Steelhead Fishing With Marshmallows: Guide Tested

Steelhead fishing with marshmallows can produce big silver steelhead like this one.

Is steelhead fishing with Marshmallows good? I’ve spent over two decades as a steelhead guide and during this time, I’ve tested many baits side by side to see how the steelhead react, and this is my honest opinion on marshmallows as bait for steelhead and how they compare to other baits.

I’d heard guys were steelhead fishing with marshmallows and catching fish on them back when I was a kid. Then one day, I decided to try those multi-colored mini marshmallows at one of my favorite steelhead holes. The fishing was good on other baits, so I spent the next few hours trying them for Steelhead.

I tried them whole, I tried ripping them in little chunks, and I tried trimming them into various-sized little balls that looked like salmnn and trout eggs. And I caught 2 steelhead in an hour.

How Do Marshmallows Compare To Other Steelhead Baits?

To some anglers, and to me back then, I thought, damn, steelhead fishing with marshmallows is pretty good, but as a guide now, my first thought is, would I have caught more steelhead if I used another bait, or would I have caught the same or less?

What many guys forget when they recommend dumb baits like corn for steelhead, is if the bait is capable of catching the maximum amount of fish in the shortest time.

Sure, I could catch steelhead on corn, or Powerbait, or marshmallows, but would I catch as many as I would with proven baits like spawn bags, skein, or worms?

The marshmallow is a unique bait that I tested under all kinds of conditions, in all seasons, and side by side with other baits, and it is proven to work for both wild and stocked steelhead.

But that doesn’t mean you should use it in all conditions, or that you can’t make it more effective, which I’ll discuss below.

Using Marshmallows as Steelhead Bait

Steelhead fishing with marshmallows can produce big spring steelhead like this one.
Steelhead fishing with marshmallows can produce big spring steelhead like this one.

So, is it true that marshmallows make good bait for steelhead? Can marshmallows help you catch more steelhead? Should marshmallows be your go-to bait for steelhead fishing? Do expert guides use marshmallows as bait for steelhead fishing?

These are some of the questions that I will answer in this article. Please read on to find out!

Marshmallows, are best known as a sugary treat for kids but, they can double as a somewhat-effective bait for steelhead. Some anglers will even add various scents or attractants and dyes to increase their effectiveness.

Do Marshmallows Really Work as Bait for Steelhead Fishing?

Steelhead fishing with marshmallows can produce big early fall steelhead like this one.
Steelhead fishing with marshmallows can produce big early fall steelhead like this one.

While steelhead are considered smart creatures, they are known to be opportunistic feeders and they will often bite at an assortment of baits, including non-food items like marshmallows.

However, it’s important to note that steelhead’s curiosity, rather than the marshmallow itself often drives this feeding behavior.

It’s also important to note that as an object drifts close to a steelhead in swift current, the steelhead has little time to inspect the bait and will often grab it to sample it. They do this with chunks of bark, pieces of wood, seaweed, leaves, and pretty much anything that resembles food.

When it comes to steelhead fishing with any unnatural bait, like corn, marshmallows, Powerbait, plastics, etc, I believe the steelhead grab the bait based on curiosity more than anything else.

This is less likely to happen in slower or still water which means in faster water marshmallows may work a lot better than in slow or still water where the steelhead has plenty of time to inspect the bait.

Marshmallow Choices For Steelhead

Steelhead fishing with marshmallows can produce big winter steelhead like this one.
Steelhead fishing with marshmallows can produce big fall steelhead like this one.

Anglers will try marshmallows as bait when fishing for steelhead in rivers or when pier fishing or shore fishing.

The brightly colored marshmallows attract the steelhead’s attention, but when they grab it, do they hold on? For me, a great bait is a bait that attracts a fish to bite, and then has the qualities that make that fish want to hold onto or swallow it. I’m not sure if marshmallows do this.

The small multi-colored mini marshmallows used for baking are the most popular choice.

You could buy the larger ones and trim them since I tend to trim the small ones anyway.

I will use marshmallows of varying colors and also adjust the marshmallow’s size to match the conditions and what I think will best entice the steelhead.

For instance, in higher or murkier water, I will choose a larger and more brightly colored marshmallow.

On the other hand, in low and clear water, I might trim down the marshmallow so it’s smaller than a green pea, approximately 6mm to 8mm wide.

Selecting the Right Hook for Marshmallows

Good Hook Size For this bait
This bait is a good size for this hook and the hook gap is wide enough to hook a fish.

The right hook choice is crucial for successful steelhead fishing using any bait. Seasoned guides prefer better hook options that significantly increase the chances of landing fish.

You want a short shank, wide gap hook with a razer sharp hook point. A great hook penetrates well and holds on well.

I recommend using Raven Specimen Hooks or Gamakatsu Octopus hooks in sizes 6 to 10 when fishing with mini-marshmallows. These are hooks that professional guides use for steelhead with any bait, including marshmallows.

Hook Size For Marshmallows

Bait and hook size
This bait is way too small for this hook which could result in the fish seeing the hook and refusing to eat the bait. Match the hook to the size of the bait.

Using the right hook size in relation to the size of the Marshmallow bait is of utmost importance. The steelhead can see an oversized hook which may deter the steelhead from grabbing your bait.

On the contrary, a hook that’s too small might not hook the steelhead well on the hookset, potentially leading to a weaker hold while fighting the fish.

Rigging The Marshmallow On The Hook

How to put a bait on a hook
An example of where you want to put your bait on a hook to be sure most of the hook is covered but also to be sure the hook gap is wide enough and the hook point is not covered.

I want to share a valuable tip that I always give to my clients, and it applies to any bait, not just marshmallows. Properly rigging your bait can make a massive difference in the number of steelhead you catch.

