Skip to main content

Best Steelhead Lures?

Best Steelhead Lures?

A fan recently contacted me on Facebook and wanted to know what the best lures might be for catching browns and rainbows during late autumn in stocked lakes up in Canada. In his case I suggested floating minnowbaits like the classic Original Floating Rapala, the Original Rebel Minnow, or suspending baits like the Lucky Craft Pointer and Smithwick Rogue.

In fall, big holdover trout in stocked lakes are carnivorous. They hunt bigger game for a variety of reasons. Hatches slow down dramatically, so trout have fewer "easy" invertebrates to target. Trout experience peak metabolism in colder water than creatures like bass or pike, but, just like those fish, big rainbows and browns need to build fat reserves to help them survive the winter, build healthy eggs, and survive the rigors of spawning — in whichever order those events may occur (browns, of course, spawn in fall — rainbows in spring).

Minnowbaits on a long line behind a small board will find them. I really like the new Off Shore OR34 Mini Planer for this. So small, it fits in your pocket. So light, you can use it with standard fishing gear — the same tackle you'll be most comfortable with later when casting suspending minnowbaits to those trout you found by trolling. With minnowbaits, I often set lures back 100 feet or more behind the board for trout in clear water, and 6- to 10-pound fluorocarbon leaders are a must. I tie mine to braided 8-pound lines with back-to-back uni knots, and I start out with leaders at least 10 feet long.


When fish are marking deeper than 10 feet (rare in late fall), I pull Reef Runner Deep Little Rippers and tighten them up behind the boards so they can only dive to a point just above the level trout are using. (Precision Trolling Depth Data by Mark Romanack, Tom Irwin, and Dr. Steven Holt is a great resource for making those calculations quickly on the water).


But what about rainbows in big water? Any time of year — January included — my good friend Mark Chmura will take you out onto Lake Michigan to troll. He finds very few takers. This time of year, most clients want to chase steelhead in rivers, like the one in the photo — and Mark obliges them on his jet boat. But Mark found a suck....er, taker last week and went trolling with steelhead lures on the big water. He found them way off shore — out over 400 feet of water. "Pretty unusual, this time of year," he said. "Usually they're cruising the beaches within a few miles of the river where they end up spawning." Fun, scenic fishing in shallow water along impressive dunescapes — if brutally cold at times. You can sometimes see them parting around the boat — ghostly silver missiles that bounce skyward as soon as they touch a lure. Visually exciting stuff.

Chmura uses spoons — a lot of the same spoons he uses all summer chasing salmon and browns. Steelhead will take minnowbaits, too. But, traditionally, we used 4- to 5-inch Luhr Jensen Kwikfish and Worden's FlatFish on long flat lines in the drowned river-mouth lakes where steelhead gather to "stage" before running upriver. It was a November activity back then that could easily extend into mid December these days.

The lure types, sizes, and styles that apply to big trout are legion. And we'll be discussing some new ones in the coming weeks as I visit with Chmura, Gabe Hillebrand, Kevin Morlock, and some other highly innovative anglers — both on the subject and on their boats.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Lake Superior Whitefish on Ice

Lake Superior Whitefish on Ice

Doug Stange joins Capt. Aron Kastern on Lake Superior near Ashland, Wisconsin where they go after whitefish on ice.

Channel Cats on Ice

Channel Cats on Ice

The In-Fisherman staff reveals some of the hottest action of the winter season, as they show how to ice 20-pound channel catfish.

The True Story of the Bass Boat Hero Who Broke the Internet

The True Story of the Bass Boat Hero Who Broke the Internet

“If that engine starts without my kill switch on, I ain't the one driving it,” Blake Broussard says after ejection video goes viral.

Drop-Shotting For Smallies

Drop-Shotting For Smallies

The In-Fisherman crew head to Lake Erie to catch smallmouth bass.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Each are available in 18 awesome colors.Berkley Frittside New Sizes Baits

Berkley Frittside New Sizes

Thomas Allen - October 14, 2020

Each are available in 18 awesome colors.

Little is known about the effects of softbait ingestion on bass.Effects of Softbait Ingestion on Bass Bass

Effects of Softbait Ingestion on Bass

Gabe Gries - August 11, 2020

Little is known about the effects of softbait ingestion on bass.

Check out this Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart, a simple and accurate explanation from the In-Fisherman biologists. Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart Bass

Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart

Dr. Rob Neumann - February 05, 2021

Check out this Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart, a simple and accurate...

Lunar followers often check moon phases as well as timing of minors and majors.The Effects of Solunar Forces on Bass Fishing Bass

The Effects of Solunar Forces on Bass Fishing

Steve Quinn - June 22, 2020

Lunar followers often check moon phases as well as timing of minors and majors.

See More Trending Articles

More Trout & Salmon

Several methods are available to estimate the weight of a fish. Some use length as well as girthChinook Salmon Weight Conversion Chart Trout & Salmon

Chinook Salmon Weight Conversion Chart

Dr. Rob Neumann - January 03, 2016

Several methods are available to estimate the weight of a fish. Some use length as well as...

Float rigs for steel during fluctuating water levels.Float Fishing Steelhead Trout & Salmon

Float Fishing Steelhead

Matt Straw

Float rigs for steel during fluctuating water levels.

Lefty Kreh passed away March 14th, 2018.

In the world of fly-fishing, Lefty Kreh stands out as theLefty Kreh: The Man Behind The Legend Trout & Salmon

Lefty Kreh: The Man Behind The Legend

King Montgomery - May 05, 2015

Lefty Kreh passed away March 14th, 2018. In the world of fly-fishing, Lefty Kreh stands out...

Several methods are available to estimate the weight of a fish. Some use length as well as girthLake Trout Length To Weight Conversion Chart Trout & Salmon

Lake Trout Length To Weight Conversion Chart

Dr. Rob Neumann - January 03, 2016

Several methods are available to estimate the weight of a fish. Some use length as well as...

See More Trout & Salmon

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the In-Fisherman App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All In-Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now