Done properly, side-drifting
provides the most natural presentation of baits to steelhead.
A combination of light, sensitive rods, spinning reels and
high-visibility line work together with light weights, leaders
and baits for an effortless drift. There a distinct
regional differences in preferred rigging of baits.
What each shares in common is that there is a bit of buoyancy
added to the rig to counter balance the natural weight of
baits and offer almost neutral buoyancy, and a beautiful
Fish in Washington and you’ll
most certainly encounter double hook rigs, with a Beau Mac
Cheater tied between the hooks. Depending on river
size and conditions, hooks will be #4 for small water/clear
conditions or #2 for big water/high water conditions.
Cheater sizes are #10 or #12 for the #4 hooks and #10 or
#8 for the #2 hooks. It is important not to outsize
the hooks with the Cheater or you’ll inhibit the hook
point from finding pay dirt.
To tie the rig, begin with
an egg loop at the leader’s end. (Photo 1)
Then simply slide the Cheater
down to the top of the hook and follow with another egg
loop. (Photo 2 & 3)
For maximum hooking efficiency,
affix the top hook so the point faces opposite the point
on the lower hook.
A dab of bait in the egg
loop of the top hook finishes the rig. (Photo 4)
To adapt to a wide range
of conditions, there are Cheaters available in virtually
any color combination. (Photo 5)
In Northern Oregon, you
may see double-hook Cheater rigs, but as you move south,
you enter puff ball country. In my opinion, puff balls
are faster, easier, and less costly to work with.
Most anglers use a single
#2 or in some cases #1 hook, tied with an egg loop (as in
Photo 1 above). Always be aware of regulations governing
minimum hook size. Oregon has many.
Puff balls are applied directly
over the hook point and placed in the bend of the hook.
When driving the hook point through them, do not go straight
through the center, instead offsetting the hook to one side
or the other. In this manner, the puff ball is weaker
and more apt to break off on the strike, allowing fast,
complete penetration of the hook without resistance.
(Photo 1 & 2)
Cured roe is the dominant
bait in side-drifting, but be assured, sometimes you’ll
need shrimp. On a recent trip we knew we were covering
fish but had only managed a single hook-up on eggs.
My shuttle driver had given me a single dozen sand shrimp.
Finally, one of the anglers up front in my drift boat made
the switch. Those twelve shrimp accounted for six
more fish, in pretty short order, before they were gone.
To rig a shrimp for side-drifting,
remove the head and thread a #2 hook through the tail, coming
out with the point just under the fanned tail. (Photos 1
Add a puff ball as described
above or try a single Jensen Egg for a bit of added anise
scent. When using a Jensen Egg, you can slide the
shrimp tail completely onto the leader. Bring the
Jensen Egg all the way over the hook eye, so that the completed
bait has a completely exposed hook. (Photos 3 & 4)
Always remember, side-drifting
works because of the quality of the presentation which in
its core element is light and natural. Keep baits
small. Big baits can hinder the presentation with
too much weight and poor drift. Small baits can be
really uncomfortable, coming from “big bait, big fish”
thinking, but with success comes confidence, and in the
end small baits will produce the bites.