Steelhead Fishing With Powerbait: A Guide’s Perspective

Steelhead fishing with Powerbait can be good for fresh run steelhead like this one I am holding.
Steelhead fishing with Powerbait can be good for fresh run steelhead like this one I am holding.

In this article, I’m going to share insights gathered from my two-decade-long career as a seasoned steelhead guide, specifically about steelhead fishing with Powerbait. Over the years, I’ve gained substantial experience in using and testing Berkley Powerbait Dough baits and other Powerbait products in all kinds of conditions for both wild and stocked steelhead.

I will also include my true opinions of steelhead fishing with Powerbait dough, whether or not I use it on guide trips, whether other guides use it, as well as its comparison with other baits used in steelhead fishing.

I’ll even reveal my most effective Berkley Powerbait product which has caught me and my clients thousands of adult steelhead.

Steelhead Fishing With Powerbait

one of my clients fighting one of many large steelhead from this spot.
one of my clients fighting one of many large steelhead from this spot.

To start, I want to clarify that my observations are based on personal experiences and skillset and therefore are only my opinions. Other guides and anglers may have better or worse results.

Also, you should know that I am not affiliated with the Berkley company in any way.

I can assure you that, indeed, Berkley Powerbait dough and some of their other baits can successfully be utilized to catch steelhead once they enter the river for spawning. However, you should read to the end of this article before you rush out to stock up on Powerbait Dough for your next steelhead fishing adventure.

Reading till the end will give you my final verdict and true opinions on steelhead fishing with Powerbait and whether or not guides use it, and if you should or should not use it for steelhead fishing.

The Appeal of PowerBait for Steelhead Fishing

A jar of Powerbait Dough
A jar of Powerbait Dough

PowerBait, or Powerbait dough bait as it’s commonly referred to, is a pliable substance that you can easily mold into small spheres with your hands. It’s composed of PVC, oil-based resin, and a variety of fish scent-related compounds.

I have read that the manufacturer claims that the bait emits an enticing aroma that captivates fish and that it can be better than some natural and effective steelhead baits.

According to the company, scientific tests have verified that it outperforms salmon eggs and other pre-packaged baits.

Yet, from my experience in other industries, I know that tests can sometimes be skewed and provide misleading information, especially if conducted by the product’s maker. So is this claim accurate in real life fishing conditions?

My skepticism prompted me to determine if Powerbait truly surpasses salmon eggs under real-world conditions and as a guide, I’ve had a lot of time to experiment and find out if Powerbait can be more effective than many of my proven effective steelhead baits.

Is Powerbait A Natural Product?

PowerBait is marketed as a natural-scent trout bait that simulates the taste, scent, and appearance of live bait.

The bait incorporates natural ingredients commonly used in traditional trout bait to boost its attraction to steelhead.

Why Steelhead Are Attracted To Powerbait

A jar of Powerbait Glitter Dough
A jar of Powerbait Glitter Dough

Contrary to popular belief, at times, a hungry steelhead will put almost anything that floats by, provided it’s small enough and resembles potential food into their mouths.

They see the object and are not sure if it’s edible, so they grab it and sample it and then either swallow it if it’s edible or they quickly spit it out.

This means that there will be instances when steelhead are open to consuming various baits, including Powerbait, and it’s for this reason that I think Powerbait does catch steelhead.

It’s uncertain whether this behavior is triggered by hunger, instinct, habit, scent attraction, or aggression, but some steelhead will consume any well-presented bait regardless.

This, in my view, is why steelhead occasionally snatch a well-presented Powerbait.

I mean, why wouldn’t they consume a Powerbait formed into a tiny sphere on a hook if they would eat a hard glass bead that is hard and have no scent and no flavor?

In fact, many anglers report that glass and plastic trout beads have been their most successful bait for steelhead in recent years, and since it’s easy to make your Powerbait dough small and round like a bead, there’s no reason why a steelhead would not grab it.

Choosing PowerBait for River Steelhead

Powerbait Eggs
Powerbait Eggs

Berkley Powerbait Dough is a popular choice among anglers targeting rainbow trout, brown trout, and brook trout, and increasingly more anglers are using it for steelhead fishing in rivers.

Various color options and a handful of formulas are available, some of which even incorporate glitter, believed to be an attractant.

Berkley also offers other effective Powerbait products, such as trout worms and fish eggs, which are unquestionably effective for trout, steelhead, and salmon.

This Powerbait worm product I genuinely believe in and has contributed to thousands of steelhead in the net for my clients.

The effectiveness of Powerbait doughs, however, is debatable still. What I can assure you is that they can prove successful given the right conditions, paired with a suitable rig and excellent presentation.

Some Berkley Products To Consider: I’ve been able to catch steelhead on all of these.

  • Berkley PowerBait Magnum Power Eggs
  • Berkley PowerBait Magnum Garlic Power Eggs
  • Berkley PowerBait Power Wigglers
  • Berkley PowerBait Floating Trout Bait Dough
  • Berkley PowerBait Natural Scent Glitter Floating Trout Bait Dough
  • Berkley PowerBait Power Honey Worm
  • Berkley Steelhead Worm: My most effective Berkley product

I must emphasize that, like any other bait, the bait can ineffective if paired with a bad hook or the wrong size leader.

Selecting the Right Powerbait 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.

The choice of the right hook is vital for a successful steelhead fishing expedition with Powerbait.

Often, anglers face difficulty in catching fish due to using a bad hook or simply not putting the bait on the hook properly.

While bait-holder hooks are commonly recommended by several websites, it’s important to understand that expert guides and seasoned anglers DON NOT use bait-holder hooks, and instead, the prefer to use high-quality hooks with high hooking percentages and better holding rates.

