Plunking For Steelhead

Plunking for steelhead simply refers to casting a large heavyweight that sits on the river bottom with a bait attached to it, however, there are some tips and tricks that guides and experienced anglers use that will make plunking for steelhead more effective.

The heavy weight anchors the bait close to the bottom while you sit and then wait for the steelhead to swim by and eat your bait. Well, at least that’s what most anglers do.

Anglers will cast the bait out and put the rod into a rod holder and just wait but is this really all there is to plunking for steelhead? It may take minutes or hours for a hungry steelhead to swim by and grab your bait or nothing will bite at all.

Periodically moving and also choosing high percentage areas can greatly increase your chances.

Also, only certain baits will work with this method which I will discuss in this article.

Plunking for steelhead works in rivers or in the ocean or great lakes.

In this article you will learn a couple of setups for plunking for steelhead, you will see which baits work best and how to make those baits work better. Some boats just don’t work well.

There are also certain hooks that work better than others which will also be discussed in this article.

Plunking For Steelhead

Plunking for steelhead is an effective technique for steelhead fishing; however, on many rivers, it is not a very common method, and you won’t see it done very often.

There are times when certain steelhead rivers are blown out of shape and with low visibility after heavy rain. This is one of the times when plunking can be effective.

It often takes a long time for some rivers to get low enough to the point usually considered an ideal fishing condition, and other river fishing techniques such as float fishing or drift gear that are used for steelhead fishing just don’t work well in the high dirty water.

Plunking is a still fishing method, and because of this, it provides lots of time for the steelhead to locate and see the bait.

During this high flow and dirty water period, the steelhead will often abandon the middle of the river or other areas where they would typically hold, and instead they locate the path of least resistance which is usually close to the bank or in deep pools that are hard to fish.

With plunking, you can get very deep and into spots the steelhead will hold.

Plunking also allows you to position your bait along the bank where the steelhead travel during high and dirty water. Your bait can stay in this spot for long periods of time and will be found by passing steelhead.  

Generally, the principle behind plunking is to drop the bait into a spot in a steelhead river where you know steelhead are holding or will be traveling through and then wait for them to strike. 

This steelhead fishing method simply involves casting large sinkers with bait attached to it, into the steelhead river, and allows to sit on or near the bottom. Then you just sit back and wait for a hungry steelhead to swim by and grab your bait.

Pros Of Plunking For Steelhead

With a steelhead fishing method such as plunking, an angler is able to fish at odd times such as when the water is high and off-color. You don’t have to join other steelhead anglers in waiting for the steelhead river to drop to normal conditions. So whether the time is seemingly right for steelhead fishing, or the water is high, you are still able to fish for steelhead. 

Plunking is not so difficult to do. It does not require any special casting skills. It does not put many physical demands on an angler and does not require expensive gears.

As a professional angler, I have fished several times when the water is on a normal flow and when it is high and off-colored too. The two conditions work well for me because I understand how steelhead respond to and behave in different river conditions.

Plunking For Steelhead Best Practices

Steelhead like to hide, so they choose the river’s stillest path. That’s why you have to take note of the riversides and swift water channels. In case the river current rises, the steelhead will look for still areas to rest. 

For a successful plunking for steelhead, you have to take note of the “where” and “when” to plunk for steelheads.

Where To Plunk For Steelhead

There are a number of steelhead rivers that enjoy extensive steelhead stocking programs. These smaller juvenile steelhead will migrate to Lake Erie for more rapid growth. When they attain maturity they will return to their native streams where they were released as smolts, for the purpose of spawning.

Plunking for steelhead is largely dependent on this upriver migration and movement of steelhead and demands that you know the route they pass through on their return to their release points. This way, you can position your plunking along this return area. Plunking for steelhead also demands that you know where steelhead are holding. It is only natural that you want to be hitting where the steelhead are!

