Driftwater Fishing drift boat in Salmon River in winter

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Driftwater Fishing

Salmon River & Lake Ontario

Centerpin Fishing

Centerpin fishing or float fishing is a very effective technique used to catch salmon and steelhead in basically any body of water with ample current.  A centerpin reel looks like a fly reel but it is taller and narrower in appearance and sits on a specially designed float rod, normally around 11 to 13 feet in length. By design the reel allows you to achieve a drag free drift/presentation as the spool revolves around its axis or “pin” and gives you the control to hold back or match the speed of the current.  In most float fishing applications there is a float and then a series of round split shot that taper down in weight as it get closer to the leader and your bait. This technique allows you to perfectly place your offering before the float and shot pattern, so the first thing the fish sees is your bait. Steelhead, especially the ones in the Great Lakes, see a lot of angling pressure and are very finicky. Only a perfect presentation will attract a bite. Once a fish is hooked, it is up to you to apply the correct amount of drag pressure as the fish makes a run.

This can be a little tricky at first but once you are comfortable with the amount of pressure to apply to the revolving spool, you will feel every movement the fish makes. Centerpin anglers say you are more connected to the fish with this set up, and I would agree with this. There is very little mechanical going on with the rod and reel. It is up to you to know how much pressure to place on the rim of the spool and how much force to pull back on the rod to keep the needed pressure for the fish to remain hooked and engaged in the battle while trying to bring the fish to hand.

Casting a centerpin can be a little difficult for the beginner. The difficulty is mostly trying to work out what to do and not to do throughout the casting cycle. Once you understand how the cast works, all you will need to do is work out the bad habits left over from fly fishing or spin casting. Once these small issues are worked out, casting a centerpin will become second nature.

Hand placement on the rod and reel are also something that require proper placement and technique and may be a little uncomfortable at first, but once you build up a little muscle memory they too will be second nature.  Any issue you have can get smoothed out during a day on the river with the proper guidance.

I remember when I picked up my first centerpin reel. My close friend’s dad had just gotten a few in his tackle shop (Tony’s Salmon Country) in Pulaski. It was 1997 and very few people knew what they were. Most anglers were still bottom bouncing or running a float under a spinning set up with a weighted bobber and a few split shot. Once I understood what the centerpin could achieve, I knew I needed to get one. It took me some time to save up for one but once I got one in my hands, it was a complete game changer. Since then I have been exclusively fishing for steelhead and other river species with a centerpin float set-up. You don’t need to be a hardcore angler to use a centerpin. In fact most anglers find it easier than fly fishing or spin fishing once they get the technique down. It is also a very relaxing way to fish, and once you start it becomes a little addictive.

I started guiding and teaching anglers how to centerpin fish in 1998. Since then I have taught hundreds of anglers how to be proficient in the technique. Since the late 90’s center pinning has gained immense popularity with hard core steelhead anglers and river fishermen around North America.

If you are new to the technique and want to learn or just want to brush up your skills, let me help you get a better understanding of the most productive fishing technique for steelhead.