I have been shore fishing for steelhead for over 35 years, and it’s one of my favorite ways to catch steelhead that are holding close to shore.
If you’re an angler who loves the thrill of fishing but doesn’t have access to a boat, shore fishing for steelhead is a fantastic way to catch these prized fish. Some anglers also refer to it as surf fishing for steelhead or beach fishing for steelhead, but essentially, they are the same.
In this article, I’ll cover the essentials of targeting steelhead from the shore with tips and advice from guides and good local anglers. Whether you’re a newcomer or an intermediate fisherman, you can learn the techniques, tackle, and timing required to increase your chances of successfully catching steelhead from shore.
Targeting Steelhead From The Shore
Shore fishing provides an excellent opportunity to catch steelhead most of the year without needing a boat.
Occasionally, you may also find large Chinook, coho and pink salmon near the shore as they search for their spawning rivers. I and other anglers around the great lakes region have also caught some massive lake run brown trout while fishing steelhead from shore.
As these steelhead near their spawning time, they become aggressive feeders along shorelines where food is abundant. Their diet includes herring, anchovy, needlefish, sandlance, stickleback, shrimp, smelt, other baitfish, and crab larvae.
Since these steelhead are always hungry, enticing them with your lure or a fly shouldn’t be too difficult. There’s a very good chance if you can get your fly, a bait, or a lure close enough to the steelhead, they will hit it.
Steelhead fishing from shore start to pick up in September, continue through the winter, and then get really good again in the spring. Steelhead on thier way up the river, and ones leaving the river will feed readily.
Choosing the Right Fishing Tackle
Two primary techniques for shore fishing for steelhead are popular: spincasting and fly fishing. The key to success is achieving a reasonable casting distance since the steelhead often feed far from the shore.
A fishing rod measuring at least 9 to 10 feet long is recommended, and it should have a rating of at least 8lb to 12lb test. The rod should also be capable of handling lures weighing up to 1/2oz.
As for the reel, opt for a spinning or baitcasting reel with a spool capacity of at least 8lb test monofilament line. A reel size 3000 to 4000 (30 or 40) is ideal for most steelhead.
When it comes to fishing lines, thinner lines allow for longer casts but are more prone to damage. On the other hand, thicker lines are more durable but might compromise casting distance. Braided lines are popular as they are both thin and strong, allowing for better casting distances.
Using a Landing Net With A Long Handle
A landing net with a long handle and a wide hoop, combined with a deep net, is often necessary for landing big steelhead from shore, off the pier, or break walls.
The extra long handles make it easier to land and handle the fish, identify it, and decide whether to keep or release it.
The long handle is best if you are fishing off the rocks or near deeper water.
Pier fishing is popular with shore anglers targeting steelhead, and piers can also be easy to access for anglers not stable on their feet. Due to the extra distance out into open water, piers can be one of the best shoreline places to catch multiple large steelhead.
Lures for Steelhead Fishing From Shore
When shore fishing for steelhead, lures like spoons, spinners, and crankbaits are highly effective.
Casting spoons are particularly great for achieving the best casting distance.
Some popular lures include Little Cleos, Buzz bombs, Zingers, and other saltwater jigging lures. Freshwater spoons like Mepps Cyclops and Gibbs Crocodile spoons are also effective.
For steelhead, color selection is not crucial, and lures in pink, orange, chartreuse, or plain silver work well. For steelhead, lures that resemble small baitfish with a good action are effective.
The weight of the lure affects your casting distance, with lures weighing 3/8oz or more being cast quite far but sinking rapidly and prone to getting snagged.
Steelhead Fishing with Metal Jigs from Shore
When it comes to catching steelhead from the shoreline, beach, or pier, one lure stands out: the metal jig, which is the go-to lure for many anglers because these lures cast far and can get deep.
To optimize your fishing success, you’ll need to choose the right jig weight based on the water conditions in front of you.
Most beaches have a gradual slope, making a 1-ounce metal jig, such as the P-Line Laser Minnow, an excellent choice. This weight will allow for good casting distance, get your jig down into the strike zone, and reduce the risk of snagging on the bottom or gathering seaweed.
The P-Line Laser Minnow is an exceptional jigging lure designed with custom holographic laser tape, giving it a remarkably realistic and fish-attracting appearance. Its elongated shape ensures a highly erratic action, making it effective no matter how you jig it.
To begin, cast your metal jig as far as possible and then allow it to sink to your desired depth. Reel in the slack line, and then perform a pop with your rod, letting the jig sink and flutter down. Repeat this lifting and dropping motion. Steelhead can bite on both the drop and the lift, so stay alert and be ready to set the hook if you sense any movement!
Heavier jigs like the Puget Pounder Jig are preferred by anglers fishing from public fishing piers where the water is deeper. In this case, using a 1-ounce to 2.5-ounce jig will prove to be the winning ticket for landing those prized steelhead.
Float Fishing with Herring For Steelhead From Shore
This float fishing technique requires a bit more finesse than jigging. Herring is a delicate bait, and experienced anglers often brine their baits the night before to prolong their lifespan on the end of the line. Despite this extra step, float fishing with herring, minnows, or other baitfish can be incredibly effective for shore fishing.