Steelhead like to hide, so they choose the river’s stillest path. That’s why you have to take note of the riversides and swift water channels. In case the river current rises, the steelhead will look for still areas to rest. 

They will avoid the high water, and instead opt for the shallow and lower part of the water with soft edges. Oftentimes, you won’t need to cast long distances as the steelhead will be right at your feet. As a rule of thumb, concentrate your efforts on the bends and near-shore areas with less current.

Every experienced angler and river guide knows that the holding of steelhead in any location in a steelhead river depends on the time of year, the temperature of the water. This is important information if you want to be able to consistently catch steelhead. 

When To Plunk For Steelhead

The simple answer to the above question would be when steelhead are in the river. However, it is not as simple as that, as there are other factors one needs to consider.

Bear in mind that one of the major factor influencing the travel and movement of steelhead is river height. Oftentimes, this follows after a big rain event. To plunk successfully, you need to learn how to monitor different river levels, and when the run peaks in a particular river. 

You may want to go further and choose a few steelhead rivers (say one to three rivers ) and learn when runs return. This will go a long way to help you learn when steelhead will be in different rivers. I discuss river flows, run-off rates, and the best times for fishing different steelhead rivers in Ohio on my page Best Ohio Steelhead Rivers.

As much as plunking is a steelhead fishing method for high water, it is most effective when the water level is dropping. Steelhead won’t bite well on a rising river.

Different rivers have different schedules for clearing and dropping. In my professional opinion, the best time to plunk is 1 to 5 days after the high water has peaked and dropped. At this point, the color of the steelhead river must have turned more green than brown. 

Plunking For Steelhead Setup

There are a number of ways to set up your rig, but for the sake of this post, below is a pretty basic setup.

  • To start with, you need a sturdy rod holder that you can knock/forge into the ground and will firmly withstand a steelhead strike when they bite.
  • Tie a three-way swivel to the end of your mainline (I personally recommend a 50-pound braided mainline).
  • Tie your leader to one of the eyes on the swivel. I personally recommend leader material made of monofilament and in the range of 12- and 15-pound test.
  • Tie a long dropper line to the remaining eye on the swivel (about 8 to 20 inch)
  • Tie a hook (octopus-style) to the end of your leader, ranging from 1/0 to 3/0 using an egg loop knot
  • After tying hooking, slide down your spin and GLO choice and a bead matching the color of the lure.
  • Attach a Duolock swivel to the end of the dropper and snap in a sinker weight via this duolock (1 to 10 oz). For best holding sinkers in strong currents, you should go for Pyramid or teardrop sinkers
  • Some anglers always like to attach a bell on the rod, so that when a steelhead bites, it alerts them. 

When it comes down to the offerings, my choice goes to Spin-N-Glos. For baits, I recommend roe or sand shrimp. For more of the best baits to consider for any steel fishing adventure, you can check out my page 4 Best Baits

Always ensure to check your rig frequently. Knowing that you’re fishing in high water means there will still be lots of junk that can begrime your gear.

How To Detect The Bite

Some anglers always like to attach a bell on the rod, so that when a steelhead bites, it alerts them. There’s really no rhyme to steelhead bites when plunking, as it varies from one steelhead to another.

Sometimes what you get is a series of taps on the tip of your rig that looks like a steelhead bite. That could be as a result of a steelhead coming along and just grabbing your gear, and figuring what is going on. Or it could just be a hit-and-run bite. In that case, your rod can get yanked if not properly kept.

Always look out for the tip of your rod, when it loads up or shakes, and check for a bite.

Plunking for steelhead is only one of many methods that can be effective when steelhead fishing, and I recommend knowing multiple methods to be able to adapt to different types of river conditions. you can see these methods and more on my page Steelhead Fishing: How The Guide Catch More Steelhead

Plunking For Steelhead FAQ

If you have a question, comment, or tip about plunking for steelhead please let us know in the comment section below.

Tight Lines,


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