25) 4 for 8 Big River Steelhead, 7 to 20 lbs, Leggy Fox Jig Pattern 12/2/20

I hooked 8 big steelhead fishing spinning tackle with a jig under a bobber on the Big Manistee River.  Everyone else was probably putting bait on their jigs and lucky to hook more than one.  I landed 4, silver and dark Fall Fish and a fin clipped greenish hen that looked like fresh Summer Run Skamania plant.  I landed about 10 brown trout out of maybe 16 hooked.  At least 3 of the browns were on Center Pin with a #6 Opal Minnow Jig.  All of the rest of the fish were on spinning tackle with a Dark Brown 1/32 ounce #6 Leggy Fox Jig.  The bobber went down well over 2 dozen times and the no stretch main line gave immediate feedback.  The rock solid resistance of a rock, softer resistance of a tangled fishing line snag, the rapid frantic shaking of 11 inch brown trout, or the huge head shakes of big steelhead. Several tackle choices and conditions on the river came together for a great day. 

Water temperature has been falling sharply but Wednesday it flattened out and held steady at just under 40 F.  Wind conditions were good, better than the forecast of strong northwest wind which would have made it hard to cast and to control the drift.  The wind was light out of the west so on this hole, it would slow the downstream drift and make it easier to control your line for the best presentation.  The sun was bright but the hole was shaded deep in the valley.

The previous several trips had made it clear to me that I could catch a lot more fish if I could cover more water.  On weekends its harder to leave any good spot to try else where for fear of losing access the good spot you were lucky enough to get into.  So you pound the same water over and over.  Smooth drifts are not needed as much for jigs like they are for presenting egg imitations.  A center pin is best for egg imitations.  I can only center pin cast about 65 feet.  Spinning tackle would cast much farther so I rigged up a wide spool spinning reel on a 10.5 foot rod (barely long enough).  I respooled it with some "24lb, 0.007 inch diameter" Yellow GLISS MonoTex" I is not a braid but is slick, fused, parallel fibers.   It is recommended for extreme distance casting.  Now if you see "24 pound test" next to "0.007 inches", the diameter of 4X trout tippet, you would probably say WTF.  The actual German manufacturer's company name is WFT, German grammar is probably different. 

The 24lb is apparently the ideal thickness, slickness, and stiffness and for casting very far with spinning tackle and probably good for Center Pin as well.  I had lots of big steelhead pull lots of line off the spinning reel, which makes line twist but I had no problems.  The 20lb Power Pro I am now using on my Center Pin is very strong and thin, I have lost zero bobbers for the last year.  It fishes well except it is so extremely soft and limp that any build up of twists begins to create a severe tangle hazard when you try to cast with it or even just jiggle it funny.  I tied the slick 24lb Gliss to my top swivel with a double line, improved clinch knot, 6 turns.  I use double line 5 turns for the rougher 20lb Power Pro.

The night before I had tied up another batch of Leggy Fox Jigs, most of them on the heavier 1/32 ounce #6 jig head.  The heavier, darker brown versions caught fish. I tied them much shorter,  Tying in a stout but shorter tail at mid shank.  I put a fire orange tread butt and a little thread tail behind the tail tie in point along with the fire orange front thread collar I put on all my jigs.  I only put 4 silicone legs on these smaller jigs where I had put 8 on the larger ones I originally tied.  The heavier head on a smaller jig will more quickly reposition it to the desired vertical presentation after mending the downstream belly in the line that over speeds a good drift.  In difficult current or wind conditions or when making long cast this becomes more important.  The thinner mainline made it easier to mend the far away drifts.  The thin no stretch mainline let me hit the far away bobber with the light single tap I use to add a bit of movement to jigs.

Thinking back to the hot steelhead jig and fly patterns I have used in Great Lakes Tributaries for deep, in their face presentations (bottom bouncing or float fishing), often a small sized pattern is the best size.   On all of my steelhead jig patterns the small size is either the only size that worked or the smaller size always caught more and bigger fish than a larger size.  The Little Brown Jig only works little.  Leggy Fox, Rubber Leg Stone Fly, Opal Minnow, Mop Worms, Pear White and Silver Marabou Minnow, all have caught bigger fish in the smaller sizes.  For Atlantic Salmon and Steelhead wet fly swing patterns for low water, frequently surprisingly small patterns are recommended.

About the Fish

The first bright hen is over 30 inches, from the end of the rod but to the front of the cork is 21 inches.  This is either a wild fish or a fine example of Michigans great hatchery program of using only born in the wild steelhead for brood stock from the Little Manistee River.  Because the Little Manistee river is not stocked, only the genes of stronger fish that have survived from egg to adult are propagated.  The fish are extremely solid and well fed this fall, meaning we are going to get big strong steelhead this year and next.  She, like many of the fish hooked fought with ripping runs and high slashing leaps.

This male is around 20 pounds.  My 1st or 2nd biggest.  I thought that with that kype in the jaw, this might not be his first run, might be a repeat spawner.

The oddly shaped hatchery Buck has and adipose clip and apparent damage to the dorsal fin.  Consider the joke: What do you get you cross a Skamania steelhead with ...? This fish looks like a stout Michigan winter run forward of the dorsal fin and a slender summer run Skamania behind the dorsal fin.

The last hen has adipose and dorsal fin clips and is shaped like a  Skamania summer run strain yet she looks bright enough like she may not have been in the river long.  She made a few of the great leaps the Skamania are known for.  Her gill plate is deformed, it is too short to cover her gills. 

The Washing State hatchery program and now the Michigan Hatchery program have degraded this amazing wild summer run strain that originally came from the Washougal River.  There, the smaller 2 salt season fish of about 7 pounds were famous for eating dry flies.  That and many other great features of this once great wild fish were bred out of these fish to make the Skamania hatchery strain.  We got bigger 3 year fish that race up the river in the summer and head straight up to crowds waiting for them at the dam or hatchery, but it could have been better.

For a change, the brown trout of the day had very little damage from hooks being ripped roughly from their jaws.  Do some fishermen even try? 

You can see the slip bobber and the bobber stop above and a tiny split shot stopper a few inches below the bobber.   That frees the first few inches of the hook set from any resistance from the bobber.  The BB sized point shot is adjusted to be about 30 inches from the lure.  Here it is near the 4 turn surgeon's knot between Fluorocarbon 10lb shot line (0.010IN) and 8lb (0.009in) leader line. 

The Big #2 shot is not shown here but is about 16 inches above the point shot.  You should clump all your shot at this one spot.  Do not "set the float with any shot near the float.  That would make your bobber set like you are getting a perfect drift, your friends will be impressed but you shouldn't be. You float will not be tilting downstream and you will have no idea that your drift is probably going too fast.  Many shot higher in the water column will push your drift to go more the speed of the faster water higher up.   Those guys with lots of shot spread out catch fish but they mainly use bait.  If you have something on your line the fish really want, the presentation can vary quite a lot and still get bit.  This day, I only got bites from steelhead on drifts moving about the same as the current.  I gave a single tap to the bobber every 4 feet or so.



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