Just as fishing with lures (spinners, spoons, plugs etc.) the color and size of your presentation is critical. Water conditions will dictate which colors and sizes will work best.
These two beauties couldn't resist a well presented yarnie.
Although relatively new to the Great Lakes, yarnies or yarn balls were developed in British Columbia and on Vancouver Island Canada over 40 years ago and their use has since migrated throughout the Northwest from California to Alaska becoming a “go to” angling technique due to their affordability, versatility, ease of use and effectiveness.
Whether you call them yarnies, yarn balls, woolies or fuzz, there is no question that one of the best techniques to use when fishing for steelhead in Great Lakes rivers and streams are yarnies. Anglers from, the Niagara and Salmon rivers (NY), the Big Man-istee or AuSable River (MI), the Grand River in OH to Elk Creek PA and Trail Creek in IN are starting to discover just how well yarnies work.
Assorted yarnies for a variety of water conditions.
This article was written assuming you already have yarnies. Whether you tie them yourself or purchase Ready-to-Fish yarnies like Fuzz Bombs, this is an article that is packed with information on how to rig and fish yarnies for steelhead.
Why Use Yarnies?
Because they work. Yarnies will tangle in the teeth of steelhead giving you a little extra time to set the hook. They are soft and have a much more natural feel to the fish. Thus, fish will not “spit” a yarnie quickly. Yarnies hold and slowly release scent and can keep eggs on your hook longer, even when your eggs get knocked off the hook the yarnies will continue to hold the scent and keep on attracting fish. Yarnies made with UV yarn are highly visible underwater!
We would probably need an entire book to cover all the information available on fishing yarnies so the following will high-light some key points and tips.
Rods, Reels, Line, Leaders and Hooks
Depending on whether you are fishing from a boat or the river-bank you will need a medium-light rod from 9 feet long in a boat (longer rods are tough to handle in a boat) to 10 feet 6 inches in length from the bank. Medium-light rods give you both a sensitive tip and a strong backbone needed to fight an angry steelhead. A good quality reel (either a bait caster, spin rod or center pin) that can hold 150 + yards of 12- to 15-pound test line for drift boats and 15- to 18-pound test line for bank fishing. Hi-viz mono or braid can help you see how the drift is going. When using Hi-viz line be sure to tie a clear 10- to 12-foot transition line between your main line and the leader. Fluorocarbon transition line and leader in 8- to 12-pound test will be nearly invisible, is scuff resistant and has a neutral buoyancy. Quality hooks are a must when fishing for steelhead in the relatively confined waters of rivers and creeks. This is not the place to save money invest in the best! A size #2 or #4 hook will work in most conditions. However, in low clear water when you use a small yarnie “egg fly” a #6 hook works well.
How To Rig Yarnies
There are three basic techniques for rigging yarnies, directly on your hook, on the leader above the hook or threaded onto your egg loop.
To rig your yarnies directly on your hook simply push the point of your hook through the middle of the yarnie and slide the yarnie up to the egg loop followed by a Puff-Ball, Thunder-ball or Lil Corky to float your yarnie off the bottom. Finally secure the floatation aid in place by backing it with a Bait But-ton. Place a small amount of cured eggs under the egg loop and you’re ready to go. Remember FISH LOOK UP, so you want to keep your bait suspended where fish can see it not dragging across the bottom.
Another quick and easy way to rig yarnies is the “Instant Egg Fly”. This is a winner in very clear water. Use a large # 14 or # 16 sewing needle to thread your favor-ite yarnie onto the leader above the hook. Run your leader through the eye of the needle and then push the needle through the middle of the yarnie. Pull the needle all the way through the yarnie and slide your yarnie down to the hook. Use a small # 6 hook with this method. In less than 1 minute you can create an “egg fly” and do it without buying a vise, thread or yarn and having to take a fly-tying class.
Yarnie threaded directly onto the hook.
Yarnie threaded onto the leader above the hook.
Yarnie threaded onto the egg loop.
