Fall Steelhead Fishing With Salmon and Trout Eggs

two anglers admiring their catch while fall steelhead fishing
Tom Allen admires a fresh steelhead held by Chris Mulpagano.

Gluttons for Trout and Salmon Eggs

Fall steelhead fishing is a wild ride for most anglers. Steelhead can be absolute gluttons during the fall run when salmon and brown trout are broadcasting eggs all over the stream bottom during their spawning cycle. With an easy food supply that doesn’t flee in their presence like the baitfish do on the high seas, steelhead are more than happy to set up in a current break and let the food come to them.

Figuring Out The Magic Egg Pattern

While these chrome brutes will hit anything that remotely resembles an egg early in the run, they do get wise as time goes on. With a wide variety of eggs to feed on, steelhead will often get locked into a certain size, shape and smell that is preferred over all the rest. The trick for many anglers is putting the pieces of the puzzle together and determining what the magic combination will give you successful fall steelhead fishing on any given day.

Fall Steelhead Follow Their Noses

Serious egg fisherman, like professional guide Chris Mulpagano, tend to carry a variety of eggs in order to offer the fish a number of scent dynamics. Chris explains, “We all know steelhead have a great sense of smell which we anglers can take advantage of. Every egg, be it from a salmon or trout, has a different scent characteristic; and fall steelhead that have seen every size and shape of egg coming at them for months know the exact one they want to feed on. It’s our job to give them an assortment of eggs to choose from, and they’ve made the obvious choice when the float slams down!”

The Egg Puzzle

a man and his daughter enjoying some fall steelhead fishing.
The author and his daughter with a trophy fall steelhead taken on eggs cured in Borx-O-Fire

Which Fish Species Are Still Spawning

The first clue in unlocking the fall steelhead fishing “egg puzzle” is to determine what fish could still be spawning on the watershed you plan to fish. For instance, in the majority of the Lake Ontario streams, Chinook salmon are usually the first to arrive in September and can begin dropping eggs from the middle of the month right into early October. Coho’s are the wild card in the mix; while not found in all our Lake Ontario tributaries, they tend to come into the river in one big wave and take over the river for a couple weeks.

Coho Salmon Eggs

“Steelhead always seem to have a fondness for Coho eggs,” says Chris. “It’s amazing to me how steelhead will quit feeding on anything else and strictly focus on Coho eggs when the run is on.”

Brown Trout Eggs

Browns are usually the last to arrive in October and can linger till the end of November. Brown trout eggs have been “secret” bait of tight lipped fall steelhead fishing fanatics for years; but thanks to the internet, word has leaked out about the effectiveness of this great bait over the last few years. Since brown trout eggs are smaller than salmon eggs, they tend to be more delicate and will last longer when drifted in slower pools rather than being smashed to bits in fast, rocky runs.

The Egg Cure

Another key element to getting the magic formula for successful fall steelhead fishing is the egg cure, or in some cases, the lack thereof. When it comes to cures, there are plenty of commercial cures available these days; but few can compare to the Borx-O- Fire cure from Pautzke Bait. This cure is basically a mixture of salt, sugar, borax and krill powder that enhances the scent of the egg while toughening the egg enough to withstand multiple drifts through prime holding water.


The natural color works well with most eggs, but a mixture of the pink and orange versions produces an egg with a deep, vibrant color that fish devour in stained or off color water. But as good as this cure has proven to be in our watersheds, there are times when it pays to go natural and fish with fresh skein eggs.

Fresh Skein Eggs Vs Cured Eggs

“I don’t know what it is about these eggs, but there is something about fresh skein eggs that really get stale fall steelhead in a friendly mood,” admits Chris. “These eggs are far more fragile than a cured egg, but the scent and soft texture are often the right combination that consistently take fish on the tough days.”

Egg Preperation

Pre-cutting the skein into chunks and letting them air dry for a few hours will help keep them on the hook longer. It also helps to fish these eggs in slower pools down in the lower reaches of a river system where wary fall steelhead lie in wait for the next rain event to trigger their migration upstream.

Egg Storage

Be sure to keep your eggs in separate containers; mixing eggs and cures can muddy the scent trail and will ruin all the effort you put into tying dozens of beautiful spawn sacs. Mark each container with the type of egg and cure used to avoid confusion when the bite is on.

Start Big, Work Your Way Back

Another tip to keep in mind for your fall steelhead fishing adventures is tie larger sized egg sacs earlier in the run and gradually reduce the size of the sacs as the season wears on and the water cools. This correlates with the holding position of the steelhead throughout the run; early season fish tend hang around fast, oxygenated water and need something to catch their eye as it whizzes downstream. Conversely, steelhead will begin to hold in slower current breaks as the water cools down prior to winter and have a much longer window to see the bait coming at them.

Spawning Salmon and Brown Trout Eggs Catch Steelhead

fall steelhead fishing, catch and release.
Captain Chris Mulpagano releases this steelhead during a fall snowstorm.

It’s time to open the egg buffet this fall and see what the hungry customers are in the mood for each day. Don’t get fooled into using one style of egg, sac color or size all season long; short term success on one particular combo can lead to long term failure. Do your homework and have a variety of eggs ready for each outing. You’ll be glad you did when a trophy sized steelhead is on the end of your line trying to drag you back to Lake Ontario!


Get the Net Guide Service, Captain Chris Mulpagano.  315-430-7512

Pautzke Bait Company. http://pautzke.com

Original Article By Brian Kelly

About The Author

Brian Kelly has chased steelhead from British Columbia to New York and enjoys teaching others about this great sport, as well as testing his skill on new waters

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