Since we’re working some good size rivers and trying to present small, ¼ oz jigs, we need to put together a setup that matches both. To get the casting distance required, a 9’6” rod is generally preferred. For some, this is a lot of rod to be working out of a kayak, but it does actually end up being easy to manage. A light or medium-light spinning rod is ideal, as long as it can handle the weight of the jig. Pair the rod with a 3000-size spinning reel with 15lb braid, and you have a setup that’ll be able to make long casts, hold enough line for some long drag-burning runs, and enough drag to put the pressure on the fish when the time comes.
Rigging the jig is fairly straightforward, but there is a subtle difference from what you might see in other fisheries. We are going to use a slip-float that will allow you to adjust the depth of your presentation as you work your way through the river. You want to keep your jig within 18” of the bottom, and the best way to do that is with a slip-bobber or float. For this, you’ll first tie a bobber stop onto your main line. Most commercial slip-bobbers will come with a half dozen stops, and these are also very easy to make. Below the bobber stop, slip on a bead for protection, then slide on the float. Slip on another bead below the float. Finally, tie a small swivel to the end of your main line. From the swivel, tie on about 3’ of your 8-12lb leader of choice. 10lb fluorocarbon is great; it cannot be seen by the fish, and also sinks which gets your jig down to the fish faster. To the end of this fluoro, tie on your jig. Now, start fishing.
There are a ton of jigs in all the colors of the rainbow. They are all great - so long as they are pink. Solid pink, pink and white, pink and black, whatever. Pink, for whatever reason, means lunch to steelhead. Marabou jigs are also very easy to make, and the serious steelhead float fisherman will soon be spending spare time at home tying more jigs.
With the bobber stop, it is easy to adjust your rig to fish depths from 3’ to 40’. Float-and-jig fishing is best done on smooth stretches of river where the depths are consistent, rapids are few, and the water is moving at something akin to a walking pace. You want to drift your jig through these areas, keeping with the speed of the water. Cast slightly upstream, and mend your line upriver so that the float and jig lead the way down the river. When the float dips, set the hook - You’re on!
Wintertime is the best time to float for steelhead. Keep your kayak in a position that makes it easy to maneuver or bank while fighting the fish. Get out there and enjoy!