Article: Taking vertical steelhead jig fishing DEEP & SLOW….

Posted: February 19, 2013 by Hellcat in Fish Reports, Gear Fishing, Salmon, Trout & Steelhead, Tutorials
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Every once in a while throughout your day of steelhead hunting on any given river you will find deep, slow water somewhere. You’ll most likely come across this water in the classic small rivers we all commonly fish. Chances are most of you aren’t quite sure how to jig fish deep water with confidence so you either move on or switch over to your hardware rod to make a couple cast blasts before you walk/row on.

I’m going to explain how you can stay with you jig set up. It must be vertical (traditional not dogged), you must be running braid…which I hope everyone is running braid for float fishing by now…and most importantly of all and completely out of your control as an angler: There must be fish.

First let’s talk about some of the types of places you might be likely to find the right kind of water for this discussion AND what qualifies for ‘deep’ for the purpose of this article.

The definition of ‘deep’ to a jig fishermen will most likely mean approximately six to ten foot of depth. But one’s interpretation of ‘deep’ may not be another’s. A float fisherman that is primarily a ‘fixed’ float fisherman will define ‘deep’ as much shallower than the angler that typcially fishes heavy terminal weight and a sliding rig. Deep sections of larger than normal rivers (above 2500cfs mean flow) are often accompanied by flows that are too fast to effectively fish with a typical jig set up (although many Canadian float methods tackle this water with multiple and ascending-sized split shot…almost always accompanied by a fixed float vertically). And most of the time the fish aren’t sitting in that ultra fast deep water unless they’re super super fresh and also compelled to for a sense of safety purpose. Maybe the water is gin-clear and the banks are exposed with no wood or rock structure. Something like that.

So the opposite of larger river deep water would be small river deep water. I would typically classify a small river as a river with approximately one thousand cubic feet per second of flow at the mean level. For these rivers finding deep water as low flows means you’ll also find that water to be most likely…SLOW. The average angler walks right past the ‘frogwater’ likely mumbling a curse word or two about the quality of the water.

I’m here today to suggest you should take a moment and a breath. Find the highest area near the river without spooking the water and just let your eyes relax over the hole/run. Even though it’s very slow and it’s tough to notice at first….if you stick to it you’ll begin to see the current seams and lines forming ever so subtly in the water in front of you. You should notice a rock, gravel or wooded bank along the river…and almost never fish where there is just sand. This water should be approximately 7-12 feet deep and extremely slow.

How slow?

Slow enough that an whole drift through the gut of the run might take you a couple minutes to complete. Yes, that slow. And where will the fish likely be? Towards the middle to the bottom and very very near the bottom. Almost never suspended if you stay shallower than the twelve foot maximum I mentioned.

The best place to find this type of small river deep, slow water is at the middle to back end of a long run that has white water (even a little) at the head of it. With the water lower than normal the fish will enter the run in the traditional nature of following the deepest section of the tailout…but instead of continuing to blast up river as it may have with average flows…it stops to hold, regroup and perhaps even feed. After all…these are steelhead not salmon and they will need some nutrients for their likely return journey back to the ocean. This water should be very even in speed and not play host to boily swirls or back eddies. Those are completely different types of waters and this method won’t work hardly at all.

Once you’ve found your target water and you’ve met all your criteria you can begin to rig up your deep, slow water jig set up. You’re going to run lighter than normal leader. Smaller than normal jigs. Heavier than normal terminal weight. Ang longer than average leader length. The method? A long slow feed down river with VERY LITTLE TO NO float movement during your mending attempts.

Here’s the slow, deep small river jig rig broken down for you..then I’ll explain how to fish it.


* Terminal lead should be 3/8 OZ to 1/2 OZ and have a float big enough to support it along with the jig (jig weight depending)
* Running a Cleardrift Float will ensure presentation as well as keep you stealth which is absolutely KEY in this type of water. Those fish see, hear, feel everything. Anywhere you can cut corners size wise increases your chances of a tussle with a angry steelhead.
* Leader should be 8-12 LB depending on water clarity. The water clarity will have as much to do with where the river comes from…glacial, spring fed, reservoir fed etc… as how low the water is. The leader length should be approx 40 inches.
* Jig size and weight should almost always be a MICRO in this situation. I define ‘micro’ as anything smaller than 1/8th OZ. 1/16 OZ micros are standard while 32nd’s are less commonly used. The jig should have more than just marabou or schlappen tied into it. This very slow water needs a finer reacting natural material that will respond intensely to whatever current there is to offer…however slow or modest. I prefer rabbit fur jigs for this application although I’ve caught them on standard material type jigs too.


