How to Side Glide for Steelhead

Looking for a new technique to help you put more steelhead in the boat — especially in clear, snaggy rivers? Give side gliding a try! A modified form of side-drifting, side gliding allows baits to be presented to steelhead quickly and naturally with minimal bottom contact by keeping the lines slightly downstream of the boat. Here’s a mini lesson:

Nice steelhead release

The Cast

The first step to successful gliding is to get the boat into position upstream and off to one side of a fishy-looking spot. With the boat moving at the speed of the current and the bow pointed downstream, it’s time to cast. The first caster needs to make a toss that lands straight out (perpendicular to) the boat. As soon as the first sinker hits the water, the second angler should throw slightly upstream of angler number one’s line.

With the lines now in the water, the rower will want to pitch the bow of the boat slightly towards the drift – which allows the anglers to face their lines. The rower’s job is to keep the lines in the optimum position, which is slightly ahead of the boat – just a bit less than 45 degrees. Rod and line angle for side glidingSometimes the lines will get too far ahead of the boat, which means the oarsman will have to push downstream to catch up. Other times, he’ll need to pull on the oars to slow the boat down to keep the lines working downstream. The ability to scull will help you keep the boat in the right position.

With the right amount of weight on, the sinkers will run anywhere from just in front of where the oar hits the water to a bit behind (there will be somewhat of a bow in the line between the point it where enters the water and the sinker). The current pushing on the line bow helps to lift and glide the weights over the rocks. If everything’s going right, the sinkers should tap the rocks every two or three seconds.

The Bite

Bites are often fairly subtle – in most castes, the sinker stops bouncing and a slight fluttering sensation can be felt in the rod tip. A steelhead can mouth and spit a bait in a nanosecond, so it’s important to set the hook hard – and fast.

Rigging Up

The best setup for side gliding is a 7 to 9-foot rod with a plenty of backbone and a sensitive tip. Spinning or casting gear is suitable and Slinky-style weights or round Plunk-N-Dunk sinkers are the best choices. Pencil lead is a little to “grabby” to be used on snaggy rivers that are best suited for gliding.

Side Gliding Bait

Three to 5-foot leaders that test 2 to 4 pounds lighter than the main line are great for gliding and a No. 4 octopus hook for holding small clusters of roe finishes off the rig. A No. 2 baitholder hook can be substituted when using nightcrawlers or pink plastic worms.


  1. Rob says

    Looking for a solo technique to fish for steelhead from a small raft on the Smith in Northern California. What do you think about adding a float to the side gliding technique and bobbergliding? I was thinking of using a 10 5″ rod with power pro and setting my rod holder to be almost vertical to keep as much line off the water as possible while I row. Since there are to many boats to anchor up where ever I’d like, it would be nice to have a solo technique to cover the runs in between where I stop to float fish or throw spoons.

    Thanks for any advice in advance!

    • says

      Hey Rob, great question! In fact, I’m going to use it as a future ASK JD feature. In the meantime, I’ll email you with some ideas.

  2. says

    Sculling is really something that you have to get out on the water and do…it’s pretty tough to tell you how to do it in print.

    Let’s try to get the basic concept here, though….Sculling a driftboat while side-drifting is something you do with only one oar, which will be in a more vertical position than when you’re rowing normally. It’s mainly a wrist rolling motion that gives you much more fine control of the boat’s drift (read: speed) than a conventional stroke. It’s all about keeping your lines in the right position!

  3. Ryan says

    After reading this articel and your side drifting book as well as watching the side drifting video by Amato publications I have side drifting down fairly well. The one technique i still cannot find info on is how to scull. I have looked everywhere and I cant seem to find out just how to do this. Any chance you could try and explain how?
    Thanks a ton!

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