Have you ever had a great day chasing Steelhead where you didn’t actually land a fish? I just got back from such a trip. The Pere Marquette has quite a few fish in the system right now, and the action was fantastic, especially in the morning. It slowed in the afternoon with the bright sun, but there were still some active fish throughout the day. All told I had six really good battles with Steelhead, and a seventh hook up with what I think was a trophy sized Brown Trout (if not, it was another decent Steelie). I unfortunetly wasn’t able to land any of these fish for a picture, but I did get four of them up into a rods length before losing them. Definetely proof that a good landing net, or a good fishing buddy, will help you land more fish.
With my luck over the last few uneventful outings, I didn’t have much in the way of expectations as I drove the 3 hours to Baldwin. Getting the boat in the water and floating my favorite stretch of the river without any mishaps would have been enough for me due to my previous battles with ice and impassible boat launches this winter. So when I felt a definite grab (no hook up) in the first run of the day I was caught a little off guard. Then at my next stop, probably my favorite run on the whole river, I hit the jackpot, and proceeded to get all six of my hookups over the course of about two hours. As the sun came out the bite slowed down and I continued down the river. I passed over quite a few fish that were actively digging up gravel, and most if not all that I got a good look at were showing their spawning colors. I was able to get a small rainbow and a couple of decent brown trout as I moved along, and missed the big brown that I mentioned earlier. So, if you count the three resident trout I did manage to land, that’s a double digit hookup day!
So with my fish stories out of the way, I’ll get into some of the specifics of the trip
In the spring on the Pere Marquette higher water levels are going to typically make a bottom bouncing rig the most effective presentation. Whether you are working a faster run, a deep high water pool, or picking at little pockets behind gravel bars, the quick sinking chuck-n-duck rig will usually do the trick. All but 1 of the fish I tangled with was taken on this setup.
- Rod – I was alternating between a 9′ 8wt Allen Azimuth single hander and my 11’3″ Mystic M-Series Switch also in 8wt. The switch rod is really the ultimate weapon for Steelhead, but the single hand rod still has its place, and its a blast to feel the weight and power of these fish on the smaller setup
- Reel – Allen Kraken size 3 on the single hand rod, and the Kraken XLA size 3 on the switch rod. For the money I don’t think you can beat these great reels
- Fly Line – Michigan style chuck-n-duck is down and dirty. I spool up with Rio SlickShooter running line. It’s just about the cheapest and most effective line for this style. The orange version is a good mix of strength, visibility, and cast-ability.
- Leader/Tippet – Just a straight 8-10′ of 12lb flouro to a tiny barrel swivel. Then 2′ of tippet to the first fly and another 1-1.5′ to the second fly
- Weight – I use 1/4oz slinky weights for the most part. To attach these I place a swivel and small clear bead above the barrel swivel on the main leader. The swivel (with weight attached) and bead will slide freely on the leader which aids in strike detection. The bead is merely there to keep the swivel with the weight attached from sticking on the barrel swivel.
- Flies – I’ll discuss this a little more later, but eggs and black stoneflies in tandem were the winner on this day. I use the egg as the first fly and whatever nymph I’m rigging as the trailer. I believe this imparts the best action on the nymph.
While over working a particular run with nymphs and eggs I would take a brake and target trout with a streamer around surrounding log jams. I didn’t take any trout this way, but to my surprise I was able to entice a fierce strike from an aggressive Steelhead. This would have been my first Steelhead on the strip had I managed to land it. This will be something I pursue in the future, that take was really what made my entire day! I was simply running the streamer along a log jam with some twitches and then letting it swing out. The grab came during the twitching motion right along the wood. In the bright sun the fish will tuck up under the structure, so you really have to get your fly in there tight. This was my setup on my 5wt trout streamer rod, and I have to say the rod and reel handled this fish very well all thing considered.
- Rod – 9′ 5wt Loop Cross S1. This is my “do everything” rod. Its my main warm water rod, my nymph and streamer rod for trout, it can throw dries, and in this case, it can stand up to an angry Steelhead.
- Reel – Allen Kraken size 2. Can you tell I like their reels yet? Absolutely no issues handling the quick strike and big runs this fish made. I wouldn’t want to make a habit of catching Steelhead on a 5wt setup, but this reel can handle it for sure.
- Fly Line – My favorite new items are the Commando series skagit heads, lazar line running line, and sink tips, all from OPST. They are designed for these smaller setups (the heavier ones work great on switch rods too though), so that you can skagit cast on single hand rods. I am still getting a feel for it, but it is a lot of fun roll casting and spey casting big flies on light rods with little effort. These lines also can really bomb regular overhead casts with big time single shot power.
- Line/Leader Setup – The real is set up with backing and then the Opst Lazar Line running line. Attached to that is the Commando head (200 grain for this rod) and a sink tip. OPST has brand new single hand optimized sink tips, but I don’t have them yet, so I am using 7′ Rio Versileaders. Then 4-5′ of your favorite tippet
Nymphs and Eggs:
- Blood dot eggs – tied on size 10 Allen egg hooks. $4 for 25 hooks and some Mcfly foam in lots of colors. Super simple. Dark pink was the most effective with active spawning.
- Hare’s Ear – Size 16 Allen nymph hooks. No verified hits on this fly today, but its a solid producer
- Gold ribbed Black Stonefly – This is my version of the Kaufman’s Stone. Tied on an Allen size 8 wet fly hook, using Mountain Bayou’s small batch dubbing in “midnight in montgomery”. This fly took all three of the resident trout, as well as at least two of the Steelhead. It was definetely the top fly for the day by far. It will be available on the site soon, let me know if you are interested via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you are going to pursue Steelhead on the strip you have to have Tommy Lynch’s “Drunk and Disorderly”. It is the fly that is pioneering this method here in Michigan. Schultz Outfitters in Ypsilanti usually has them in stock, and they ship.
- The strike on this trip is credited to another Schultz Outfitters creation, the Schultzy’s S3 Sculpin in olive. This is available through the shop, and also at Orvis.com
Photos of the landed fish, and the Stonefly mentioned above that enticed them: