Landing steelhead with bobbers the way to go
Written by Booth Newspapers   
Sunday, 05 February 2006 13:08

There are probably about as many ways to catch steelhead as there are steelhead. Techniques come and go, of course, but if I had to guess the technique de jour, it would have to be fishing with bobbers.

It's all the rage.

So when I met up with Denny Bouwens and John Hojnacki the other day to spend a few hours chasing steelies on the Muskegon River, I knew before we started we'd be fishing with bobbers.

Bouwens, a 36-year-old project manager for a West Michigan builder, says he likes fishing bobbers and spawn better than any other technique.

"If you want to catch fish this time of year, you want to fish spawn."

So wouldn't you know it, the first fish of the day -- a 4-pound male that had been in the river a little while -- fell to Hojnacki, who was fishing a jig tipped with wax worms under his bobber.

"When you've got three guys fishing, somebody should be throwing something different," said Hojnacki, who is something of a steelhead guru in this part of the world.

Hojo, as he's known far and wide, is high as a giraffe on bobbers. He thinks that's the best way to ring up big numbers. And because few anglers will ever even approximate the number of steelhead Hojo has caught in his career, his opinion carries some weight. But Hojo always adds his own little wrinkle to everything and this time it was wax worms.

However, that didn't last. Maybe an hour after Hojo scored, I hooked a beautiful 10-pound male -- shiny as the chrome on a Harley -- on a spawn bag Bouwens had tied up with steelhead eggs. And when Bouwens followed an hour later with a nice chrome hen on a spawn bag, Hojo was back to basics.

The bobber drill is pretty simple -- rig your bait on a leader (say 30 inches) below a swivel, put some weight on the line above the swivel, attach your bobber to the main line and you're ready to go. Cast out over the run and let the rig drift downstream.

The tricky part is making sure you don't get a big bow in your line. Leave your bail open (otherwise you're restricted to short drifts) and feather the line out as the bobber slips downstream. If you see the bobber go down, set the hook. (Remember, of course, to clomp down on the line when you swing.)

There are two ways to fish with bobbers from a boat, either anchored or moving. Most anglers anchor and fish a run, then move and fish the next run. But the moving approach -- "side drifting" in West Coat parlance, "boondoggling" as the guys around here call it -- allows you to cover more water more quickly.

The problem with boondoggling is you generally get just one drift over the fish (and how many times have you caught a steelhead from a run on the umpteenth cast?). So Bouwens has combined the two tactics; he lets out just enough anchor rope so his chains are tickling the bottom. That slows the drift a bit, but since the bobber is going downstream with the current, you'll fish through a run before the boat gets too far. That allows you to reel in and cast again, so you get several presentations over the same water while continuing to move.

We did a little bit of both, generally anchoring aside Bouwens' favorite runs, but booning through what he considers less productive water. We caught fish both ways.

Over the next 90 minutes we caught two more, both chromers, another large male and a 7-pound female, both on spawn. But because winter had returned with a fury -- we endured not only rain, snow and sleet, but, according to the weatherman, wind gusts of up to 40 miles an hour -- we called it a day.

"I'd say there's a fair number of fish in the river," said Bouwens, who has been guiding professionally for three years. "Anytime you go fishing for five hours and catch five steelhead, you can't say that's poor."

Bouwens, who fishes around a bit, says the Muskegon is one of his favorite steelhead streams.

"I like this river better than the Grand," said the Cedar Springs resident. "I can catch more fish in the Grand, but I like seeing the eagles and the turkeys and the deer."

There's no doubt the Muskegon is among the most popular steelhead rivers in the state right now, but the ambiance is only part of the reason. The fishing is pretty good, too. And as we get closer to spring, more fish will come in.

"If it warms up just a little bit, I like to plug," Bouwens said. "If you get a couple of days with a little bit warmer weather, the fish start moving around a bit more and then they bite a little better and you can really hit them on plugs."

But if it stays cold, which seems likely, Bouwens will stick with the bobber program.

"If the fish are going to bite, they're going to bite," Bouwens said. "You run that bobber by him and give him a good look at it and, if he's an aggressive fish, he'll bite it right away."


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