Many anglers who claim they didn’t get a bite might have actually had bites without realizing it simply becuase they have thier bait hooked wrong.

When the bait is rigged improperly, a steelhead can grab it and spit it out within seconds. I’ve witnessed this firsthand and have even seen it in underwater videos.

To maximize your success, it’s crucial to ensure the hook point is fully exposed and not hidden by the marshmallow or any other bait.

An exposed hook point significantly increases the chances of the hook self-hooking the steelhead. I’ve observed numerous instances where the fish grabs the bait and current pulls on the line and causes the fish to hook itself. However, if the hook point is not exposed, this won’t happen.

Furthermore, it’s essential for the hook’s gap to be wide enough to hook the steelhead more securely. This means leaving the gap open!! This ensures a solid connection when the fish takes the bait.

Methods For Fishing Steelhead With Marshmallows

There are multiple methods for steelhead fishing with marshmallows.

Still Fishing, Bottom Rigs With Marshmallows

A bottom rig for trout , steelhead and salmon fishing ponds, lakes, and in reservoirs.
A bottom rig for trout, steelhead, and salmon fishing ponds, lakes, and in reservoirs. Use 2 to 4 pound leader for trout, 6 to 10 pound for steelhead, and 10 to 14 pound for salmon
The steelhead plunking rig when using baits
This is a common steelhead plunking rig that works well for baits. Adjust line sizes based on desired depth, and the size of the steelhead in your area.

When using a bottom rig, cast your line and let the bait descend to the riverbed. Maintain a slight slack line to give the steelhead a bit of freedom before feeling the resistance, which can enhance the odds of a successful hookset. When the steelhead takes enough line to bend your rod, give a firm hook-set.

There is the standard bottom rig and the method and rig known as Plunking.

Float Fishing For Steelhead With Marshmallows

Steelhead Leader Formula
My Steelhead Leader Formula when using 2 baits. You could also omit the middle bait.

For float fishing (also known as bobber fishing), is a very effective and popular way to present your marshmallow to steelhead.

A slip float is advised for deeper water that exceeds the length of your rod.

For river fishing in water that is less than 12 feet deep, a fixed float is preferable.

Stay away from round bobbers and instead use pencil-style or thin-style floats, such as the Raven FM float, which experienced guides favor.

Float fishing is more that just tossing your float and bait out and watching it drift down the river. The guys that fish this way are the ones that go home with no fish when other guys around them ar catching many.

There are skills involved in presenting a bait to catch the maximum amount of steelhead. I call them the four fundamentals, and after guiding thousands of anglers, I can honestly tell you these are critical to success. See Float Fishing For Steelhead.

Finding Steelhead with Marshmallows

Begin with a cast in close using a guess to determine the right depth. Fish it and watch your float closely. Try to determine if you are hitting bottom. If you are not, keep making it deeper until you start hitting bottom. Raise the bait 6 to 12 inches and cast 1 foot further. Continue this until you have completely covered the spot.

If you continue to struggle with locating fish that bite, you might want to venture out to new fishing grounds or try out a variety of bait options.

If you’re angling in rivers, don’t forget to look at my article which discusses strategies for effectively covering a spot on a river.

Advanced Tips and Techniques

To increase your chances of catching steelhead with marshmallows, consider the following tips:

Bait your hook effectively: Push the hook through the marshmallow so that the point of the hook is exposed. An exposed hook point increases the likelihood of a successful hookset when the steelhead bites.

Minimize line visibility: Steelhead have sharp eyesight and can detect fishing lines and leaders, especially heavier ones. Using a fluorocarbon leader of around 8 pounds, which is less visible underwater, can boost your success rates. You make need to go up or down in leader size depending on where you fish. See Best Leader Size For Steelhead.

Consider weather conditions: Steelhead tend to be more active during overcast weather, early mornings, or late evenings. Fishing during these times can increase your chances of success.

Fish at the right depth: Steelhead usually swim about 1 to 3 feet from the bottom. Set your bait at this depth to increase your chances of attracting steelhead. Use a floating bead to keep the marshmallows off the bottom and suspended at the appropriate depth. See How To Determine The Right Depth For Steelhead.

Add Scent: Some anglers boost their bait’s attractiveness by adding commercial scents or substances like garlic oil.

Marshmallows and Fish Safety:

Marshmallows are safe for both fish and humans, and their cost-effectiveness and availability contribute to their popularity as a steelhead bait.

Comparing Marshmallows and Other Steelhead Baits

While marshmallows have gained popularity as steelhead bait, they fall short compared to other baits in effectiveness.

While a marshmallow might be a fun bait to try, your chances of catching fish on them with any consistency is less likely than other baits.

My experiments with multiple baits drifting down the river in the same spots at the same time show that steelhead are more likely to eat a Spawn bag, a Worm, or Skein. Never has a marshmallow been the most effective bait for me or my clients.

Check out Best Baits For Steelhead for more on these baits.

Should You Use Marshmallows for Steelhead Fishing?

I believe marshmallows could serve as an additional bait to try when other better-proven baits are not yielding results, but I wouldn’t suggest them as a primary bait choice.

Do Steelhead Guides Use Marshmallows?

Most top steelhead guides would likely choose NOT to use marshmallows as bait, except as a last resort.

A good guide’s primary objective is to ensure their clients have the highest possible chance of catching a significant number of steelhead in a short period of time, so they’d likely opt for superior and time-tested and proven steelhead baits.

If the guides are not using it, you probably shouldn’t either.

Questions and Answers about Steelhead Fishing with Marshmallows

If you have any questions, thoughts, or advice regarding steelhead fishing with Marshmallows, I invite you to share them in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *