The fishing reports grown increasingly drab, few and far in between. "Steelhead Green" waters are fading, high water marks are receding, along with your level of confidence, which now hangs by a thread. Thoughts race through your mind "should I use1/16th ounce jigs" and "will the 1/8th ounce still work, though it casts a larger silhouette?" Thankfully, all of the above are valid, real and rationally approachable, despite the increasing difficulty of the pursuit.
Enter the Prawn. If you were an oxygen deprived, riffle seeking, shallow sitting, Energizer Bunny, Summer Run Steelhead, what would you want to see floating over the rock you're sitting behind? Well in the ocean (speaking as a Steelhead) "I've never seen a diced, de-shelled, de-veined, sugar cured piece of Prawn floating past my head before. I must have died already at the hatchery."
When in doubt, revert back to a natural approach, my finned friends! Yes, certain colors on certain days on certain Steelhead and in certain water conditions will always work, but if you're interested in taking the guess work out of your angling career, go natural. As a guide, I always carry a bucket of Sand Shrimp Tails, Cured Prawn and if the season permits, Cured Steelhead Eggs. If you were a Steelhead and I happened to be tossing through your piece of holding water, to your reluctance, I'd be seeing you on the other side shortly.
First, scoot your boot on down to Safeway, and pick up a tray of Raw Prawns (preferably a 41-50 count). Lay them out on the counter, make sure the window is cracked and the wife is off at book club enjoying a few glasses of Fourteen Hands.
Next, lay out your Prawns on the table, as we'll begin to remove the shells from them. Pinch the tail of the prawn between your thumb and index finger to remove the tail portion of the shell, and the latter portion of the carapace. After that, simply unwrap the portion of the shell with the legs attached, from the head (think unwrapping a Jolly Rancher).
After that, it's time to cube our pieces. Depending on how you decide to fish with your Prawns (tipping jigs, floating or drifting), you'll want to cut different sizes. Beginning from the tail, cut the pieces you intend to use to tip jigs, into four even cuts. Likewise for the cubes that you plan on using alone on the drift or float, cut each Prawn accordingly into 3 even sections; the size makes quite a difference in regards to proper presentation.
Now if you haven't diced off a finger or two by now, you have my admiration, since the fun part begins. Rummage around for a quart sized, zip sealing bag, some cane sugar and 20 Mule Team Borax. Toss the diced Prawn in to the bag, pile on two tablespoons of cane sugar and shake it like you shake your Camouflage Shake Weight. After that, pile on the Borax; make sure each cube is completely saturated. Let the strange concoction sit for 10 hours in your refrigerator.
After the 10 hour saturation period has ended, separate the sugar and Borax mixture from the Prawn. Toss the old mixture, grab a fresh zip sealed bag and place a fresh bed of Borax, along with the single cured batch of diced Prawn into the fresh bag. Let mixture stand in the refrigerator until ready to use. Personally, I enjoy the double Borax process due to the fact it makes the Prawn "rough neck" tough, and creates a consistency that increases the efficacy of each Prawn fished. I repeat, these things are tough.
There seems to be some discrepancy between "fresh Prawn" and "cooked Shrimp;" I've personally caught on both of them, and simply enjoy this version the most. Find what works for you, and fish what you're confident in. Of more economical and effective ways to fish for Steelhead, there are few. If you take these few extra steps of preparation, prior to your next outing, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.