Jake Reardon with a chrome bright winter steelhead, caught with a Shrimp Tail Teaser
Listen, people. It’s 2015. The genie is out of the bottle. Steelhead are being caught everywhere on pink plastic worms. In fact, among the best float fishing anglers I know, the idea of fishing a jig under a float WITHOUT something pink and plastic dangling from it is becoming a tactic employed only in the lowest of low water winter steelheading conditions. Something about the worm just drives steelhead crazy.
Here’s the thing with a standard-issue pink worm, though. If we’re honest with ourselves, there’s really not much difference from one worm to the next. They’re generally about 3-4 inches long, they’re generally some shade of pink, they generally resemble a nightcrawler in terms of their physical makeup. A 4-inch pink steelhead worm from company A isn’t so different from a similar worm from company B that one will consistently outfish the other.
This is great news, because it generally means you can’t make a bad choice in terms of one versus another. Choosing one brand versus the other doesn’t mean that you’re going to be THAT GUY with the worms that don’t work while everyone else enjoys success on theirs.
But there is a drawback to these similarities also. Where one standard-issue 4-inch pink worm doesn’t work, the others don’t work either. Live by the pink worm, die by the pink worm. I know that this isn’t the case for everybody, but I personally give up on the pink worm once the river runs with less than about four feet of visibility. I know that plenty of steelhead are caught on pink worms when the water has less visibility than that, but for me that’s about the limit. Once the water has less than four feet of visibility, I’m usually throwing hardware, as I can cover more water faster and target aggressive steelhead in their favorite kinds of holding water much better than I can with a float.
Likewise, when the winter flows get so low that the bottom is clearly visible at eight or more feet, pink worms can be more stimulating than necessary and actually cost us fish. I have observed undisturbed steelhead in these conditions actively avoid a 4-inch pink worm for 2-3 casts and then leave their lie completely when the next cast comes their way. Not only are these fish not interested in eating four inches of pink worm, they’re not interested in being in the same ZIP code as four inches of pink worm.
For a few years I tried to make pink worms work in these high water and low water conditions, mostly without consistent success. In high water, I tried bigger worms. I doused them in scent. I fished them on big, fully-dressed ¼ ounce jigs with fluorescent painted heads and lots of flashy materials. The results weren’t nearly what they were in 4+ feet of visibility. In low water, I tried downsizing my jigheads, using paler colors, and pinching the front inch or inch and a half off of the worms. The results weren’t bad, but they weren’t as good as fishing a plastic-free jig, either.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that whatever it was that made steelhead inhale 4-inch pink worms in the perfect 4-8 feet of visibility didn’t completely disappear when the water conditions changed. I believed that if the RIGHT plastic critter could be presented to these fish that they’d bite aggressively. As I discovered a couple of years ago, my feeling was right. And the folks at XFactor tackle have definitely found a couple of the right plastic critters.
The first I’d like to talk about is their Shrimp Tail Teaser. In conditions where the water has limited visibility, there are four factors that affect a steelhead’s ability to locate and bit a lure: size, color, scent, and vibration. The Shrimp Tail Teaser gives us advantages over a standard 4-inch pink worm in 3 of these categories.
First, it’s bigger in the way that a Christmas ham is bigger than a summer sausage. It’s much bulkier, and gives a much bigger profile. Just as important, I think, it gives a much different profile. There is just a bigger offering being presented, and in limited visibility conditions, especially in moving water, bigger is easier to find against the surface or the overcast sky than smaller.
Second, Shrimp Tail Teasers are available in colors that stand out better in low-visibility conditions. My personal favorite for these conditions is the Hot Pink. It is a lot more of a ‘cerise’ pink than a ‘baby’ or ‘bubblegum’ pink, and for that reason it really pops. Again, remembering that we’re talking about moving water and limited visibility, having a color that catches a steelhead’s attention a second or two earlier than some other color would have is crucial.
Third…I don’t know what Jeff puts in the shrimp scent that goes into these things, but WOW. When you receive a package of Shrimp Tail Teasers, after you notice the lures themselves the next thing you’ll notice is the little oil slick happening inside the package. And when you open the package, you smell the shrimp scent right away, much more so than with other soft plastics. When there’s plenty of visibility in the river, I don’t think scent matters a whole lot to a steelhead. When there’s not plenty of visibility, I’ll take every advantage I can get, and XFactor’s shrimp scent is definitely an advantage.
