened my spoon swinging skills in a way that’s hard to describe in writing. Not everyone is capable of the discipline it takes to be successful with a teardrop spoon and that is one reason why the Stee-Lee holds a prestige like no other spoon.

Acme Tackle’s Stee-Lee, to me, is the best teardrop steelhead spoon available, but the Stee-Lee’s place of honor in steelhead fishing history and culture alone should convince you to buy one. And Acme Tackle is a sponsor of the Central Jersey Chapter of Trout Unlimited—they donate a portion of every Stee-Lee purchase to the cause of coldwater conservation.

Catch up on Lee’s previous posts sharing tips, techniques, and musings about all things steelheading here.

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