Our favorite way to rig yarnies is by using a needle to thread the yarnie directly onto your egg loop (aka Bumper Knot). To rig your yarnie onto the egg loop use your sewing needle with an eye large enough to thread your leader through. If your needle is dull use a hook file to get a sharp point that easily goes through the middle of the yarnie.
To rig a yarnie on the egg loop, pull the leader back out of the eye of the hook BEFORE you attach the leader to the main line. Then run your line through the eye of the needle and then push the needle through the middle of your yarnie pulling the needle and your leader all the way through. You are now ready to run the leader back through the eye of the hook and connect to your main line. Having the yarnie threaded onto your egg loop has the advantage of making your egg loop very easy to open, even in the coldest weather and will allow you to use less eggs.
There is a great video showing how to use this technique, on the Fuzz Bomb Ready to Fish Yarnies Facebook page.
Color and Size Are Important
Just as fishing with lures (spinners, spoons, plugs etc.) the color and size of your presentation is critical. Water conditions will dictate which colors and sizes will work best. A rough rule of thumb is the clearer the water the lighter the color and the smaller the size of the yarnie. In dark or stained water, you should use darker and larger yarnies.
Lighter colors like Natural Shrimp or Peachy should be used in clear water (4 NTU’s or less). Yarnies for use in clear water should be about 1/2 inch or smaller. Smaller hooks, like a # 6, can be used in these conditions. If you feel the yarnie is too large, just trim it down.
Light-colored yarnies for clear water.
Bright-colored yarnies for steelhead-green water.
Darker or brighter colored yarnies for stained water.
In perfect steelhead green water (5 to 7 NTU’s) single color yarnies like Hot Pink or Orange Roe and Multi-color combina-tions like Hot Pink & Peach or Orange Roe & Sunrise will work well. Yarnies 1/2 to 5/8 inch can be used in steelehad green water. Use larger # 4 hooks.
In darker stained water (8 to 12 NTU’s) you need to shift to darker or brighter colors. Bright colors like chartreuse, flame red and dark Mutli-color black & red in 5/8 to 3/4 inch size will work well.
This assortment of yarnies is a good example of colors that allow you to fish almost any water conditions.
How to fish yarnies—Side Drifting, Bobber Doggin’ and Floats
Without going into too much detail the following is a summary of the best techniques to use when fishing with yarnies. For more detailed information on steelhead fishing check out the selection at Amatobooks.com.
Fishing yarnies from a boat by side drifting or from the bank by side bouncing works well when the river bottom is not loaded with snags. Use a sliding weight when side drifting or side bouncing from the bank. As your presentation moves down the river the weight should not drag , rather it should just “tick” the bottom every 5 to 10 feet. Using a sliding weight set-up allows a steelhead to pick up the yarnie without feeling the drag of a weight which can cause the fish to drop the bait very quickly.
When fishing water that has a lot of snags using floats to keep from snagging rigs on the bottom is the way to go. Make sure you fish the yarnie deep enough to get a steelhead to take the bait. Floating a yarnie and eggs over tree limbs where steelhead hide is sometimes the only way to reach the fish.
In faster water, with defined slots, a new northwest technique called “Bobber Doggin’” is an effective option. Unlike side drifting where you use a sliding weight placed above the baits, Bobber Doggin’ uses a specialized flat ended float that is pushed by the current dragging a fixed weight placed 18 to 24 inches below a three-way swivel where the leader is attached. The weight used should be heavy enough to drag on the bottom yet light enough to move without stopping. By hav-ing the weight on the bottom, your rig will follow the deepest part of the slot where steelhead are most like to hang out.
If you are not familiar with Bobber Doggin’ I suggest you check out a video on YouTube to see more details on how to set it up and it works. It’s a great way to fish the deeper slots where the steelhead like to hold. No matter how you fish yarnies be sure to try different colors to see which one works for you under various water conditions and colors.
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My introduction to Steelhead was with an orange 🍊yarnie back in 1987 in the Genesee River!!