I didn’t start to fish for salmon and steelhead until I got into my 20s. I also spent most of my time bass fishing before that. Here is what I did to shorten the learning curve.

When I didn’t have a boat:

I booked a couple of guided trips on local rivers and watched very carefully and asked questions. I asked about types of holding water, what to fish, what to ignore, and get a good mental picture of baits and rigs. I then figured out how I could make similar presentations from the bank. Side drifting became drift fishing. Bottom bouncing bait turned into plunking in deep water and using a float in shallower water. Then, go to the places everyone knows. Once you get more of an understanding on how to find water, you’ll get into them eventually. This is what worked best for me:

Chinook: Bobber and eggs, plunking with eggs
Coho: Twitching jigs, drift corkie/yarn, buzz bombs (saltwater).
Chum: Twitching jigs, drift corkie/yarn, bobber and anchovie (saltwater)
Pinks: Drift corkie/yarn, buzz bombs (saltwater)
Steelhead: Bobber and jig, bobber and bait,
 
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I'm certainly not an expert but watched our guides the last several years and we did the following as we fished for Coho and King on the Lewis, Cowlitz, and Columbia. This is an annual event with my long-time friends who fly in from different parts of the country and we rendezvous for fish tales. The guided fishing works for us due to busy schedules and simply ease: hop on boat with our lunch and drinks; everything else provided.

Coho on the Cowlitz; water depth ~20ft - flyers with a 3# to 5# weight with BARBLESS treble hooks drifting along and letting the fish and roe baited hooks skim across the bottom.

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King on the Lewis; water depth up to ~30ft - same as above.

Just this last Friday, a new guide used the following on the Columbia - flasher with a 5# weight with BARBLESS treble hooks (2 in series about 4 inches apart) with a gold-colored shiny flasher on the upper hook. NO bait. The idea was that the salmon were striking at the item...

Weight. ~5ft of line. Flasher. ~3ft of line. Hook with shiny flasher. 4 inches of line. Treble hook.

Screenshot_2020-10-11 Pro-Troll ProChip Flasher Bass Pro Shops.png Screenshot_2020-10-11 7 Best Salmon Fishing Lures of 2020 - Fishmasters com.png

Both fish hit the stern lines about 3 seconds apart less than an hour into the trip! 20201009_085059_resized.jpg
 
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Come September, just drive back east 1 hour, from the valley to the big D :)
Bring whatever gear you like except side-planers. And you'll catch nice steelies or Chinook.
 
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Hooking a Steelhead has been described as "The Fish of a Thousand Casts."

I had a friend that lived on the Sandy River and was an expert in fishing for Steelhead. He would take me up into his favorite hole and proceed to try and teach me the basics. I was used to fishing in a boat on the Columbia River set up in a hog line.
The Salmon come to you and try and yank the rod out of the pole holder , not so when drifting bait with Steelhead.
He would watch me cast out the bait and drift through the spot he directed me to.
He would then ask me why I didn't set the hook on a fish, and after watching me miss a few, he would then take the pole away from me and proceed to hook one, all the while trying to explain what he was doing.
I never got the hang of it as most bites are subtle when drifting eggs along the bottom.

^^^ THIS ^^^ x 10000million!!!

I suck at steelhead fishing but caught a LOT of river salmon. That is, until I started backtrolling Hotshots for steelhead. (Looked down on by elitist fishers!)

My good friend was known as "The Steelhead Whisperer", and I always had that exact same experience as you. He down in Brookings, and another fellow here on the Wallowa. I'd watch Al cast in the same place as I, watch the line and mutter "Come on, take it, take it.... GOTCHA!" and I had no idea what he was looking for and seeing. I had read so much about how to drift eggs, and he tried to explain to me what a bite "LOOKED" like, but I kept expecting to feel a tug or nibble... that happened, but rarely. Those times when the "tap, tap tap" was interupted and I tried to set the hook, I found that I was just hung up on the bottom. :(:(:(:mad:

I switched to float fishing and fly fishing (both too crowded for my likes) but had the best luck locally wading out with Hotshots, until I retired from the stream.
 
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"Gray-green water" ..... YES, this is the perfect color!!!

That said, in Brookings on the Chetco River, I learned not to waste good fishing time during the season in high/brown storm water. I was told by a neighbor how to do it.........

1. Get a long surf type rod and a rod holder of the type that you put in the ground at an angle (I used homemade from rebar). Tie a bell and a bright bit of yarn to the rod.
2. Bring warm clothing and a thermos of spiked coffee/mocha.
3. Bait hook with a larger than usual gob of eggs under a larger than usual bright flourescent Spin-n-Glo with a larger than usual pyramid weight to hold it all in the faster than usual current. Weights of 4oz to 8oz are not unusual for bank fishing storm water.
4. The freshet rain with storm flow will bring salmon upriver, but those salmon will tend to hug the bank (for whatever reason, to avoid grit in the gills, avoid the fastest flows, whatever). Sooooo, instead of casting as far as you can, like instinct makes us do, cast 5-10' out from the bank.
5. Sit in the car and enjoy your beverage. (Or in a beach chair if you can't drive to the bank or hole)
6. Watch your rod and listen for the bell. (sometimes the bell will wake you up)

spin-n-glow-walleye-rig-2.jpg

I caught MANY Chinook that way.... by not wasting any of the season!!!!

I also had luck using a bright silver 5/0 Jed Davis spinner in high/brown water. At the very least, I was out fishing and a day of fishing is better than a day at work or doing Honey-do stuff!
 
