It's Steelhead TimeBy Craig Ritchie - April 21, 2020
With a little bit of legwork it's absolutely possible to enjoy some great fishing for the big migratory rainbow trout, as they complete their annual spawning runs in tributary streams flowing into the Great Lakes. The trick is to forget the traditional hotspots that are sure to attract crowds - making not only fishing, but appropriate social distancing difficult - and instead take the time to explore new waters that command far less attention.
Get Away From The CrowdsVirtually every river, stream, creek and ditch flowing into the Great Lakes attracts some sort of steelhead run each spring. Skipping the better-known streams for quieter waters with more modest runs not only guarantees you'll see fewer other anglers, but in many cases you'll enjoy much better fishing simply because you're not constantly fighting for space or having other people cast over your line. And, you'll be able to stay in compliance with our new social distancing rules.
To really seal the deal, don't just fish where you parked your vehicle, but start your day by walking a bit and putting some distance between you and the road. The reality is that few anglers are willing to travel any farther for fish than they need to. Walking past a half-dozen promising-looking pools without taking a cast takes discipline, but by leaving the easily accessible spots to others you're almost guaranteed to have other excellent pools and runs a little farther from the road all to yourself.
Let Water Temperature Guide Your ApproachDepending on water temperature and where they are in their spawning cycle, spring steelhead can vary widely in their temperament, and this dictates your approach to catching them.
In cooler conditions, and while steelhead are still actively spawning, drifting close to bottom with natural baits like spawn, minnows or nightcrawlers is usually the most dependable technique. Fish in cooler water, and those which are either still spawning or have just finished up, are generally inactive. They tend to hold tight to bottom in deep runs with good current overhead, or in the quicker water at the heads or tails of deep pools. My first choice are the heads of deep pools, where these fish tend to stack up and are most open to a suitable presentation.
As the water warms and the fish finish spawning and begin to recover, they tend to spread out and begin holding in deeper riffle areas and throughout deep pools - but especially toward the tail-out at the downstream end. These more active fish are often eager to chase lures, with smaller inline spinners being the hands-down favorite. Small, deep-diving crankbaits or banana baits are also productive, as are small jigs - either crawled over bottom in the traditional manner, or retrieved through the water column as a swim bait. Drifting natural baits will still work at this time, of course, but you can often catch more fish on lures by simply being able to cover more water.
Spring steelhead are a lot of fun to catch. Just being outside and enjoying a bit of fresh air, sunshine, and the sounds of running water are enough of a reward on their own, but especially now. By getting away from the crowds, trying lesser-known streams and doing a bit of walking, you can have a great time catching beautiful fish while hardly seeing another soul. Now that's social distancing at its finest.