It’s that time of year here in the Midwest where we’re fully locked into the icy grips of the polar vortex. With temperatures in the single digits, days on the water are few and far between. So when those random warm ups come you have to be ready and make them count. Steelhead is the main attraction this time of year and they will winter over in the deeper holes of local rivers and streams. Those warm ups come and rivers shed their ice cover its time to take full advantage! With frigid water temps fishing can still be challenging and putting the right bait in front of the fishes face can make a huge difference.
Steelhead will group up in the deeper stretches and hug the bottom settling in for the long winter like the rest of us. For these fish drift fishing reign supreme. It brings the food to them in the most natural way possible. My go to baits are those that are subtle and can impart action on their own floating in the current. My favorite in artic conditions is the 412 trout worm in pink, I rig it on a 1/32 jig. I like the versatility of being able to trim it shorter without losing action. I fish it on about a 3 foot 6 lbs fluorocarbon leader and an 8 lbs hybrid mono main line. A 9 foot float rod allows me to keep line off the water, presenting a natural drift and isn’t too long for me to use in my kayak. The key to the drift is to keep the worm close to the bottom sometimes bumping rock.
Winter time usually means lower water levels and less current in some of these bigger holes. The Trout worm shines in these conditions because even when water is almost at a standstill it will catch em. In these conditions I will slowly twitch the float/bobber causing the worm to subtly dance. This triggers a ton of strikes in slow moving or still water. Also on these days with slow to no current the added scent of tipping your jig with maggots or a single trout or salmon egg can pay off. As the water warms and the fish and baitfish become more active I will upsize to 3.5 free minnow in standard formula. Fished on the same 1/32 jig it mimics river sized minnows perfectly! Colors can vary widely but the standard for me are pinks and yellows for trout worms and smoke on the water and green pumpkin for free minnows.
The windows can be limited but trips like this done safety can be a blast and really help make the winter a little more bearable. Next time the bite is tough give these baits a try, and be sure to share those catches! Thanks for reading and I’ll see ya on the water!