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CharlieSawdJune 13th, 2009, 12:03 pm
St. Michael, Minnesota

Posts: 26
Hey Guys,
I am looking to get into steelhead fishing. I live in Minnesota, and would likely fish the North Shore or WI's South Shore. Resources, general techniques, equipment and any other advice would be great!
Thanks,

Charlie
Charlie Sawdey
www.driftlessflybox.com
GONZOJune 13th, 2009, 12:48 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Charlie,

There are many here that can give you great advice about Great Lakes tributary steelheading, and preferences will vary. I haven't been able to do any steelheading lately, but I used to fish for them every fall, winter, and spring. Although some prefer different or heavier gear, I generally liked a fairly soft 9-10' 6 wt. rod with a decent disc-drag reel. (I enjoyed catching many steelhead on a favorite old click-and-pawl reel, but I abused it--necessitating repair.) Most of my fishing was done with a floating line, though other lines can be useful in some situations or for certain techniques. My usual flies ranged from nymphs (sometimes rather small) to egg patterns and large streamers, but I had just started playing with dry flies in certain situations when I stopped steelheading (temporarily, I hope).

Unfortunately, concentrations of fish can usually be located just by looking for concentrations of anglers, but it often pays to search for less concentrated, less pressured fish (or to fish in rather harsh weather). Despite many of the attendant hassles related to the popularity of these fish, catching steelhead on a fly is a tremendous thrill, especially if you have not experienced trout of that size on a fly rod before. Enjoy...(and you might want to try to avoid the places where crowding and competitiveness tend to detract from that enjoyment).
CharlieSawdJune 13th, 2009, 1:47 pm
St. Michael, Minnesota

Posts: 26
Thanks alot Gonzo!,
When would you fish the fall run?
Where do you target winter steelhead?

Thanks again

Charlie
Charlie Sawdey
www.driftlessflybox.com
GONZOJune 13th, 2009, 2:00 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
That will depend a bit on the specific streams you are fishing, and others can better advise about local waters. On run-off streams, the fall-run fish will usually be driven by rainfall swelling the tribs, but October is often the month when many fish enter (although fishing in November or December is often less congested). Winter steelhead tend to hole up in larger, deeper pools, but warm spells or thaws can make them more active. Spring is the time when numbers will typically be the greatest. Although many fish will be in less than prime condition in the spring (and I don't like fishing for fish on the redds), dropbacks will often respond to the fly very aggressively.
CharlieSawdJune 18th, 2009, 5:37 pm
St. Michael, Minnesota

Posts: 26
Anybody else have anything for me?
Charlie Sawdey
www.driftlessflybox.com
RleePJuly 16th, 2009, 7:52 am
NW PA - Pennsylvania's Glacial Pothole Wonderland

Posts: 350
Hi Charlie: I've never fished Superior for steelhead, but before it got to be largely a take-a-number, "sorry about hooking your hat on the backcast" situation, I logged a couple thousand hours fishing for steelhead on the Lake Erie tribs in my native Erie County, PA.

Other than probably stream size differences (the Erie streams are quite small) and the high incidence of wild fish in the case of Superior (compared with their virtual absence in the Erie fishery) there are likely some similarities between the fisheries.

So, for waht it's worth, here are a few things I believe to be generally true of great lakes steelhead.

1) These are not particularly bright (as in intelligent) fish, but in higher pressure situations, they can get jaded. If you aren't having luck with the standard flies/fare, try something completely different that you're all but certain nobody else has tried there that day. This often will pay off with a take or two.

2) As these are traveling fish, when the run is well under way, virtually any current break is a possible worthwhile fishing location.
As Gonzo sort of suggests, you need not fish in the obvious biggger holding pools where the guys are all queued up. Check out that little half-bathtub size pocket with the single stick hanging in it along the bank. Often, there will be a fish there and he is likely to be more receptive to your offering not having spent the entire morning dodging wooly buggers, egg sucking leeches and sucker spawn. Look for the little pockets between the pools. So long as it is physically large enough to hold a fish (the size of a decent Samsonite suitcase laid flat) and deep enough (as little as 2 feet depending on water clarity) to "hide" him, it's worth fishing. I've had most of my best days picking pockets in this way. It can be nice and peaceful and about the only thing you miss out on is hearing where everybody else is from, which as sociable as I am, has never helped me catch a single fish anyway...:)

3) A general rule of thumb on water temps (at least in the Erie fishery) seems to be that these fish will chase a moving fly (streamers/buggers, etc.) so long as the water is 40F or above. Below that, you're better off dead drifting egg flies and the like. In my experience, this has been a pretty hard and fast rule, almost as if every fish carries a piece of paper that says this is how he must act.
It may be different up there, but I'd also add that it seems to also work this way on the WI Lake Michigan tribs like the Manitowoc, Sheboygan, etc. when I've been up there.