Rigging Shrimp Tail Teasers couldn’t be simpler-I just run the hook point of a ¼ ounce jighead through the center of the flat end of the lure, and I bring the hook point out through the flat ‘belly’ part of the lure. When the lure is fishing, I want the ‘shell’ or ‘back’ to be facing the riverbottom and the ‘belly’ part to be facing the surface.
Once you have the Shrimp Tail Teaser on the jighead, it’s just straightforward jig fishing. There are a couple of tips I’d like to share, though. One, water in the 3-4 feet of visibility range causes fresh steelhead to be very aggressive. They live their lives being both predators and prey, and in water conditions like this they are concealed from predators while also being concealed from their prey. In these conditions, if there is a sweeter place to run a Hot Pink Shrimp Tail Teaser than a bouncy 5 foot deep current seam, I can’t imagine what it is. Because the steelhead are aggressive, you won’t need to put the lure right on their nose in order to elicit a strike. For this reason, I recommend setting your float so that your jig is a full 18” above the bottom. You’ll lose less tackle, but also the strikes you’ll get will be much more forceful. The steelhead will have to rise up to take your offering, and he’ll settle back down to the bottom after doing so. This will cause your float to plunge dramatically.
The second tip is to fish Shrimp Tail Teasers as low in the river system and as early in the season as you can. Steelhead fresh from the ocean are steelhead fresh from feeding in the ocean, and shrimp are a key food source for them. Fish, steelhead included, tend to bite better when they’re shown something that looks and smells like an expected food source. This is certainly not to say that Shrimp Tail Teasers won’t work on fish that have been in the river awhile, fresh-from-the-ocean fish in particular really hammer them.
When winter rivers are much lower, and have virtually UNlimited visibility, the size, bulk, and color of even a regular 4-inch pink worm trimmed down to three inches can be too much stimulation for a steelhead. When I want to run plastic in these situations, there is one product I reach for, and that’s XFactor’s 3-inch Miracle Worm. These diminutive little beauties have a couple of significant advantages over other worms.
The author with a beautiful native steelhead, caught with a 3" XFactor Tackle Miracle Worm
First, Miracle Worms aren’t only shorter than regular 4-inch worms, but they’re also much thinner. Whereas added bulk is a good thing in low-visibility conditions, it is not good for skinny, clear water. In these conditions, the steelhead don’t need size, color, scent and vibration to locate a lure. They can see it coming from a long ways away, and they have the opportunity to examine it for a little bit longer before they strike. With these smaller worms, there is nothing there to make the steelhead uncomfortable. We get the movement of a plastic worm, but in a smaller, less stimulating package.
Second, Miracle worms are available in two colors I wouldn’t dream of leaving home without in these conditions-white and shrimp pink. Most jigs I fish in low water conditions are a pale pink or blue color combined with white, and to my eye either a white or shrimp pink Miracle Worm just looks great with these jigs. I can tell you that the steelhead agree…White simply goes with almost everything. The shrimp pink is a translucent color with just a hint of a sheen to it, and in sunlight it has the kind of translucence that you find in a live sandshrimp. It’s almost as though the suggestion of the worm is there without the opaque substance that would come with a solid color. To me this suggests something ‘alive’, and since in these clear-water conditions steelhead get a good long look at the offering, having something that seems alive can be what seals the deal, so to speak.
Rigging these little killers isn’t any different than rigging any other plastic worm. I prefer to fish them on a 1/8 or 1/16 ounce jig because the smaller jigs work best in these low, clear conditions. Also, I don’t usually fish these ‘naked’ (on a jighead with no feathers) as I want just a little bit if bulk in the body of the jig.
And finally, Miracle Worms come with XFactor’s killer shrimp scent. I’m not sure it’s 100% necessary in the conditions that I use these for steelhead in, but hey…If you offer me XFactor shrimp-scented anything versus the same lure unscented, I’ll take their scent on it every time.
I don’t always fish plastic under a float in the low and high-visibility conditions I described earlier. I still love to toss spoons and spinners, and I still spend a lot of time with a flyrod in my hand when the water is low and clear. But the Shrimp Tail Teaser and the Miracle Worm have expanded the water conditions in which I can fish plastics with a reasonable expectation of success. They will do the same for you. Good luck!!
Chris Ellis is a frequent contributor to STS magazine and one heck of a fisherman.