Sunday, February 17, 2008

Any Chance Of An Early Steelhead Run?


A pronounced snow melt took place today, aided by an all-day rain, and more raom and snow is due over the next few days. This early run-off will swell steelhead streams and there may be some flooding on some river, and if we get a big gusher there is a good chance some fish will move upstream.

When the best fishing may occur is a guessing game. This run-off water is very cold, and probably isn’t much above 33 or 34 degrees. It may raise the water level, but it certainly won’t raise the water temperature until several days of warm weather passes. There isn’t any warm temperatures in store for us this week.

The burning question for most fishermen is: Will this winter run-off trigger a steelhead run? It’s difficult to tell, but one thing is for certain. If the run-off is slow to moderate, and the weather stays warm, it could stimulate a small run of a few fish. I don’t think that will be the case. There may be a few fish, but cold air and water temperatures seldom trigger a big run.

As I stated a week or so ago, the major steelhead run will not occur in those streams with a connecting lake until the ice goes out of the lake. That means Platte and Loon lakes on the Platte River, Betsie Bay on the Betsie River, Manistee Lake on the Manistee and Little Manistee rivers, and others must start losing their ice before major runs kick off.

I’ll grant you that some steelhead will precede the ice-out on some lakes, but most runs will occur once those lakes start losing their ice. I’ve seen some steelhead push upstream to the spawning gravel above Honor on the Platte River when Loon and Platte lakes start sending ice down the river.

Before the massive ice-out occurs, a few fish may move upstream but it’s hardly anything to get very excited about. In many cases, those same fish have wintered in the connecting lake, and as the ice begins to melt, they start their upstream journey to the spawning grounds.

Can these fish be caught? Absolutely, but in super-cold water, it requires a certain finesse. Light line (four-pound or even two-pound mono) is needed if the water is gin-clear, and anglers have a variety of baits to choose from.

Corn borers, wax worms and wigglers are three that work very well in cold weather. Spawnbags also work although, in my opinion, the grubs or wigglers seem to produce better results in the early days of open water on the rivers. Once the water temperature reaches 36-40 degrees, spawnbags seem to turn fish on.

Grubs and wigglers can be fished under a bobber set just right so the bait drifts downstream with the current. An alternative is to tie a tiny 1/32-oz. ice fishing jig on the line, and bait it with a grub or wiggler. Orange jigs seem to work but a variety of other colors have also produced for me.

Bait up and cast across and slightly upstream, take up some of the initial slack, and then feed slack line into the drift so this offering moves downstream with the current. Once it gets through the best of the fish-holding area, reel up and try again. Cold water makes steelhead sluggish, and the bait must be right down on bottom to produce a strike.

Try adjusting the bobber, and each hole or run will require an adjustment of the line under the bobber. Some locations require only two or three feet of line under the bobber while other areas may require eight to 10 feet. Keep lengthening line from bobber to bait until the bait starts hanging up on bottom. Move the bobber up or down in three-inch increments until the bobber floats freely and the bait doesn’t hang on bottom.

Bobber fishing is fun because it gives an early indication of a strike. In some cases, the bobber will pop under suddenly, and a lift of the rod tip will set the hook. Other times, the bobber may jiggle but not go under the surface, and it can be a small fish or a lunker. Set the hook whenever the bobber stops moving or dips below the surface.

Early-season steelhead requires fishing the hole or run from various angles. Their metabolism is slow because of cold water, and the more often a bait is drifted past their nose, the more likely they will finally strike.

Don’t expect fast fishing. On early days of spring, when the water remains very cold, hooking and landing one fish in a day can be good. Granted, there are a few early days when fishing can be hot, but the wise angler realizes that the odds are against that happening.

A bit of luck never hurts.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/17 at 07:38 PM
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