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Best method of salmon fishing gray-green salmon holding water for me was always:

back bouncing eggs from a drift boat. As noted, one can simulate this by using a heavier sinker and letting it, or making it, lift in the current every few seconds and let out some line (gotta have a baitcaster for this!). Use enough sinker to keep those hops about 3' or so.

Note: Bank anglers mostly tend to throw/cast out as far as they can, or at least to what they "think" is likely looking water. But this is where being able to read water, knowing what water Chinook salmon prefer, and knowing what the river bottom looks like at low water times. I used to drift the Chetco for salmon in my drift boat. One place on the river was called "Social Security Hole" because a lot of retired guys bank fished there. They would throw far as they could into 3' water. I anchored upriver from that hole and would pull fish after fish out of the water. They were frustrated, as they "thought" they could not get to the place I was fishing. But guess what..... the real hole was 25' deep and right at their feet, only about 5-8' off the bank. I was slipping my line in above the hole and back bouncing eggs right at their feet!!!! I never told them... that would just be cruel!!!

Read water, don't "assume" the fish are waaaaaaaay out there!!!!!!!!!!!
 
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This is a homemade drift spinner:

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You fish it like you would a corkie and yarn at the end of a leader below a slinky. Just by itself, no bait. These are great for steelhead in clearer water. Use nickle French, Indiana, or Colorado blades of smaller sizes. And go up in size or change to brass for darker water.

Easy to make, very cost effective. A friend loaned me an Indiana nickle size #1 and a slinky when I fished the Telkwa in CanaDA for steelhead with roe and was not catching any. With that rigged up, I caught my very first Steelie on my 2nd cast. Wasn't any doubt about that bite either!!!

Best rig for Steelhead in NE Oregon waters:

fresh4.jpg

Here on the Wallowa, we fish these bare, with a piece of Earthworm, or with cocktail shrimp or a piece of calamari. On the Big D, I caught a nice one on a bare hook rig with a small pink/white corkie. Interesting place to fish by the mouth of the river above the I84 bridge... It is crowd fishing... you stand 3' from the other guys and everybody casts up and drifts down at the same time. Somebody gets a fish on and they all stop until it is netted or the angler moves off downstream.

Bobber and jig fishing is popular here, but very few places have the right water for it. The places that do are very very crowded. I gave up on one hole near Minam State Park because a fisher had his sleeping bag there overnight and all day and would always get and keep the best spot of about 3 spots that were fishable.
 
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The best time I've ever had steelhead fishing was when I lived in Estacada. I was moving some old lumber out of a pasture and into a burn pile, when I found the largest worm I've ever seen.
I had a sudden urge to toss it into the Clackamas River below the Cazadero Dam where the summer steelhead were ganged up and waiting for the fall rains.
I hiked down to a place where you can stand on a large rock outcropping and look directly below at the fish holding in place above some rapids.
There were the usual snaggers trying to get their baited hooks with cooked cocktail shrimp near enough to their mouths so they could yank the hook somewhere close enough to call it a legal bite.
I carefully threaded my one and only 12" worm on my hook and tossed it to the front of the pack of steelhead.
The 20 or so summer steelhead were all in a pack and were kinda thin and dark looking, but there was one energetic bright chrome fish at the back who took one look at that squirming worm floating downstream below my cork and made a blazing dash past all the others and swallowed it whole.
The fight was on. I didn't bring a net, as there was always somebody that had one, but all I heard was a bunch of boots running up the trail, then cars and trucks laying rubber back to town to buy some live worms.
All of a sudden I had the whole place to myself, but did manage to get him to the bank without losing him.
I was back home in less then an hour and my wife jokingly asked me if I had lost my one and only worm on the first cast.
I said that's exactly what happened, but with better results then I usually had.
 
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That's what all the snaggers say!
I don't know anything about that, but I've watched steelhead bite a jig under a bobber and seen absolutely no movement indicated. Most of my experience is fishing nymphs under a float on the D. A guide told me any irregular movement should be treated like a bite, because if a bite or bottom you need to adjust your presentation. Knowing how to set the hook is important too. More often than not, bites fished this way are detected by sudden slack or irregular line movement, not in the rod tip
 
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I don't know anything about that, but I've watched steelhead bite a jig under a bobber and seen absolutely no movement indicated. Most of my experience is fishing nymphs under a float on the D. A guide told me any irregular movement should be treated like a bite, because if a bite or bottom you need to adjust your presentation. Knowing how to set the hook is important too. More often than not, bites fished this way are detected by sudden slack or irregular line movement, not in the rod tip

The Steelhead Whisperer told me the same thing about drift fishing. And if the weight and location of the cast is perfect, this will hold true. But it requires a lot of adjustment to get it right, then you move a bit and do it all over again. That is drift fishing.
 
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Snaggers....

When I fished the deep hole at the top of the estuary on the Chetco, there were about 20 or so little fly fishing punts anchored around the hole that is about 100' x 100' and about 25' deep. Guys were all shooting sinking fly lines. So many lines in the water... must have been hard for the salmon to swim w/o getting a line in their mouths. Many fish were legally caught, but I'd see a guy lift a fish and turn away from the highway... you just know he was hiding a foul hook, and then put the fish in the boat anyway.

Same thing here on the Wallowa but from the bank, not punts. These guys would gang up in one spot and flog the water with 9' leaders and a fly that is almost a bare hook. I watched and saw how they ripped the line back each time.

Very disheartening. Some say this is a myth, but I've witnessed it. Not all fly fishers but certainly some...
 

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