10 Best Steelhead Baits: Tested and Rated

A steelhead with a chartreuse roe bag in its mouth.
Steelhead love spawn bags. Use them! But be sure to change the size and colors based on the conditions and what the steelhead wants.

I have been fishing for steelhead for over 38 years, and now I am one of the top steelhead guides in my area. I have tested out almost every bait there is on steelhead in all conditions.

I’ll keep this simple and honest.

First, let me just say that just because you or someone catches a steelhead on something like Powerbait, corn, or marshmallows, it doesn’t mean it’s a good bait.

I’ve caught steelhead on bark, bubble gum, candy, and sponge from a sofa… What I’m saying is that a steelhead can and will sometimes put all kinds of dumb things in their mouths.

What’s worse is that new anglers will put all kinds of dumb things on their hooks and then expect to catch fish. If dumb things worked, I’d use them!!

There are two types of steelhead baits. There are high-percentage baits and low-percentage baits.

Guides like me use high-percentage baits 95% of the time, and so should you.

Other things to keep in mind are:

  • Match your bait type to the conditions.
  • Match your bait color choice to the conditions.
  • Match your bait size to the conditions.
  • Just because one steelhead bites a specific bait doesn’t mean others will.
  • Rotate through baits regularly if the fishing is slow.

High-percentage baits are what most steelheads will bite most of the time. Low-percentage baits get the attention of fewer steelhead less often, and they are rarely consistent producers.

The 10 Best Steelhead Baits: Rated

If I had to choose only four baits for steelhead, they would be:

  • Spawn: Spawn bags or roe bags are the most common and one of the best baits for steelhead
  • Worms: Live worms, or plastic steelhead worms in pink and red, are great for steelhead.
  • Beads: Beads imitate salmon eggs and are deadly good on steelhead in currents.
  • Flies: Flies such as nymph, Woolly Bugger, and Egg Sucking Leeches are very good for steelhead.

I catch 95% of my steelhead on these four baits. I just have a variety of sizes, colors, and fly patterns, and then I rotate through them to determine which will be the most effective at the time.

Best Steelhead Baits: Tested and Rated
Rank Bait Rating Notes
1 Salmon Eggs/Cured Salmon/Trout Eggs 10/10 High Percentage Bait. Curing is crucial.
2 Mad River Trout Worms 10/10 High Percentage Bait – Rivers Only.
3 Beads 9/10 Effective in current sections.
4 Skien Chucks 9/10 Can be tied into sacs.
5 Garden Worm 8/10 Worms under 5 inches, like red wigglers.
6 Jared Single Salmon Eggs 8/10 For single egg use, not for sacs.
7 Rubber/Plastic Single Eggs 8/10 For single egg use, not for sacs.
8 Night Crawlers/Dew Worms 7/10 Commonly recommended bait.
9 Shrimp 7/10 Recommended by users with a preference for lures.
10 Rubber/Plastic Egg Clusters 6/10 Best in faster currents.

See other potential baits and how I rate them.

  • 5/10 Hellgrammites(High Percentage Bait).
  • 5/10 Live Insects: Includes stoneflies, Caddis, and Mayflies
  • 5/10 Powerbait Dough: Garlic scent or Corn Scent or other, mentioned by several users as equally effective as worms.
  • 2/10 Powerbait Mice Tails: Some anglers recommend these. I don’t!
  • 5/10 Wax Worms: Noted for their effectiveness by one user.
  • 1/10 Corn – Should never be used as bait.
  • 3/10 Marshmallows and dried hard Marshmallows – Very low percentage bait.
  • 3/10 Meal Worms and Grass Hoppers: Mentioned as sometimes effective but not always worth the effort to obtain.
  • 0/10 Bread: Anglers squish it hard, roll it into a dough ball, and put it on a hook.
  • 2/10 Crickets
  • 5/10 Green Power Eggs – Not recommended if you want consistency.
  • 2/10 Powerbait Trout Nuggets (best for freshly stocked trout, but not for steelhead).
  • 4/10 Jarred Egg Sacs Packed In Oil – I do not recommend them.

I may change my baits, sizes, or colors when winter steelhead fishing to adapt to what the steelhead wants.

Make Your Baits More Effective

90% of the time, I use high-percentage baits to ensure my clients catch the maximum amount of trout possible. But, I also make sure that I, or they, do some other things to ensure their baits are as effective as possible.

  • Use the right hook: Guides are picky with the hooks they use because we know the right hooks will hook and hold fish better.
  • Put the bait on properly: Covering the hook point or closing the gap with most baits will prevent hookups.
  • Leader setup matters: If your leader setup is bad, trout will see it, or your presentation will be bad, which can make a great bait almost useless.
  • Presentation: Many, many times, I’ve seen two angler fish side by side with the same baits, leader setup, and hooks, and one guy catches ten times more fish. Proper presentation is critical.

Low Percentage Baits

If I have thoroughly fished a spot with my best baits, sometimes I will run something crazy through the spot to maybe get the attention of a steelhead that did not want my high percentage baits. This is the only time I will use a low-percentage bait, and this is rare.

See: Best Baits For Trout

Graham

References:

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