Steelhead Rigs for Bank Fishing: What are the best choices?

Ask any experienced steelhead angler and they’ll likely tell you the same thing – steelhead aren’t that hard to catch.

Yet if you’ve ever tried to land a steelhead and continually find yourself getting skunked or outfished, you might wonder what you’re doing wrong.

This is particularly true if you are bank fishing, where it’s harder to “go with the flow” – so to speak.

When you’re fishing from the bank, keep in mind that the bait, drift, strike, hookset, and presentation are all factors that are involved in your ultimate success.

You need to pay careful attention to your rig set up when you head out for the day, so consider these tips for a catch you can brag about.

Tips for Fishing Steelhead from the Bank

Steelhead aren’t necessarily complicated fish. Like all other fish, they require places to rest, places to hide, and places to eat

In understanding how steelhead operate, particularly in how they interact with various environmental factors, you can narrow down where they’re hiding.

This will allow you to focus on other aspects of fishing, like how to entice them to bite your hook.

Remember to monitor the levels of the river before you head out, as this can dictate the rig you use to fish.

For example, if the river is low, you may want to incorporate a subtle presentation, while a high, dark river may require a flashier demonstration.

Bring all of your leaders (which you should tie ahead of time, at home) as well as plenty of alternative equipment. You’ll never know when you’ll need to change out your rig.

Knowing what kinds of lures or baits work best (and in what settings) will help you tremendously, but you also need to be willing to adapt if something is not working.

To that note, don’t be afraid to follow the crowds or change up your rig.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results – if it’s not working, see what everybody else is doing and change things up.

You can also move. Be ready to fish a totally different method if what you tried at the beginning isn’t – or stops – working.

Also Read: Best Fish Finders for Bank Fishermen

Best Rigs for Fishing Steelhead

If you’re curious about how to best set yourself up for a day of fishing success, consider these rigs.

Select the best choice for you based on the water conditions, your level of experience, and the equipment you have available to you.

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing sounds complicated (and it is), but in my experience, it’s probably one of the easiest ways to fish for steelhead.

To do this, you need to bounce the lure or bait along the bottom of the river. Obviously, in order to accomplish this, you’ll need quite a bit of weight – otherwise, your lure won’t make it close to where the steelhead is lurking.

You can calculate how much weight you need to get your lure to the bottom, as well as how easily it will stay on the bottom and move with the current, but it’s tough to do.

A picture of a father and son fishing

There is a delicate balance you need to strike because if you add too much weight, the lure won’t bounce at all, but if you add too little, it won’t make it to the bottom of the river.

To set up a drift fishing rig, tie a swivel on the end of your mainline and then add a leader with a drift bobber. I like to use Okies, but there are others you can choose, too.

It’s not a bad idea to add a small piece of string or yarn to this, too, as it will add some contrast and can get held up in the teeth of the fish – which is especially helpful if you are a beginner and need more time recognizing a steelhead’s light bite.

You can use any kind of bait for this setup – I usually use nightcrawlers, but I also know people who use sand shrimp or roe. Fresh bait is best, but it’s not necessary, especially when you’re fishing in fast water.

Drift fishing does take some practice. You need to learn how to present the bait so that it still seems natural.

As a beginner, this is a challenging task to master, as it’s difficult to tell what’s a rock as you bump across it and what’s a subtle steelhead strike.

That being said, once you’ve mastered the art of drift fishing, it’s more likely to catch you fish than any other rig.

Casting Spinners

Another method of fishing for steelhead is to cast and retrieve. This is probably the technique with which you are the most familiar, as just about everybody has cast for other fish, like bass or trout.

Casting from the bank for steelhead works in a similar way, but you need to remember that since steelhead hang out in faster waters, you need to be able to cast upstream and then allow it to drift downstream.

Casting for steelhead is more effective in the summer, probably because steelhead have a higher metabolism as the weather warms up.

They are more likely to strike a rotating spinner without having second thoughts, and they’ll usually strike quite hard so you’ll know you have a hit.

Use a small, dark spinner without a lot of glitz and glamour. As I mentioned, summer steelhead are much more vivacious than winter steelhead, so you won’t have to do a lot to wake them up.

You just want the spinner to have a presence – not spook the fish. I prefer a spinner that is a size #3 but size #2 and even #1 can also be effective.