To get started, opt for a longer fishing rod, ideally in the 9’6″ to 11′ range with a softer action. The longer rod enables you to make long lob casts that ensure you don’t accidentally rip the bait off as you attempt to cast it a considerable distance towards those elusive steelhead.
Next, rig a big sliding float with the appropriate sinker size to achieve maximum casting distance. Attach a 3′ to 4′ leader of 25-pound test line to two 3/0 octopus hooks and rig your cut-plug herring bait. If there’s a current, you can let the bait sit out there, and it will actively spin as it pulls against the current, making it irresistible to Chinook and Coho steelhead.
Use a good slip float to make it easier to cast and to set your desired depth, which is often 10 to 17 feet deep.
Shore Fishing for Steelhead with Fly Fishing
For those who prefer fly fishing, a 7 or 8-weight fly fishing rod should suffice for shore steelhead fishing. This size fly rod is a bit heavy for Pinks but provides better casting distance and can handle larger species like Chinook steelhead.
Your rod should be at least 9 feet long, and a fast-action blank is preferable for achieving the necessary casting distance. A floating line will suffice as the fishing depth is relatively shallow.
Effective shore steelhead fishing flies mimic shrimp, crab larvae, minnows, sandlance, and needlefish. Streamers resembling baitfish are also great choices.
Timing and Seasonal Considerations
Timing is crucial for successful shore steelhead fishing. The fish are usually scattered in the vast ocean unless they are actively feeding in a specific area. You can start searching for steelhead on the shorelines beside your local rivers a few weeks before they are expected to return to their natal streams.
Pink steelhead are typically found from late July to early September, while coho steelhead are present along shorelines and beaches in September and October.
However, there are exceptions, such as the early runs of the Capilano River stock, which can be found along the shorelines of West Vancouver in July and August, or when Alaska Steelhead Fishing since Alaska steelhead tend to run much earlier.
Night Fishing From Shore
Night fishing for steelhead is a great time to fish steelhead from shore since the steelhead often move in closer to shore and closer to their spawning rivers under the cover of darkness. Many steelhead will also start their runs up the river in the dark so this is a good time to intercept them.
I discuss night fishing tactics in my article Night Fishing For Steelhead.
Fishing The Tides For More Steelhead
When fishing for ocean fish, pay attention to the tide as it plays a significant role in determining the best time for fishing. Fish tend to become active near the shore during tidal changes, and some locations yield excellent results during low tide, while others are more productive during high tide.
Regardless of the time of year or the steelhead species you are fishing for, normally a higher tide is best for shore fishing. If I can plan my shore fishing trip around the tides, I’ll always fish the four-hour window around the high tide.
Show up two hours before high tide, and fish two to four hours afterward. The high tides seem to help push the fish to within casting distance from the shore.
If fishing the great lakes for steelhead, stong inland winds can have the same effect and bring in a lot of steelhead closer to shore.
Observing and Techniques for Shore Fishing for Steelhead
Before casting, take a moment to observe your surroundings and look for signs of fish in the water. Pink steelhead often reveal their dorsal fins above the water, while baitfish leaping out of the water indicates that steelhead are feeding beneath the surface.
As for techniques, casting straight out and reeling in is the basic approach. Alternatively, you can cast and then move down the shoreline to cover more water. Moving slowly and exploring while covering water can help you locate more steelhead.
Once you’ve cast your lure, start retrieving it immediately to keep it from sinking to the bottom. The retrieval speed is generally faster than in a river, as these steelhead are aggressive feeders and won’t hesitate to chase down their prey. Regularly twitch and rip the lure to add more action, and be ready to strike as soon as you feel a bite.
A pair of waders is advisable when shore and beach fishing, as you may need to walk out from the shore to reach deeper spots. However, always be vigilant and watch for large waves approaching the shore to avoid any unexpected surprises.
Promising Shore Fishing Locations For Steelhead
Shore fishing for steelhead can be enjoyed near various towns along the East Coast of Vancouver Island, such as Port Hardy, Port McNeil, Campbell River, and Qualicum Beach. On the Sunshine Coast, you’ll find opportunities between Sechelt and Gibson.
Productive shorelines are often found near streams where steelhead are expected to return for spawning.
Before participating in this fishery, remember to obtain a valid saltwater fishing license and a steelhead conservation stamp. Familiarize yourself with the regulations of the area you plan to fish in, including any gear restrictions and daily retention limits for steelhead.
Shore fishing for steelhead is an exhilarating experience that doesn’t require access to a boat. Whether you’re a novice or an intermediate angler, you can successfully target pink steelhead and coho steelhead from the shore by using the right techniques, tackle, and timing.
Choose the appropriate fishing gear, including a long and versatile rod, a reel with sufficient line capacity, and effective lures or flies that mimic the steelhead’s preferred prey. Pay attention to the season and timing, as well as the behaviors and feeding patterns of the fish.
Be observant before and during your fishing trip to increase your chances of locating steelhead. Employ various techniques such as casting, retrieving, casting and moving down the shoreline to cover more water.
Remember to fish responsibly by adhering to local regulations and conservation practices. By doing so, you’ll not only enjoy a thrilling fishing experience but also contribute to the preservation of these magnificent fish for generations to come.
Shore Fishing For Steelhead Q&A
If you have a question or would like to share some tips or advice on shore fishing for steelhead, let us know in the comment section below.