Best Baits For Pennsylvania Steelhead: What The Guides Use

A steelhead caught using one of the Best baits for Pennsylvania steelhead
The author with a nice steelhead caught using a bait that is considered to be one of the best baits for Pennsylvania steelhead

As a Great Lakes Steelhead fishing guide, I have first-hand knowledge of the best baits for Pennsylvania Steelhead. I use the same baits that local river guides and anglers use, and these same three baits catch 90% of the fish.

The most popular and the best baits for Pennsylvania Steelhead include live worms, plastic worms, egg baits such as spawn sacs, skein, beads, and flies.

Although these are the most popular baits, it’s very important to keep a few things in mind. Otherwise, your bait could be ineffective.

Other baits that I might use on occasion or under certain conditions include:

  • Minnows
  • Grubs
  • Leeches
  • Plastics
  • Powerbait

However, with these baits, be sure to read when I use them so you are not wasting your time and potentially catching fewer fish.

How To Choose The Best Bait

This is Dalton with a Steelhead Alley steelhead.
For guided steelhead trips in the PA area, contact Dalton from Goose’s Steelhead Fishing Guide Service.

Just because I tell you that bait is great for PA steelhead, doesn’t mean it will work. Even if the river is full of steelhead, if you do not give them what they want, they could ignore your bait.

Guides will change their baits based on their observations of the current water conditions, light conditions, fishing pressure, and fish feeding behavior. YOU SHOULD TOO.

  • Dirty Water and Fast Water: Use bigger baits. Chartreuse is a hot color. Baits with scent, like fish eggs and skein might work better
  • Normal to clear water: Use smaller more natural colors
  • Very clear and low water: Use tiny baits, use natural colors, use subtle baits like nymphs and small garden worms, and this is when single eggs and beads can be very effective.

Pro Tip: You must use the right setup for the method you are using to catch the steelhead and you must present it well.

I have seen hundreds of times when two anglers will use the same bait and same methods in the same spot, but one angler catches all the fish. This is often due to one angler having the proper leader setup or is presenting the bait better.

Steelhead Worms: Best Bait For PA Steelhead

A steelhead caught on a pink worm

Worms are one of the best baits for Pennsylvania steelhead for several reasons. They are a big profile bait that is hard for most steelhead to pass up. You can use live ones but I prefer pink or red plastic steelhead worms. They are available in various colors and sizes. You can use worms with different fishing methods.

The pink worm, in particular, has proven to be highly effective on many guided fishing trips and there are days when my guides and I will determine that most of the fish caught are on worms.

In fact, there are years where I have recorded that nearly 80% of steelhead caught by my clients were caught with plastic steelhead worms.

Steelhead Bait worm
Berkley Trout Worms

The best hooks for worms are size 8-10 hooks. But in extremely clear waters, I often have more success with smaller worms and a size 12 hooks as they are less conspicuous.

For more on the best worms, rigging, and when to use them, see: Fishing With Worms For Trout and Steelhead: 10 Guide Tips.

Flies: Used By Most River Guides For PA Steelhead

There is no question that artificial flies are some of the best baits for Pennsylvania steelhead.

You can opt to use natural-looking flies like the stonefly or mayfly, or use attractor flies like the Rainbow Warrior.

flies for Pa Steelhead

Streamer flies like the ones in the image can be used nymphing, or cast out and stripped in or swung through the pool.

Additionally, you can use flies as bait for several fishing methods. Bottom bouncing, float fishing, streamer fishing, Euro-nymphing, Spey fishing, and Spin fishing are all methods where flies can be used as bait.

my steelhead nymphs
Nymphs are an excellent bait for all migratory species.

I also like using nymph flies as bait when other anglers around me are using roe as their primary bait.

The steelhead will often eat smaller flies after seeing endless roe bags.

Black and brown nymphs like the ones in my box above are very good.

I’ve found that nymphs with a touch of blue or flashback can also be very good. Bead head nymph are also my go-to and I will use them 90% of the time.

Also, keep in mind that the huge majority of steelhead guides in Pennsylvania are all fly fishing guides, which means they use flies. They must know something others using eggs and worms don’t, right?

Guides Best Steelhead Flies
One of my fly boxes with an assortment of nymphs and some egg patterns.

One of the best things about flies as steelhead bait is that they are straightforward to use.

You can tie most fly patterns in under five minutes. And even if you don’t want to tie the flies, you can buy them at affordable prices.

One tip I offer my clients when using flies as bait is to add a brightly-colored bead to their flies. Tungsten, gold, and silver are my go-to colors for fly beads.

Beads help flies to sink faster, and they also remain in the strike zone much longer. Additionally, the flash of the beads shimmer underwater, attracting steelhead to the bait.

To see the most effective flies for steelhead see: 19 Effective Steelhead Flies Used By Guides and Winter Steelhead Flies: 11 Must Have Guide Flies

NEW! 21 Best Flies For PA Steelhead.

Spawn: Most Popular Bait For Pennsylvania Steelhead

Salmon and Trout eggs are good for bait
Salmon and Trout eggs are good for bait

Most local anglers will tell your that fish eggs or spawn is the best bait for PA Steelhead. Spawn, also known as spawn bags, spawn sacs, eggs, roe, or roe bags, is another fantastic bait for Pennsylvania steelhead. It is also the most popular steelhead bait.

Roe refers to salmon, trout, or steelhead eggs tied together in a special mesh.

You could also choose to use single eggs instead of roe bags. Solitary eggs come across as weak, easy prey to the fish, which is why the steelhead will always attack them.

There are ways to rig spawn bags and better hooks that guides use. To learn more about spawn sac fishing, check out Spawn Bags – Guide Secrets For More Trout And Steelhead

Beads For PA Steelhead

An image showing how to rig a trout bead
I rig my trout beads about 1.5 to 2 inches up from the hook using a rubber bead peg to secure the bead to the line.

The final bait on this list of the best baits for Pennsylvania steelhead is beads. I like using beads because they are incredibly easy to use, and they always deliver.

Beads work well because they resemble single salmon and trout eggs. Steelheads are unlikely to pass up a chance to swallow vulnerable eggs.

You can choose either glass or plastic beads. I would also recommend using 8-mm beads since salmon eggs average that size.

Ohio fishing guide Gareth with a nice Ohio fall steelhead
Ohio fishing guide Gareth with a nice Ohio fall steelhead

Whether your beads will be effective depends a lot on their color. Always use brightly colored beads in murky waters to catch the fish’s attention.

However, local head guide Gareth from Alley Grabs Guide Service recommends you use more natural colored eggs when the waters are low and clear.

Light oranges, yellows, pinks, peach, and white are good choices.

For more info on bead fishing, best sizes, best colors, and best brands of beads, see: Fishing With Beads: 5 Guide Tips For More Fish

Other Effective Baits For PA Steelhead

Plastic Eggs For Steelhead
Plastic Egg sacks of plastic single eggs can be deadly on trout and Steelhead

Although beads, worms, flies, and roe are the best baits for Pennsylvania steelhead, I have also had great success using minnows, leeches, jigs, and plastics like, plastic grubs or plastic eggs as bait.

These three baits can be effective depending on the water conditions and the particular method I am using. However, I will be honest with you, after testing these bait out for over 20 years, I consider these “B” baits, or non-consistant baits. I normally only use these baits after I have used my primary baits (my consistent producers) if they are not working.

Tight Lines


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