Having the right bait is not enough to guarantee a good day on the water, you're going to need a lot more than that. For starters, to insure success on the river you're going to have to gather information. The guys that catch most of the fish year after year know when, where and what to use. While fishing methods and gear preferences will vary from angler to angler one thing that is critical to your success, no matter what you're fishing with, is to fish where the fish are. As obvious as that may sound I honestly don't think it can be overstated. Don't forget that Steelhead are migratory fish coming into the river to spawn. They could be loaded up in your favorite spot one day and gone the next so you need to be flexible and ready to move.
I recommend that you gather info everyday for at least 5 days leading up to your fishing trip, even if that trip is nothing more than a few hours on a day off of work. So what information do you need and where do you find it? Let's get into some specifics.
Finding fish the modern way
Love it or hate it, Facebook has become one of the best places to find out where the fish are and how the fishing has been. Now before you reach for the mouse to leave this page, stick with me for a minute. The best way to turn Facebook from being that annoying place where people post pictures of their latest meal into a fishing information tool is to seek out the best fishing guides in your area and keep track of where they are fishing as well as how the fishing has been each day. The most important information that I look for is: where they are fishing? For example, Whitehorse Park to Roberson Bridge, etc. If they don't say where they were fishing or the pictures don't give it away, I will just ask. Most of the guides are willing to share that info. I also take a mental note day to day as to how the fishing was. Did they go 1-2, 3-4 or was it a red hot 9-10? Keep in mind that fishing guides don't last long unless they catch fish for their clients. Because of this, you can be sure they aren't going to waste time, gas money and a days labor fishing close to home if the fishing is red hot elsewhere.
Details like this for 5 days in a row will help you narrow down where the fish are and how the bite has been, giving you an advantage over the average weekend warrior.
Water flow, temp and turbidity
Water flow is a critical piece of information and knowing exactly where the river is, at as well as how it has been for the last week or so, will tell you a lot about what gear to bring. Water temp is also important and knowing where it is can also tell you what to expect. In the wintertime, water temp is obviously going to be cold, but if you have a few sunny days in a row the temp could go up by as much as 7 or 8 degrees, putting otherwise lethargic fish on the bite. Every river is different so it's not possible to give you the specifics for what perfect conditions will look like on your home river. Get in the habit of checking the water flow, temp and turbidity of your local river, this way you will know what "normal" looks like. Here is a resource I like to use for checking my local rivers:
If you don't find your home river on this list just do a search for your "[YOUR RIVER] water flow", more then likely the USGS website will pop up for you.
Weather can affect fishing in a big way, affecting water flow, water color, water temperature & barometric pressure. If you're not watching the weather you may find yourself fishing on a muddy, blown out river or maybe it's low and clear and you weren't expecting that. Showing up unprepared can make for a tough day on the river, no matter what the conditions are. Take the time to do your homework, you'll be happy you did.
Rig up at home
You would be amazed how much time can be spent tying knots on the river. Time spent rigging up cuts into your fishing time and when it comes to Steelhead, every second counts. As obvious as it may sound, you can't catch fish if you're not fishing. I like to have leaders tied up in advance and Worms, Shrimp Tails, or Teaser Minnows threaded onto my jigs. I also like to pre-rig 2 rods so that I'm ready to cast as soon as I pull the keys out of the ignition. Lastly, before I leave the house I have my waders on so I don't have to "get dressed" in the parking lot while I watch fish roll and other fishermen try to catch them. Like a horse chomping at the bit I'm ready to jump out and start fishing before the car even stops. This kind of preparation will give you more time to fish and thus, more opportunities to hook into those chrome bright bullets you dreamed of the night before.
This one is in big BOLD letters for a reason, it's CRITICAL! Whether you're on the bank or in a boat you have to cover water if you want to catch Steelhead. Fishing Guides cover several miles of river looking for Steelhead that want to bite, you need to do the same. I know, you might be thinking of a day back in '92 when you and your buddies hooked a dozen Steelhead at the same spot, those days should be cherished, but they are the exception not the rule. I have a basic rule not to make more then 10 casts in one spot with the same set up before I move on. It's important to note that before I move on I have bombarded every potential holding spot with 2 different baits/presentations, and for reasons only the Lord knows, those fish don't want to play. This has always been a hard thing for many anglers to do, because many times you may be leaving a spot you've had success at before or perhaps you can see the fish moving. I'll admit, I don't often leave a hole loaded with fish to go somewhere else hoping to find more fish. If this is the case, I swap out different baits to change size and color and see if they're willing to bite, if not I move on. Ultimately, I'm confident in the gear I've brought because I've done my homework and I know that the baits I'm using have proven themselves time and time again to be lethal against Steelhead.
One final tip: when I fish the bank I make sure to bring a backpack with water and a lunch, this way I'm ready to hike a couple miles or more, covering water thoroughly before calling it a day.
I hope this helps you catch more Steelhead next time out.