Savage Strikes Of Chrome-Silver Monsters…
Steelhead fishing during fall has many rewards. Most sportsmen are busy chasing deer, ducks or small game when the finest fishing of the entire year arrives and the hordes of salmon chasers are long gone. The landscape takes on a whole new ambience come prime steelheading time. The leaves are gone, early morning is highlighted by a fresh blanket of frost, the surroundings are peaceful and late fall fishing is relaxing and therapeutic.
Now, I know what you are thinking. Someone has told you the best fall fishing comes in October. Well, that’s just plain bunk. Truth is, the hottest steelie fishing of the year comes exactly when bucks go bonkers and the nights get cold, during November. Forget that bull you have been told about steelies charging up tributaries to eat salmon eggs. Heck, they were rushing Michigan streams in November long before salmon were planted. The main run of fish comes when the water temperature is perfect. Combine cold nights with heavy rain and you have an ideal combination for line stripping runs and fantastic fishing.
The most impressive trait of fall steelies is their energetic fighting quality. Fall fish are very active, super charged missiles of pure silver that will slam your presentation and go airborne like no other Michigan fall fish. They go airborne like miniature tarpon and this is the time to hunt for chromers. I’m talkin’ silver-sided beauties fresh from the Great Lakes full of energy and power. Hook one and you will quickly be impressed, guaranteed.
Unlike winter or spring steelies, the fall variety is very aggressive and will smash bait and lures with a vengeance. This is the season to run large, brightly colored baits to get the attention of fish holding in deep current and key savage strikes. When tying spawn bags for fall steelies make them a bit larger than usual and use netting colored red, orange, pink, chartreuse or yellow. Spinner fishermen need to bump up the size and go with bright silver blades with a bit of fluorescent orange or chartreuse on the back of the blade for added flash and color. Those pulling cranks can go with a size larger lure in fall and it is a good idea to select a lure hat has plenty of flash and vibration. Fly fishermen should try fluorescent yarn or flies that have gaudy patterns tied on a large hook.
One secret is to center outings around warming trends highlighted by rain. The increase in stream flow will draw fish like a magnet and increased fish activity almost guarantees limit catches. The following is a rundown of quality steelhead destinations and fishing tips to help you land your limit.
Let’s Go To St. Joe
The St. Joseph River is best known to most Michigan steelheading buffs for its fantastic Skamania strain steelhead fishery. Thanks to the Indiana DNR, the Joe gets hefty Skamania plants and outstanding fishing is available during late summer until ice up. What most anglers do not know is the St. Joe has a hefty run of fall walleyes and thousands of Michigan strain steelhead. Come November plenty of steelies are found throughout the system but many anglers like to concentrate on the Berrien Springs Dam and a few miles downstream where fish tend to stack in holes. The dam is the best location for bank fishermen who ply the depths with spawn bags and jigs tipped with waxworms.
“I prefer to float fish from my boat on the St. Joe using a centerpin reel,” explains Fred Kreuger, a well-known river rat. “My heater keeps hands and fingers warm and I position the craft above deep water that holds fall steelies. I prefer to bounce bottom using the drop-back method perfected by famous river guide Emil Dean. My bait of choice is king salmon roe in the skein, cut into golf ball-size tidbits and rolled in Boraxo laundry powder. By attaching a 3/4 oz. bell sinker 18-24 inches above a single size 4 Mustad #92141 hook, I free spool the offering until it touches bottom and allow the skein to work downstream by lifting the weight and free spooling out more line. I drop the offering at the head of the hole and bounce it the entire length of the deep water with most strikes coming at he far end or tail-out water. At the same time I’ll run plugs off the side of my boat that excite fall steelies into savage strikes. Hot-N-Tot colored silver and orange catch plenty of chrome fall steelies as do gold Wiggle Wart and other baitfish look-alike cranks.”
The Mighty Grand
For over 30 years I’ve chased steelies on the Grand River system and I know the water intimately. My recommendation is to spend time at 6th Street Dam in downtown Grand Rapids. Work the white water with swirling current at the Dam using yarn and spawn bags tied in white yarn. Next, move downstream on the jogging path along the east bank and drift spawn bags, skein or jigs tipped with waxworms in the slow moving water along the high wall near the Quarry Hole. Walk further downstream to the Post Office run and drift presentations about 4 ft. deep using enough weight to keep the bobber upright and the offering 4-8 inches off bottom. Use a 1/8 oz. jig with a solid hook available from local tackle shops and get an assortment of productive colors like: lime green, white, red and chartreuse. The last few years the Grand has had a major run of steelies in November and the hot fishing can last the entire winter.
The Muskegon River gets hefty steelhead plants and also has plenty of natural reproduction to keep area steelie runs at a high level. Thousands of fish move into the system during November and by deer season are found throughout. If we have a dry fall with little rain you can expect major runs to hold in the deep holes found in the lower river. Most anglers use boats to fish he mighty Muskegon and work deep holes near Old Women’s Bend, Maple Islands and Bridgeton.
