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Steelhead Trolling Speed


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Here on eastern Lake Erie, it's almost the season for summer offshore Steelhead (for the 5-10 boats that actually fish for something other than Walleye/Perch). After a very successful spring Laker season, I'm excited to see how the improvements on our boat (6 rod spread this year, 2 last year. Plus a new, quiet electric trolling motor) will affect our catch rate. The only downside is speed. From what I've gathered the past year or so, many say that Steelhead like the fastest trolling speeds of any of the Great Lakes Salmonids. Last year, we caught a couple trolling for Walleye at 1.8-2.4 mph, but most were around 2.5-3.0 mph, 90% caught on spoons and 10% on plugs. Last year we also used a trolling plate on the main I/O engine to troll (long story but it broke off). The noise and stink that the main engine created after a couple hours at trolling speeds annoyed everyone on the boat, so we decided to get a Minn Kota Saltwater Riptide with 160# of thrust for this season. It's a great motor, incredibly quiet, trolls up to 3.8 mph, and pushes our 22' Sea Ray with ease. The only problem: short battery life. We even have four 29 deep cycle batteries just for the trolling motor and yet it still only gets 7-8 hours at 1.5-1.8 mph and 4-5 hours at 2.4-2.8 mph, the two speeds we use for Laker trolling. With steelhead seeming to love 2.5-3.0 mph, I fear we may only get 3-4 hours from the motor which is very disappointing considering we fish 8-12 hours each day.

 

My question for you all: Are there any baits/lures/presentations that work well for catching Steelhead at a slower speed (say, 2.0-2.5 mph) so that we can save battery life on the troller? Since we only fished spoons and plugs on two rods last year, I'm thinking maybe there's some other type of lure that will work better at low(er) speeds for Chromers. Maybe something like Dodgers or Flashers, or even a different style of spoon? If not, I guess we could always use the main engine for a couple hours wants the troller is dead, but I'd prefer not to. If the area we're fishing matters for this, we do most of our Steelhead trolling in the summer in 60-160 FOW (60-80 FOW in the shallower west and 80-140 FOW to the deeper east, on average). Surface temp June-August tends to be 70-78°F with down temps anywhere from 39-55°F. The Steelhead out of Erie average 3-10# with a few in the 11-15# range and that rare 15#+ being caught a couple times each year.

 

Thanks for the help.

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That's a pretty large and heavy boat for an electric trolling motor, long term you may want to look at a 9.9hp kicker which is what we use and it works great at all speeds. As for slower speed lures, jointed Rapalas would be a good option to try when they're near the surface. Stinger spoons troll a bit better at slower speeds than others, especially in the larger Stingray and Magnum sizes.

Sent from my iPhone using Great Lakes Fisherman mobile app

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I second the jointed rapalas.  Thin fins / thin fish and wiggle warts also have plenty of kick at slower speeds.  Lighter spoons work better at lower speeds.  I can't fish my hand bent flutter delvrs at more than 2.3 without them spinning out.

You can catch pier heads steel on flat fish at rowing speeds.

Downside to slowing down is you don't present your offerings to as many customers.

 

 

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30 minutes ago, mrhookup said:

That's a pretty large and heavy boat for an electric trolling motor, long term you may want to look at a 9.9hp kicker which is what we use and it works great at all speeds. As for slower speed lures, jointed Rapalas would be a good option to try when they're near the surface. Stinger spoons troll a bit better at slower speeds than others, especially in the larger Stingray and Magnum sizes.

Sent from my iPhone using Great Lakes Fisherman mobile app

Thanks for the tips. The highest up we've caught Steelhead has been 40' down, probably because of the warm surface water in Erie, but in the other Great Lakes I suppose 40' down is pretty high in the water column haha. That's good to hear with the stingers as they're my number one spoon, have a few boxes of them in all different sizes and colors. I figured Magnums were too big for Steelhead but I guess not.

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9 minutes ago, FBD said:

I second the jointed rapalas.  Thin fins / thin fish and wiggle warts also have plenty of kick at slower speeds.  Lighter spoons work better at lower speeds.  I can't fish my hand bent flutter delvrs at more than 2.3 without them spinning out.

You can catch pier heads steel on flat fish at rowing speeds.

Downside to slowing down is you don't present your offerings to as many customers.

 

 

I've got a couple flatfish I bought for lakers (of course, never caught a single one on them) so I'll them for Steelhead too. That's one of the things I don't like about slowing down, not covering as much water. Then again, USFW only stocks 325,000 Lakers yearly for the entire lake while PA alone stocks 1,000,000 Steelhead, so there should be plenty of them down there! I could also use my main engine at faster speeds so it runs cleaner, maybe like 3.0-4.5 mph if the fish will chase the lures.

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6 minutes ago, FBD said:

Don't be afraid to put plugs on lead core ,riggers.  Just account for the extra depth a plug will get.  Deeper diving plugs can affect how adiver will run.

Yeah, I had a fun time calculating lure depth last year with no tables, varying speeds, and running 900 Reef Runners off of rigger balls LOL. Glad I have leadcore and diver rods plus the precision trolling app this year!

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18 minutes ago, Divemaster said:

Thanks for the tips. The highest up we've caught Steelhead has been 40' down, probably because of the warm surface water in Erie, but in the other Great Lakes I suppose 40' down is pretty high in the water column haha. That's good to hear with the stingers as they're my number one spoon, have a few boxes of them in all different sizes and colors. I figured Magnums were too big for Steelhead but I guess not.

