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By Jason Brooks
When it comes to winter steelhead fishing there are several techniques, lures, and baits to choose from. Each one is used for a different type of water where steelhead call home. It can be a bit overwhelming for the new steelhead angler to figure out how and where to fish for these sea-run rainbow trout. There is one lure, however, that can be fished in about every water type, and with several different ways to rig it, makes it one of the most versatile lures a steelhead angler can use. That lure is the Smile Blade Shrimp Rig.
For the seasoned steelhead angler, using a bait diver and backing bait down into a holding area for steelhead is one of the most productive ways to catch fish. The Mack’s Lure Smile Blade Shrimp Rig was made for this technique. But there is way more to this lure than just slowly backing it down into a seam or letting it go by a sunken boulder where holding steelhead are patiently waiting to grab a lure as it comes near.
The Smile Blade Shrimp Rig uses the Smile Blade, which works well in slow current, as well as fast water. Teamed up with a Cha Cha Pill Float that adds buoyancy when needed, but also creates a profile to attract hungry steelhead. A 2/0 octopus hook, snelled with monofilament line, can be used to secure coon stripe shrimp, a prawn tail or even a gob of eggs, and a trailing size 6 treble hook that provides for solid hook-ups.
Use the Shrimp Rig with a bait diver
As stated above the bait diver with the Shrimp Rig is an extremely effective way to catch steelhead. You can add to the rig by taking a piece of prawn tail or a whole coon stripe shrimp skewered onto the top hook. One way to increase hook ups is to first cure the shrimp with some Pro-Cure Shrimp and Prawn cure. It is simple to use and will add bite stimulants to the bait, as well as toughen it, so it stays on the hook longer. The cure also dyes the shrimp to a fish catching color such as pink, magenta, or orange.
Fish the Shrimp Rig with a dropper weight
Steelhead are found in softer water, including behind dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, the confluence of Clearwater and Snake near Lewiston, Idaho, and other places. When you find soft water or “lake-like” conditions, including the ever-popular Drano Lake, then put away the bait divers and use the Shrimp Rig with a sliding drop weight. This is an effortless way to fish the Smile Blade Shrimp Rig. Again, tip it with a piece of prawn tail or a coon stripe shrimp and then drop it to the depth of holding fish.
Plunk the Shrimp Rig
The Smile Blade Shrimp Rig is perfect for plunking. A straightforward way to bank fish for steelhead when the water is high or there is little bank access and anglers are stuck in one spot. The idea of plunking is to cast out a lure and let it sit, with a heavy weight often using pyramid-style lead weights to keep the line in place. This is effective when casting out to seams, soft water edges or runs where steelhead will move upriver and intercept the bait. Since the Smile Blade Shrimp Rig has the pill float for buoyancy and the Smile Blade to attract fish, it is perfect for plunking. Tip the top hook with a sand shrimp tail or a cured coon stripe shrimp, then cast it out and wait for the steelhead to arrive.
Drift the Shrimp Rig
Yes, just like any other drift fishing technique where anglers often drift a piece of yarn and float, such as a Cha Cha Pill Float, you can drift fish the Smile Blade Shrimp Rig as packaged, if you are allowed to use a treble hook. If the regulations do not allow for a treble hook, then cut it off and fish it with the single point hook, which you can add a cluster of eggs to. Another way to drift fish is to remove the Cha Cha Pill Float and Smile Blade, then, using a bait threader, add on a pink rubber worm and then put the Cha Cha Pill Float and Smile Blade back on. I have been using a Cha Cha Pill Float and Smile Blade combo with a pink worm for over a decade and until the Smile Blade Shrimp Rig came along, I had this secret weapon all to myself.
The Shrimp Rig isn't only for steelhead
So, this is the best part of this lure — it works for a lot of different fish and can be fished in several different ways. For sockeye, troll it behind an Double D Dodger 7.6 with a coon stripe shrimp. The treble hook grabs the soft-mouthed sockeye and will not let go. Spring Chinook are known to bite shrimp rigs and this one is no different. Simply use a heavy dropper with a Scent Flash UV Paddle Flasher. The walleye angler knows how deadly this lure can be when you rig a nightcrawler on the hooks and use a bottom walker weight. There is a reason it comes in 6 colors, including Chartreuse Mirror/Fire Tiger, a deadly walleye color. It works for trout, kokanee, steelhead, salmon, walleye and about everything that will bite. Tip the hooks with bait and let the lure attract the fish.