One of, if not the most exciting and electrifying freshwater game fish in North America is the Steelhead, and we are lucky to have them coming out of the great lakes and into our rivers. Steelhead fishing is broken down into two categories: Spring and Fall. The warmer days and thaw periods of the the winter offer some good steelheading opportunities and a chance to shake off the winter blues. The average size of the steelhead we catch is eight pounds, with some years having returns of much larger fish tipping the scales around 15 pounds.
Spring fish start entering the river when the days get longer and water temperatures improve. From mid-March through the first of May, anglers can expect to catch these hard-fighting fish which enter the river for their annual spawning ritual. Unlike the salmon in the fall, these fish spawn and then return to the lake, and hopefully return to the river again and again, which is why they vary in size from a few pounds (skippers – first-year return) to 15 pounds + (four-year return).
For those looking for something different, swinging flies and stripping streamers for drop-back fish can be effective as fish return to Lake Michigan after successfully spawning. Start the year’s fishing off right with some steelhead.
While we aren’t exactly sure why these fish come into the river, we do know they do come, and often their eagerness to eat the fly is strong.
Because salmon are in the river by the thousands, there are literally millions of eggs drifting through the river, providing a great food to imitate with egg patterns. Catching salmon happens frequently while targeting these steelhead so be prepared for something a little bigger on the end of you line. Like the early salmon, these fish will take a streamer if presented properly. Fall steelhead season begins the end of September and extends through November. Fishing late fall and into winter is always an option especially during mild winters or when a thaw takes place.
The most common and effective way to fish steelhead is by bottom bouncing nymphs with either a floating line or the “chuck and duck” method. The fish love well-presented eggs and nymphs. Swinging sink-tips with large flies that are more like streamers than spey flies is becoming more popular in the Midwest. While it isn’t the most productive way to catch a fish, no one will argue with the satisfaction of bringing a steely to hand via this method. More sporting? probably, but a steelhead is a steelhead no matter if you get them with a pair of eggs, an egg and nymph combo or a big, nasty swung streamer.
To learn more about the rivers we fish steelhead, click on the links below.