Hooks such as the Raven Specimen or Gamakatsu Octopus hooks in sizes 6 to 10 are solid choices for Powerbait and many other baits.

When rigging Powerbait on a hook, it’s crucial to ensure there’s space in the hook gap and the hook point is exposed.

Selecting the Right PowerBait For Steelhead

To boost your success rate, it’s advisable to purchase 2-3 jars of PowerBait in different scents and colors.

This allows you to cater to the steelhead’s preference depending on the fishing conditions.

Floating baits are ideal for still fishing methods like plunking, but sinking types are best if you plan to fish under a float, or if you’re bottom bouncing or drift fishing.

Some PowerBait variants also come in pre-sized nugget shapes, making it easier to affix them onto your hooks.

Picking the Most Effective PowerBait Color for Steelhead

When it comes to selecting the color of your PowerBait, bright colors like orange, green, pink, and rainbow tend to be more successful in attracting steelhead.

These bright colors enhance the visibility of the bait, especially in turbid water conditions.

Moreover, PowerBait with glitter can reflect sunlight, which further enhances its attractiveness.

Colors like orange mimic steelhead and salmon eggs, a preferred food for steelhead. Yellow PowerBait, available in “corn” and “cheese” flavors, has also proven to be successful.

Basic Techniques for Steelhead Fishing with PowerBait

PowerBait is particularly effective when targeting stocked hatchery steelhead.

However, it’s worth noting that PowerBait can also be good for wild steelhead, particularly in fast-moving water where steelhead have less time to examine the bait.

The most common method involves molding a marble-sized ball of Powerbait Trout Bait dough onto your hook.

Use effective steelhead fishing techniques like Float Fishing, Bottom Bouncing, Drift Fishing, Bobber Doggin, and even Plunking.

Advanced PowerBait Tips and Techniques

Here are some additional tips to enhance your success when fishing for steelhead with PowerBait:

Bait Your Hook Correctly: Properly mold the PowerBait onto your hook by rolling it into a ball and pushing the hook through. Mold the bait around the hook, ensuring the hook’s point is exposed. This technique increases the likelihood of a firm hookset when the steelhead bites.

Consider Line Visibility: Steelhead have sharp eyesight and can often detect fishing lines, especially heavier test lines used in slow clear currents and under bright light. To enhance your chances of success, opt for a lighter test fluorocarbon leader, such as 6 to 10-pound test, which is less likely to be detected by steelhead.

Fish in Suitable Weather Conditions: Steelhead tend to be more active during overcast weather conditions and in the early morning and late evening. Plan your fishing trips accordingly to optimize your success rates.

Experiment with PowerBait Varieties and Colors: If you’re not having much luck with a particular PowerBait color or type, don’t hesitate to switch things up. Mix and match different colors or try a different scent to find the combination that attracts steelhead on a particular day.

Fish at the Right Depth: Steelhead typically swim about 1 to 3 feet off the bottom. Adjust your bait depth to align with their preferred level. Using the floating variant of PowerBait can help keep the bait suspended at the desired depth.

Explore Different Locations: Steelhead may have different preferences within a body of water. Some might favor areas with structure, such as logs or underwater vegetation, while others might prefer open water or rapids and riffles. Try fishing in various locations to increase your chances of connecting with steelhead.

Utilize Multiple Hooks: Depending on local regulations, you might be allowed to use 2 to 3 hooks for steelhead fishing. Utilizing multiple hooks allows you to test different colors simultaneously or you can fish multiple levels of the water column by stacking one bait 2 to 3 feet over the other.

Rig Up Properly and Effectively: Whether you fish in still water like lakes ponds and reservoirs, or you fish in small or large streams, you need to use a bait rig that works for that type of water. Check out my 5 most effective Powerbiat rigs that I use when guiding.

Is PowerBait the Best Option for Steelhead Fishing?

Based on my experience, spawn bags and worms are better than most baits for steelhead.

While Powerbait can be effective for catching steelhead, it’s important to consider other bait options as well. Based on my experience with fishing steelhead and feedback from other guides and anglers, more natural baits often outperform PowerBait most of time, especially when targeting wild steelhead and in slow-water areas.

In my observation, other natural baits such as spawn bags, beads, insects, and even worms are often more effective in enticing steelhead to bite and hold on.

I don’t know why, perhaps it’s the rigging, or the size, shape, color, or glare, but steelhead fishing with plastic and glass beads has also proven to be more effective for me than Powerbait dough balls.

It’s always wise to have a selection of tried-and-true baits, including some Powerbait, on hand to adapt to the fish’s preferences on any given day.

After all, the goal of any angler is to use the most effective bait to maximize their chances of success and some days, Powerbait just won’t work.

Do Guides Use Powerbait For Steelhead

Over the years, I’ve been around many guides, and I’ve even trained several, but I can’t truthfully say that many, if any, consistently use Powerbait Dough for steelhead. However, I and other guides do use the Powerbait worms a lot, and do use the Powerbait eggs.

The guides I know tend to use other baits that are proven effective for them and consistently produce good results. This only strengthens my belief that although Berkley Powerbait doughs can work for steelhead, they don’t work as well as other, more productive baits like spawn and worms.

I don’t use Powerbait doughs anymore simply because I don’t believe in using less effective baits when better baits are available.

However, I rarely fish a spot without running a Berkley Powerbait pink or red worm or another brand of pink or red worm through a steelhead run at least a few times before I’m ready to leave the spot.

In fact, on many guide trips, a properly rigged plastic worm has outproduced even spawn bags and beads.

Steelhead Fishing With Powerbait Q&A

If you have any questions, comments, or advice on steelhead fishing with PowerBait, feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,


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