Michigan Spring Steelhead Fishing

The Spring season in Michigan should be renamed Steelhead Season. It is a large boost to the fishing economy in an otherwise slow time. With inland lake ice becoming unsafe and pike, bass, and walleye out of season on inland lakes and rivers, anglers flock to the rivers for a chance at catching monster chrome steelies.

Growing up in Mid-Michigan, fishing rivers that are blocked from the Great Lakes by numerous dams, I had no clue Steelhead even existed. But, during my first year living in Kalamazoo for college, I began hearing stories from other fisherman. That spring, my roommate and I loaded the poles, grabbed a map and headed west on roads following the K-zoo river. At about the fourth bridge we came to, we pulled off and took a look. On our way to the river we came across a garbage bag full of huge fish with the fillets removed. After complaining about the laziness and lack of decency in people, we decided this was the best place to catch fish.

We headed down with our 6 ft. rods and tied on a #5 Mepps-Aglia, having no idea if it would work. Every other cast we would snag a rock and lose another lure, but then one of the snags started flying through the air doing gymnastics. It was such a short fight, but the most exciting I had ever felt. We ended up hooking into 10 Steelies that day, but landed none. Disappointment didn’t even exist in my mind. I knew I loved Steelhead fishing and wanted to learn everything I could about it.

Some say smallmouth bass are pound for pound the best fighting fish, and I agree, but a nice chrome Steelhead takes a close second and has 3 times the poundage. Combine that excitement, size and great taste and it’s going to draw quite a crowd of fisherman. It’s not that complicated either. Like other species, combine the correct rig, with the correct presentation in the correct place and FISH ON. Knowing the holes, I believe, is the number one key to Steelhead fishing. If you are in the right place and know the depth of that hole, you have a good chance of catching fish. Alternatively, if you have the right bait/rig and you’re not at the right depth or correct spot on the river, you don’t have a chance.

So, let’s start with the right spot on the river. Steelhead enter the rivers to spawn and then return to the big lake. Some enter all winter and hang out until early spring to spawn, but others come in early spring and spawn right away. The winter run steelies usually hang out in deep holes or log jams until spring and always near the bottom. When they do spawn it is in a gravelly bottom, usually a riffle above a pool.

Steelhead typically eat flies, plankton and minnows. Closer to spawning times they are less likely to eat minnows, but they are an aggressive fish and very territorial. They also eat spawn. It’s kind of a survival of the fittest. This gives their own eggs a better chance at survival.

Knowing all this we can now start to put together some fishing techniques. First are lures. I enjoy this fishing the most, but wouldn’t say it is the most productive for me. Spoons, In-Line Spinners and Plugs are the most common. Cast upstream and reel it in as it comes back to you. I usually reel just fast enough to feel it’s action. Steelies are found near bottom so try to keep your lure near bottom.

Steelhead Lures

Cleos, Rapalas, Mepps, Egg Pattern Flies

Next is floating bait down river. This can be done with a bobber/float set to the correct depth or bottom bounced. A typical setup would be to first put a bobber stop on your main line. I usually use 10 lb. test for my main line. Then put a bead and a slip bobber and tie a swivel on the end. On the other end of the swivel tie about a 4′ leader of 6 lb. test. (length of leader depends on speed and depth of river) Now for some weight. There are many variations of this, but the most common I’ve seen is spit shot. Pinch as many as needed to get 4″-12″ off bottom and spread them out. On the end you can tie on your favorite bait. A hook with spawn bags, jig with wax worms, or a fly are all good baits. Cast this presentation up river and let the current drag it downstream. The most important part of fishing this rig is to keep the slack out of your line and keep a natural float.

Steelhead Float Rig

Adjust bobber stop to depth of hole and add split shot for current speed.

These are the simplest ways to catch spring ran Steelhead. My son caught one at 4 years old on a Little Cleo. It does take practice and patience, but once you catch one it will all be worth it.

If you have any other suggestions or methods for catching Steelhead, leave us a comment below and as always jump on www.fishmich.com and check out our forums for fishing reports near you.



Michigan Fishing Fever

Michigan Fishing

Late Winter Ice

Michigan in late march can feel like Chinese water torture to anglers. Northern Michigan wakes up to a couple more inches of snow each morning and lower Michigan looks bare and frozen. All  winter, cabin fever can be cured by ice fishing the numerous in-land lakes, but come March 15th walleye and pike season ends, the ice is getting water logged and steelies are spotty at best.

It’s this time of year that I start itching to get on an open lake and pitch a worm into vegetation for a big bass or pull the planer boards alongside the boat trolling for walleyes. We all go through it at some point..

The most common way to avoid fishing depression is to start going through your gear. Get the tackle box all cleaned and sorted out. Check all your poles for imperfections. Oil your reels and tune crank baits. I like to start reading spring fishing articles, watching videos on youtube and checking out maps of lakes to plan summer fishing trips. Kind of like making a wish list of lakes that I want to fish this year.

The problem is, I already have all of this preparation done. I did all of this around Christmas when the lakes were just starting to freeze. I’ve been sporadically fishing for winter steelhead, so those rigs are all set to go. So I guess I’ll sit here and be tortured by every new snow flake that falls and keep wishing for that huge spring melt off.

Next blog we’ll be talking Steelhead Fishing in Northern Michigan so stayed tuned to Michigan Fishing Talk.

Thanks for reading if you have any comments please feel free to leave them below or check out FishMich forum to read member fishing reports.


Finding time to go fishing

Not too long ago, I gave myself a swift kick in the ass. I just wasn’t fishing as much as I wanted to be. There are many indicators in my life that tell me to get out to the water. Spring time when the air is becoming warm, but there’s still a skim of ice on the lake or summer when the cool nights of northern Michigan just beg you to go drift the lake.

plenty more fish

How To Catch Fish

Fall when you’ve been on the pier every night just waiting for the water to cool off enough for the salmon run or even winter when you drill your first hole to test the ice thickness. Every season I love to fish and some years I just don’t think I have enough time. I  sit around thinking about it, but never go. Then I decided to just make time.

The easiest way to make time is to wake up earlier in the morning, stay up later at night or both. Everyone knows you catch more fish at these times, so even if you can’t stay out very long there is a high chance of catching fish. I found a couple spots close to home and will get up early, go fish for two hours and be back home before anybody else in the house is up. Or I will go after the kids are in bed at night. These aren’t the best fishing holes, but I can manage a couple smaller fish.

Another great way is to always have your poles and tackle in your vehicle. If I have to put something in the bed of my truck, the first thing is to move my poles to the front of my truck. You’d be surprised at the number of new spots you’ll find this way. Got fifteen minutes left on your lunch break, fish the river in town. We can be just heading home from a kids’ sporting event and stop off at a river or boat dock and take them fishing for an hour, but you wouldn’t even think it without the poles in the truck.

My other method is the swift kick in the ass I mentioned earlier. Sometimes I will get in a groove where I just don’t go because either I haven’t been catching a lot, or the weather has been kind of bad. I used to think that I didn’t know any good spots near home so it had to be some big event to go fishing.That’s when I remembered my old man’s saying, “You ain’t gonna catch any fish sitting at home.” This is the simplest, most obvious saying, but it’s also a fisherman’s way of thinking. There is always a chance of catching fish if your line is in the water and if it’s not, there is no chance at all.

Sure you can go on that fly-in trip to a remote lake or hire a charter on Lake Michigan, but in between trips get out and find some quick spots near home. I have a better day if I’ve fished in the morning or if I wake up tired because I was out late.

Feel free to leave a comment on more ways to get out fishing.

Fish Seeing Red

Blood red hooks have been around for a while and have supporters and haters. The two most popular arguments are:

1. Hook manufactures like to tell us that red (blood) shows an injured fish and triggers a bite.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               2. Scientists say that red is the first color to disappear under water, so it doesn’t appear any different than other hooks.

I’m not a scientist or a marketing expert, but I tried the hooks before researching both sides and neither argument changed my mind.

The whole red disappearing under water argument does make sense. Any scuba diver could tell you the same thing. They say it becomes black at a certain depth. The thing is, so do all colors. At what depth depends on how much sunlight is penetrating the water. So a cloudy day, choppy water surface and water clarity all have an effect. Obviously cloudy days and murky water stop more sunlight and the colors will disappear quicker. Choppy water actually causes the sunlight to penetrate in waves and flashes.

Other people like to call it a marketing ploy to make more money off stupid or gullible fishermen. This makes the most sense out of any argument. Large lure companies are the same as any other company. They are in business to make the most money they can and to develop products fishermen will buy.

The other side of this issue is blood. Fish are triggered to strike on a wounded fish. All lures are designed to mimic a distressed bait fish, so this should make them even more distressed, right? Well I would say so, as long as it’s able to be seen.

Another trigger for fish is gill flash. When a fish is feeding their gills puff out. The red of their gills signal to other fish that they are eating, which in turn triggers this fish to swim over and look for something to eat. So remember those choppy days with the sun penetrating through the water in flashes.

You can be for one argument or the other. Like I said, I was probably lured in by the marketing, but I kept fishing with red hooks because they work for me. This summer I have switched back and forth between ordinary and red hooks. A couple times I started off catching bass and lost the hook to a pike. Then I tied a regular hook on and didn’t catch near as many bass and no pike. This pike episode brings me to the only argument that I believe. One of the most popular lures ever is the red and white dare devil. Not a black and white, not a green and white, but a (blood) red and white dare devil. I don’t know if it’s because of blood or gill flash or because marketers told me it works, but I do know it works when fished in the right conditions and has for quite a few years.

Don’t worry about what other fishermen say about the blood hooks. Just try them out and see for yourself. I’ll keep using them because even if they turn black, they’re not going to make me catch less.


Teaching your kids to fish while maintaining sanity

Teach Fish

Teach To Fish

Your first summer after having your first kid can feel like you’ll never fish again. You try and sneak away early in the morning only to make it worse by waking the baby up at five a.m. While the first couple years your time on the water is limited, there are a few things to do that will maximize your fishing in the future. I may sound pretty selfish to the women out there, but trust me this turned out to be very beneficial to me, my two kids, and my wife. I now get to fish in places I enjoy fishing and my wife gets some much needed alone time away from all of us.

If I couldn’t fish, I decided to practice different casting methods in the back yard. At three years old, my son was equipped with the cheapest short kiddie pole I could find and rigged with whatever old crank bait I had in the tackle box. With the hooks removed he would be in the yard casting all summer not hurting anyone. All I had to do was set up some targets for him to aim at and he improved quickly. That was a good summer of fishing. Going out on the boat, I could fish wherever and he would be equipped with the same crank bait with no hooks. Sure he had no chance of catching fish, but at that age he just loved helping with the net and releasing the fish I caught. He learned that it took practice and never hooked me or himself in the eye.

As winter came we started ice fishing. This turned out to be his first fish catching experience. Ice fishing is so perfect for kids because they’re not confined to the boat and can pick up on jigging very quickly. He started pulling out fish every trip to the ice and really enjoyed playing with worms and other live bait.

Jump to next summer and he moved up to a six foot pole with a closed reel. He was hooked on live bait so after a little practice in the yard with his new pole we fished off docks for pan fish. No kid will tire of fishing when they are catching fish. I soon learned that getting him home was the hardest task and I was back to wishing I was fishing somewhere else. That summer of pan fish he progressed quickly though.

At age four, I take him anywhere I fish. He caught a 27″ steelhead and quickly thought he was an expert. He still complains and cries sometimes when he doesn’t catch any fish or will ask to go back to the spots he caught them every cast. I’m just trying to teach him every aspect of fishing. That it takes a lot of practice to be good at anything. We still go back to the docks from time to time for some easy fun, but he is mostly fishing soft plastics, cranks or spoons.

Teaching him to fish has been very rewarding for me. What started off as a frustrating task of limited fishing for me has turned into a life long love of fishing for my son. Now it’s time to start all over on my 3 year old daughter.

I want to stress that I am not a patient teacher or a smart one, but alternating the typical kids fishing places with more technical methods keeps you fishing more. See, like I said before, I’m a pretty selfish guy.