Wow 40 foot down. When we trool silvers we usually fish the top 20 foot. Best look is a spoon on a high line or a 3 color. Never tried slow speed. We trool for them at 3.2 to 3.4.  

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Use your rip tide downwind. Turn on your main to go the other direction. No fumes in the boat.

I bet that rip tide is pretty sweet. The idea of running silent on all electric is awesome.

I'd look for a lightly used 20" shaft 9.9 hp 4 stroke outboard. You'll find a deal on one if you look long enough. Fumes won't be a problem. Don't buy anything less than an 8 hp. Under 8 hp they got a single cylinders and will shake you to death. 

 

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1 hour ago, Steelhead#1 said:

Use your rip tide downwind. Turn on your main to go the other direction. No fumes in the boat.

I bet that rip tide is pretty sweet. The idea of running silent on all electric is awesome.

I'd look for a lightly used 20" shaft 9.9 hp 4 stroke outboard. You'll find a deal on one if you look long enough. Fumes won't be a problem. Don't buy anything less than an 8 hp. Under 8 hp they got a single cylinders and will shake you to death. 

 

Yes, it's very nice to troll so quietly. The loudest thing you'll hear all day on the boat is the fish finder, unless a fish is on, then it gets loud :).

 

That's a good idea. When it's flat calm it's amazing how little power the troller uses and when we're heading with the waves I barely have to turn it on to go around 2.0 mph. 

 

I'd love to get a 9.9 kicker but there's two problems with that for my boat. 1) the swim platform is thick and slanted, so there's no good way to mount it. And 2) the only place we had room to mount riggers was a small area on the back and they only have 24" beams so they barely clear the swim platform as it is, no room for a kicker back there too. This really wasn't a fishing boat until we turned it in to one, but when my dad's dad offered it for $6,000 in great shape we couldn't pass.

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  1. I use small spoons that I get from galeforcetackle.com that catches quite a few steelies while trolling for eyes at 1.8 to 2.0. I'm sure if you run just a little faster with them you'd catch plenty steelies. 2.5 should get you into fish. and the paint doesn't peel off like with scorpion spoons.
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Not too sure about slow lures - except that i'll second the jointed orange rapalas.  I use a lot of Dreamweaver superslims and they troll pretty fast.  If you use big snap swivels, they troll even faster.  It's an aggressive technique meant to cover lots of water.  I troll these 3.5 - 5 mph.

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Don't over look other colors in the rapalas.  Silver blue and black backs have had their days.

 

Magnum stinger in mongoose: silver with a line green/yellow/green edge has been killer for all species including steel.  A 4# fish has no problem hitting a magnum spoon.

 

I would play with what you can run at the speed you boat can troll.  You'll crack the nut.

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1 hour ago, FBD said:

Don't over look other colors in the rapalas.  Silver blue and black backs have had their days.

 

Magnum stinger in mongoose: silver with a line green/yellow/green edge has been killer for all species including steel.  A 4# fish has no problem hitting a magnum spoon.

 

I would play with what you can run at the speed you boat can troll.  You'll crack the nut.

Thanks for the tip. I know orange is popular for Steel but I'll try all different colors. Caught my current PB (9#) last August on a deep diver Reef Runner in Purple/Pink/Chartreuse 50-60' down in 100 FOW.

 

Taking a break this weekend (been at it nonstop every weekend since the end of April) but I'll be up for the next one and if winds cooperate (10% of the time on Erie, it feels like) then I'll head out to the trenches and start looking for them. Thanks for the tips, everyone!

 

PS, what are some of the best colors for Steelhead? I know orange and red are universal but for example do the best spoon colors differ from flasher/fly colors? I've got tons of MI Stingers but might buy a few Spin Doctors and flies here soon.

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We have some old spoons (no idea what brand) that I got with my old boat. They are a painted blank with white on the underside and colored tape on the colored side. Yellow with orange or white tape works well. MS Burnt Toast always seems to put a couple in the box too.

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  • 11 months later...

Haven't touched this thread in a while. We did decent on Steel last summer, three or four 2-5 fish days on Lake Erie and a pair of 4-5 fish days on Lake Ontario in the beginning of August. Not terrible for a couple of guys who just took up trolling on a whim a two years ago. Everything was trolling 3.0-4.0 mph, all on stingers and moonshines from 20-100' down in 70-550 FOW. Boated chromers from 1-14# and lost either a large Steelie or Atlantic (most likely the latter) in the 20-25# class on Lake O.

 

Going to put more effort towards getting them slow this year, in the 1.6-2.0 mph range. Both because of the fumes and noise from using the main for fast trolling speeds kills us and also we can get into a nice mix bag of Steelhead, Pinks, Lakers, Walleye, White Bass, and Drum at lower speeds (vs. just Steelhead, White Bass, and rare Lakers at high speed).

 

That said, has anyone tried using red or orange Dodgers with peanut flies for Steelhead? I've heard that's a popular rig for Cohos on Lake Michigan (I'm assuming Dodgers means only low speed trolling), and considering Steelhead love the same colors, I feel like that'd work well for them, too. A pink dodger/peanut or hoochie might put a few Pink Salmon in the net, too.

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