This is one of those years when steelheaders don’t talk to each other. Oh, they talk, but they don’t talk fishing. They chat about the chukar numbers or bemoan the elk they missed. Word has come down from on high that steelhead numbers are down. One of those years when a lot of guys stay home while other anglers quietly go to the river and then lie about it.

It reminds me of the day we fished with Adam Hocking on the Snake. In Lewiston for a visit one January, my friend Kris Bales and I planned a day with Adam Hocking of Steel Dreams Guide Service. We would run the Clearwater or the Snake, depending on the weather.

I called Adam the night before. “Meet me at Heller Bar at eight o’clock,” he said.

I expected to see two dozen anglers on the bank and two dozen trailers in the parking lot. Instead, it was just Adam, his brother-in-law Carl Welch and Tiller, the springer spaniel.

We would side-drift yarnies and beads, Hocking said. If we could hit the seams where steelhead hold, we would have a decent chance at getting fish to grab.

How they roll

Fish take beads for the same reason they bite salmon eggs. Steelhead, salmon and trout are programmed to eat fish eggs. And eggs tumble along the bottom.

Putting beads in front of fish is a deadly technique.

Most species in our steelhead streams are gravel spawners and the eggs that don’t make it into the 3/4-minus tumble down with the current. Neutral-buoyant, they stay close to the bottom and get vacuumed up by everything from suckers to sturgeon.

For the bottom-bounced bead presentation there is a variety of opinion on where to peg the sphere. Some say three inches, while others like to set the bead two inches from the hook. Instead of eyeballing it, try to set the bead about two fingers’ width away from the hook. Why is this important? A bead set too far away is likely to result in an outside-the-mouth set, which is considered snagging in some locales.

At the hook-set, the line slides through the bead and the hook usually plants inside the corner of the mouth.

To fix the bead in place, use a toothpick and break it off, slide the bead over a bobber stop knot, or use a threaded rubber band.

The drift

Prospect in fairly straight classic drifts. Watch for water that moves at about the speed of a fast walk.

Many guides prefer a nine-foot spinning rod and a reel that can hold about 160 yards of eight- to 12-pound test main line. High visibility lines are good to give the boat operator a quick sight reference. For leader, use 48 inches of six- to 10-pound clear mono or fluorocarbon, knotted to a No. 4 single hook. In clear water, step down a size to a No. 6.

In the weight box, keep up to five different lengths of precut hollow core pencil leads. Or tie up with a sliding snap swivel on your main line and connect it to a pre-tied “slinky” weight.

Use just enough weight that your pencil lead or slinky ticks the bottom every two or three seconds.

In a jet boat, set up to drift downriver stern first, with the bow slightly angled into the run. At the head of the slot, start the kicker before shutting down the big motor. The rearmost angler (often the boat operator) should make the first cast.

As soon as that line touches the water, the next angler should cast. Both anglers will reel up any slack. If their tackle is matched, there should be no tangles.

Using the kicker, make slight adjustments in forward and reverse to keep the lines taut, the beads fishing in line. Make sure the anglers keep their rod tips up at a 45-degree angle.

It was our second drift when the first fish struck.

Operating the kicker, Hocking made the first cast, then Carl. Third in line, I picked my spot in shallow water and then Kris Bales, in the bow, made his cast.

We drifted back, our weights touching down time to time. Then the tension in my rod tip changed, like a wet sock had fouled the leader. That’s what a fish feels like!

I set the hook hard and the line angled toward mid-river. The six-pound hatchery buck didn’t fight hard, but the next one put up quite a battle before the hook popped out of its beak.

I finished the morning with a wild nine-pound male that we turned back, watching it kick away from the sandbar to make more steelhead.

In a year with fewer fish, try beads for steelhead. And lie to your buddies about the fishing.

Gary Lewis is the author of Fishing Central Oregon and Oregon Lake Maps and Fishing Guide and other titles. To contact Gary, visit

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