I was finally able to get up to do some Steelheading on the Pere Marquette last week. Northern Michigan welcomed me with 6″ of snow overnight and another 3-4″ while I was on the water. Add in 15-20 mph winds, and a high temp of 25 degrees, and I was questioning my decision to get out of bed on my hour long drive from the cabin to the river. As usual during these quick excursions, I floated the flies only section. When I’m only getting out one time during a run I tend to stick with the water I am most familiar with so that I don’t waste a trip due to not knowing the water. After a slow and snowy start to the day, and contemplating just high tailing it to the take out point, I was rewarded with some pretty good fishing.
Here’s a little video I put together from my limited footage on the water. You will hopefully get a feel for the conditions, and you see the fish I caught sprinkled in there. Naturally I included the obligatory dub-step sound track as well!
Beautiful scene! But with no action for the first couple of hours, I was no longer forgiving of the harsh weather. As usual with Steelhead fishing, bad weather days that makes you question your obsession, are often the best days to be on the water. As I floated along I was noticing some worked over reds, but was not really seeing fish actively spawning. So I decided to target some of the deeper “winter” holes to try and find some holding fish. The cold temps must have pushed most of the fish off of their spawning lies, because this switch in tactic was what jump started the day.
My first fish was the smallest, but getting that scent of skunk off on a tough weather day is all you need to warm up and keep grinding. A pretty little brown trout (actually 14-15″), ignored the egg and took my Mountain Bayou Kaufman Stone.
I moved down to the hole that supplied my first ever Steelhead on the Pere Marquette. I usually work this over pretty good, but I’ve haven’t got a fish here since that first one. I worked the head of the run without any luck. I moved back into the pool and started putting together some fishy drifts. As I moved into the heart of the pool I felt a nice grab and was hooked up. After a short fight I was able to land the fish. Steelhead on the board! This one took an Ostrich Hex Nymph. I tried to hustle back to my net to get a release shot, and just got the video on before it slid out of the net and swam away.
I had one other hook up in this hole, but didn’t stay connected long enough to tell what it was. So I moved on down.
As the day went on, it didn’t get much warmer, but the snow went away and the sun made a brief appearance. This made some fish move onto gravel, and I was able to target smaller pockets and holes behind the gravel. I picked up a really nice 20″ brown on a “McCheese” colored blood dot egg, and had a couple other nice takes that I missed.
I took a walk on the bank upstream from this spot to give the hole a rest. There was some gravel with active fish that I had floated by, and I wanted to see if I could get in position to cast behind them. I really wish I would have been taking video of this effort. It resulted in a nice fish (the picture is now the featured photo on my home page), and my athleticism and grace (or lack there of) were on full display. I had found a short run behind some gravel that ended at a sweeper. It was a real fishy spot, with good cover and a great food source. I had just enough room to cast from the bank, which was about 3′ off the water. I made one cast and felt a bump. I made the same cast, and carefully guided the slack line around a few branches. Just before pulling the cast, right at the log jam, another big brown trout hammered my fly! I knew to land the fish I was going to have to get in the water, so I used the snowy bank as a slide to get in. Fortunately, it was a brown and not a big Steelhead, because I sunk knee deep in muck and couldn’t really move. I was able to land the fish by hand, snap a picture, and get a clean release. The fight was only half won however, getting free enough from the bottom and climbing back up the slippery bank, took more effort than I would like to admit. This adventure of a fish was in the 16-18″ range, with great colors. The Ostrich Hex Nymph did the trick again!
- Even when the fish have been spawning heavily in the spring, cold weather days will push them back into winter patterns. Keep an eye on the gravel. If its cold and you aren’t seeing active fish, hit the slower deeper water. Once the water warms and they come out to spawn you can switch back to your more typical spring tactics.
- I caught 3 out of 4 fish on nymphs. The only fish I took on an egg took the muted yellow “McCheese” color. For peak of the spawning run I found that a little strange. I started the day with “Steelie Orange” and pink eggs, expecting fresh colors to rule the day. But with no active spawning early in the day, fish seemed to be keyed into a duller color. Black stoneflies are a staple this time of year, and hex nymphs are another big bug that can be found in the river in the spring. It was important to avoid the temptation of running two eggs, instead of an egg and a nymph.
- Don’t skimp on winter gear! The Kast Steelhead gloves saved this day. I started out not wearing any gloves. With the lack of fish, cold hands were really killing my motivation to stay on the water. Having gloves that allow me to fish and handle line, as well as dunk in the water and grab fish, all while staying warm and dry was key to grinding for 7 hours in tough conditions. A polar fleece mid layer, like the Exterus Hooded Spectrum Jacket from Allen Fly Fishing, is also indispensable. It is light and flexible, but extremely warm. It also maintains 96% of its insulating properties when wet. So when you do have to dip your entire arm in the water to land a fish, or unhook a snag, your day won’t be ruined.