Saturday, February 02, 2008

Late-Winter Steelhead Fishing


Rumor has it that last week’s rains brought some silvery steelhead into area streams, and I may go and check it out tomorrow morning. Fishing could be good if the daytime temperatures continue to rise.

Fish will usually be found near the inlet and outlets of a lake but be certain to check regulations for each individual county for specific rules and regulations that may apply. Also, if the ice is soft and mushy, use particular caution to stay away from open water and where river currents enter a lake.

Major streams like the AuSable, Manistee and Muskegon rivers have dams that halt upstream migrations, and this means fishing downstream from the dam. A boat makes it much easier to fish the best ones, and a few (very few) anglers try to troll these rivers. There is only one way a person can troll a FlatFish, and that is slow. Years ago, the most successful anglers were those who rowed the boat while trolling ice-free lakes, but now, a small outboard can be throttled back to the putt-putt speed needed to bring out the peak action of these lures in a river.

I always used 8- or 10-pound mono, and trolled lures about 40 yards behind the slow-moving boat. We would steer a zig-zag course with sudden 10-foot bursts of speed that would spurt ahead and then quickly slow down. Fish often hit on the speed-up or when making a turn to port or starboard. There is a much easier way to fish big-water steelhead from a boat.

First, the best spots to fish are along the deep holes and runs near shore.  Key fishing times are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., during the warmest part of the day. Another key time for fish to strike is when the sky is overcast and the sun suddenly breaks through the clouds for a few minutes. Sunny days can produce better than overcast days.

Make no mistake about it. This is cold fishing, and we’ve had some great days fishing during a heavy snowstorm. Fish can be caught until the lower end of the rivers freeze over, and we’ve had a few good days when it was necessary to break ice to reach open water. When it’s that cold, it takes the fun out of boat fishing

River fishing produces but the water is cold and the fish get lethargic when water temperatures drop below 38 degrees. The key to any type of river fishing success is to fish slow, fish deep, and cover all potential holding water from every possible direction.

Spawnbags rolled across bottom work well or spawnbags can be released downstream from an anchored boat. Lift the bait up off bottom, release about three feet of line, and let the bait settle back to bottom. Steelies are somewhat reluctant to hit in cold water, and a slow presentation that gives fish plenty of time to react is what produces.

Anglers can use the drop-back method with lures, and favorite plugs include the FlatFish, Tadpolly, Hot-n-Tot, and HotShot. Lower the lure into the water, and let the lure drift downstream for about 30 feet, and then thumb the reel arbor to halt its progress. These lures will wiggle in the current, and in cold water, let them wiggle in place for 30 to 60 seconds, and then release another three feet of line. The lure will slowly work downstream, wiggling in one spot and then a few feet farther downstream. Just don’t rush it. Fish slowly and thoroughly before moving.

The lure will slowly progress downstream, wiggle in one place, and then it will drop downstream another three feet. If a fish is holding nearby, it may drift downstream behind the lure, and sooner or later, one of two things will happen.

The fish will spook and head away from the wiggling lure. Or ... it will slam the plug. These strikes are hard, and although winter steelhead seldom jump, they will wallow on the surface.

Anglers have a somewhat rare opportunity now to fish for steelhead before the eventual thaw that is due this next week. Now is the best time to take advantage of this action.  It can be much hotter than the weather.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/02 at 06:17 PM
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