Plunking Rigs

Plunking is not just fun to say, but it’s also an effective way to fish for steelhead from the bank.

These rigs are most commonly used in boats anchored in place, but you can also use them from the bank.

The concept here is simple. You position your line at the lowest point of the current by using a heavyweight, and then above the weight, you also have a lure or a spinner.

This spinner then moves freely in the current just atop the bottom of the river. Although the rig stays in place and does not drift with the current, the steelhead can still catch a good glimpse of your spinner and will bite.

This setup is ideal when the water is high, such as in early spring, as well as when the current is moving more slowly than it ordinarily does.

It’s also a nice alternative to casting when there’s lots of overhead brush. You do need to make sure you have the ideal amount of weight, however, as too little weight won’t help keep your rig in place while too much weight will cause the fish to spit it out.

Fishing with Plugs

Fishing with plugs is also called hot shotting, and this can be super effective if you know how to do it right. This technique involves using diving plugs (I like Wiggle Warts) that are released downstream from a boat.

The boat is usually held against the river’s current with the motor. Once you let the plugs out, the current will cause the plugs to dive, and then the boat can move slowly downstream, while the plugs wiggle away upstream.

While plugs are typically used when fishing from a boat, they can also be used when fishing from a bank. All you need to do is fish with plugs exactly as you would with spinners.

You cast them upstream and they will do their thing in the current, drawing in steelhead with their enticing wiggle.

Also Read: Steelhead Fishing Tips

Bobber and Jig Rigs

Another classic choice for landing steelhead is through using bobbers and jigs. This a great technique for beginners – or even children.

To get started, you attach a weighted bait or jig below a floating bobber. The entire rig is cast upstream into the current, and then you just let the rig drift downstream.

The float slips below the surface, just as it would when you are bobber fishing for any other species, and then you can set the hook.

You have to be careful to give yourself enough time to set the depth of the bait. It should travel just above the bottom of the stream.

When I first started out with this type of rig, I was constantly psyching myself out because the bobber would dive below the surface and I would think I had a hit and get all worked up for nothing!

So make sure you set the bait appropriately to avoid this disappointing adrenaline rush.

Spoon Fishing

Spoon fishing is another lesser-known way to catch steelhead from the bank. I’ve received some weird looks from friends and fellow anglers when I’ve tied on a spoon, but with a little bit of trial and error, I’ve actually found this to be an effective way to catch fish.

I’ve had the most success using spoons during the winter but that’s not to say that you couldn’t use them in the summer, too. Winter fish tend to be more lethargic, and because spoons are so flashy, they’re more likely to grab the attention of the fish.

Use a spoon with a long rod that has plenty of backbone, which will help support heavier hooks and also keep your line up out of the water.

Since you’re using a heavier spoon, you’ll also need to use a heavier test line. The added benefit of this is that a heavier line will help you get your fish in sooner and make sure you land them successfully.

You can use any kind of spoon you want, but I like genuine silver or copper depending on the lighting conditions of the day.

Fly Fishing Rigs

Fly fishing from the bank isn’t the most common way of fishing for steelhead, but that’s certainly not to say that it can’t be done.

This is a more advanced method and may require more precision, but if you are a fly fishing enthusiast and want to give it a try, all the power to you.

As you gain more experience with this type of rig, you’ll likely find yourself landing more fish. Cast your fly upstream as far as possible, and let the fly drift with the current.

Fly fishing for steelhead can be a more expensive way to fish from the bank, but if you are willing to learn how to tie your own flies or get your feet wet by fly fishing for trout, it can be a highly effective (and enjoyable) way to fish.


There’s not a lot of science involved with fishing steelhead from the bank – all you need is a bit of practice, a lot of technique, and some exceptional knowledge about the best steelhead rigs for bank fishing.

Once you’re out there on the shore, simply pay attention to details and be aware of the methods that you can use in various situations.

You’ll catch more fish in a shorter amount of time – with minimal mishaps and maximum enjoyment.

And that’s something you can take to the bank!

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Sean Ward

Hey there, my name is Sean – OnTrack Fishing is my site. I’m based in the UK yet I’ve been fortunate enough to catch bass in the States, barramundi in Australia, trout here at home and carp on the Danube delta. If I’m not fishing, or talking about fishing, then….I’m probably asleep.


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