At times the main run is located near Newaygo at Henning Park or High Rollaway. So far, this fall has been fairly wet with plenty of rain and increased river flow, which should draw steelies to the upstream limit at Croton Dam. Bank fishermen tend to congregate at Croton and fish the fast current tight to the dam or slow moving back eddy on the west side using spawn, spinners, or jigs tipped with skein or waxworms. You can count on spectacular fishing off the handicap dock on the east side where anglers use bobbers to suspend offerings 4 ft. below the fast moving surface. Boat fishermen tie to the long jetty cement wall to hold their craft in the fast water found below the Dam spillway. Some boats motor up to the dam, tie to the railing and fish the three tubes that discharge water from Croton.
One sleeper spot is the west shore where the back-current swings toward the dam and fish tend to congregate. This is where walleyes stack like cord wood and fall steelies come to rest. Here, bank fishermen make long casts with floats that suspend offers of spawn, waxies or wigglers. The water in the pond is usually moving the opposite direction of the main river flow and holds large schools of walleye, leftover salmon and resting steelies from November until ice up. Call Michelle at Croton Bay Trading Post at (231) 652-2250 for fishing report and guide service contacts.
World Famous P.M.
Fall fishing on the famous Pere Marquette is a golden opportunity to experience Michigan’s National Scenic River. The PM is perhaps the most beautiful and appealing steelheading destinations in all of Michigan. It is surrounded by rolling hills of hardwoods and the river valley is highlighted by groves of white cedar and pine, which compliment the scenic beauty. The upper PM has fast flowing current, plenty of deep holes and gravel bars that draw spawning salmon, trout and steelies. The lower stretches are full of fallen trees and deep, slow moving holes with wide bends and an abundance of cover that schools of fall steelhead call home.
You can find fall steelies just about anywhere in the PM but cold weather and snow eventually push fish downstream into deep holes that offer safety and comfort. Here, they congregate and most anglers use drift boats or prams to reach distant destinations difficult to reach from the bank.
The Big M is considered by many Michigan fishermen to be the state’s premier steelhead stream. It has an outstanding reputation of serving up Master Angler monster trout and gets plenty of fishing pressure, year round. Come fall thousands of salmon charge upstream to spawn at Tippy Dam. At times there are so many kings in the river it is a difficult task to drift your line without bumping spawning salmon. The steelies are in the deep runs and holes throughout the system by the time Halloween arrives.
Bank fishermen congregate at Tippy Dam, some bottom bounce spawn or yarn flies below the coffer spillway, while many prefer to float bobbers above the coffer in the deep swirling current. By November gone are the maddening crowds of salmon fishermen eager to fill their freezers with fish filets. Fall is a time of solitude and savvy anglers concentrate fishing efforts on deep holes and runs like the Saw Dust Hole found downstream from Tippy. Tippy is a large river with plenty of flow, it almost reminds you of a west coast river and it offers great sport to anglers willing to ply the depths from drift boat, jet sled or outboard propelled pram or skiff. Boat anglers like to anchor above likely holes and work cranks or bit in the clear current. Some anchor broadside and chuck flies, a few cast spinners and the vast majority use float fishing tactics with bobbers and centerpin reels to drift live bait to hungry steelies.
Thousands of mint-silver steelies enter the Big M in fall and take up residency in deep holes and runs. Savvy fishermen concentrate efforts on the deep water where steelies tend to congregate. Some anglers swear the hottest tactic is a tiny jig tipped with a waxworm, while old timers catch plenty of chromers using fresh spawn bags or drop back fishing cut skein or minnow imitation plugs. The trick is to keep the offering in the strike zone, where steelies are waiting and key savage strikes from big trout that are excited by the presentation. Call Mark at Fisherman’s Headquarters near Tippy (231)848-4242. Want to experience fly fishing for big steelies? Contact Ray Schmidt at Schmidt’s Guide Service (888)221-9056 or check online at www.schmidtoutfitters.com.
The word AuSable means, “River of sand,” in Native American language and this premier Lake Huron tributary is well known for its fine steelhead fishing and deep holes carved from the sandy bottom. Foote Site Dam is the upstream limit that steelies run each fall, following schools of salmon. Steelies tend to take up feeding stations in the many deep holes and runs found throughout the system but they switch position often as the Dam is opened or closed to generate electricity. Each
time the water flow increases the fish become active and start feeding, the same event occurs as water levels drop and steelies return to the protection of deep holes. The trick to fishing success is timing outings to take advantage of the feeding spree when the water level changes abruptly and increased food supply causes steelies to slam presentations.
The AuSable is the largest tributary on Michigan’s east coast and it gets good steelhead plants from the DNR. Some anglers prefer to float the large stream, working deep holes and runs with lures and bait. Shore access is found all along the winding river and likely hotspots include: Foot Site Dam downstream to Foot Site Bridge, High Bank, River Road and Boy Scout Club holes.
Fall steelheading is a fine way to enjoy the many gifts of nature. Try it, experience the savage strike and witness a chrome-silver monster trout blasting out of the water like a Polaris Missile and you will be hooked on this exciting sport. Set the hook into a monster trout, feel it melt line from your drag and snap your line like a thread and it will get your heart pounding, guaranteed!