* No terminal lead
* A fixed balsa float is most commonly preferred and will fall into the category of ‘INCHES’ instead of ounces or grams which are common with the sliding options. You’ll want to find a float in the 1 inch to 1 7/8 inch range.
* Leader should be 8-12 LB depending on water clarity. The water clarity will have as much to do with where the river comes from…glacial, spring fed, reservoir fed etc… as how low the water is. The leader length should be approx 40 inches.
* Jig size is always at least 1/8 OZ and commonly 1/4 OZ when running this fixed set up. You must compensate for the lack of terminal lead in order to reach the target zone.

Once you’ve chosen your preferred presentation method whether sliding or fixed…and rigged it up as I’ve described…it’s time to make your first cast into the water you’ve hopefully crept up quietly on. Here’s how you’re going to present:

1) Re identify those subtle seams…take a moment if you need…as you’ll be running that float along each seam at a variety of depths…which is why this next step is so important.

2) Evaluate probable water depth and set your stop, if sliding, or adjust your fixed float, if running fixed, to the appropriate depth. Make sure you start shallower than you think for the first pass through. You never know which of these fish may be suspended (not necessarily near the bottom) and it’s important to remember their vision goes UP AND OUT…not out and down. In other words….it’s best to try to let the fish come up for the offering first before attempting to hit them square on the nose.

3) If possible…position yourself upriver of your target area so you may, stealthily and without a lot of top water float disruption, send your float on down the seam. (Use a line spooling motion like Jason Stricker shows you in the All Around Angler Television episode uploaded FEB 10th entitled “Gin Clear”).


When the strike comes in this type of water it’s extremely subtle as well. Your float will simply and slowly disappear rendering your thoughts to assume you’re snagged on the bottom. You may not be. That’s how the take happens in the slow and deep water. REMEMBER to simply reel when you see the bobber drown. Do not jerk at this point…unless your not running braid then JERK!. With a braided main line all you need to do to bury this likely SZ 1 or 1/0 wide gap jig hook is start reeling with a little extra umph. Just a quick tight reel to pick that slack up and you’re in business.

If you’re running a fixed float you’ll have a more difficult time landing the fish over a sliding float…espcially if you are by yourself due to the long float to jig distance. I recommend the fixed float option only for advanced steelhead anglers in this scenario.

Well, give it a shot and let me know how it works and what you did to make it successful for you and your own personal river game. Thanks for reading this latest article and I appreciate all your support.

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Your Dedicated TeamSalmon Captain,


  1. DUB G says:

    Great article hellcat… We were a lil stumped this weekend because of how clear the water was and this would’ve definitely helped!! We were throwing spoons, p-dubs, yarnies and jigs and couldn’t buy anything.. I guess I need to tie up some micros and break out the OG cleardrifts!

  2. Chromehammer says:

    Very well said Chris. Slow holes are some of my favorites for jig fishing. I have absolutely crushed steelhead under these conditions. Often in low clear and cold conditions. I’ve pulled fish out of holes 30+ feet deep while only suspending my jig 5 or 6 feet down. Often times Ive watched fish come up from the depths to eat the jig. Learning this technique will increase any jig fishermans success exponentially. Great article!

  3. jake says:

    most useful read ever bro! well written and easy to understand. hittin the water post haste

  4. Hellcat says:

    Oh man thanks everyone. I was hoping it would read nicely. Thanks a ton.

  5. REEL LIfestyle says:

    What a wonderful, easy to read and understand article H3LLCAT.. You continue to amaze me with your knowledge. Keep up the great work..

  6. Derek Reed says:

    Killer info buddy. Your knowledge is very helpful. Keep up the good work

  7. Hellcat says:

    Thanks so much, DJR. You and your pops are solid as oak.

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