4) If you know there are fish in the river and you find a place where there "should" be a fish but are not getting any hookups, be persistent and change flies a couple times before you move on. This is related to these fish generally not being very bright as well as their occasional tendency to schizoid behavior. You never really know when they are going to wake up and decide they want to eat this thing that keeeps going by, but they want it to pass within 11/32nds of an inch of their nose and the best you've been able to do so far is 27/64ths. Lots of times "no sense makes the best sense" is the order of the day over these fish. They'll turn on and you won't know why and then they'll turn off like a light switch and you won't know why that is either.

5) On cold days, the last 90 minutes of daylight is worth the entire time between 8AM and Noon. On days when it is not so cold, both early and late are better than mid-day. On high blue, cold front days with a crisp north wind, except for the fact that nothing beats fishing, you might be better off taking guitar lessons or something. This, at least has been my experience.

One final thought: I've heard that on the North Shore streams, the water goes through the drainages like poop through a goose and that timing your trip to optimize the water levels you'll be fishing is very, very, impt. But I wouldn't suppose to know anything more about that other than to advise you to seek out local knowledge on how this affects things.

Best of luck,

Lee

CharlieSawdJuly 16th, 2009, 7:51 pm
St. Michael, Minnesota

Posts: 26
Thanks alot Lee!
Some good info there.
Charlie Sawdey
www.driftlessflybox.com
UPTroutBumJuly 19th, 2009, 9:40 am
Marquette, MI

Posts: 33
Good info, I am from Upper Michigan and have only steelheaded one season on Superior. Last summer I caught one small one, maybe even a resident rainbow, but it was totally silver. I haven't even hooked up with one besides that, this fall I am going to put some time in.
" The true fisherman approaches the first day of fishing season with
all the sense of wonder and awe of a child approaching Christmas." John Voelker
DocWetJuly 21st, 2009, 6:53 am
Erie, PA

Posts: 13
I live on Lake Erie and fish for steelhead (Lake-Run Rainbow Trout) occasionally. I always release what I catch as they are not good table fare compared to other lake fish. If you decide to bake one of these buggers, you will find a gelantaneous mass along the backbone that is VERY bad tasting and that also puts a bad smell in your dining room. So BEWARE! Timing is everything in fishing for steelhead. The best time to fish for them is after a flood or thaw when the water is coming down and clearing up. There are usually lots of fish in the creek then. Better fishing can be had on the lake bank if the lake is calm. These fish will cruise along the shoreline and can be caught quite a distance away from any major stream. This is the best sport as the fish are not confined and will tear up your tackle if you are not prepared in advance. Use of long rods, 6# test mono and plenty of line with a smoothly oiled drag is a must! For bait, raw salmon eggs are hard to beat! If the lake is a little wavey, use of a boat can increase your chances of success and you can always chase a big fish if necessary.
My favorite trout stream picture; below, shows what a first class trout river looks like. The lack of stream gradient means that this river is not subject to the roaring scouring floods so common here in PA. that wipe out everything in the river.
WiflyfisherJuly 21st, 2009, 9:23 pm
Wisconsin

Posts: 598
I don't have time right now, but if you Google "Lake Superior steelhead fishing" you should find quite a bit of info.
John S.
https://WiFlyFisher.com
DocWetMarch 7th, 2013, 10:14 pm
Erie, PA

Posts: 13
I am a dry fly fisherman at heart and used to follow the hatches until it got to be too expensive and time consuming. After marriage and house and children and dog and job sap all your strength, its time to look for more convenience in your life. So I decided to live in a location where I don't have to go too far to find recreation. My fishing boat is moored in water 2 miles from home and this is my main contrivence to find and catch fish. As I am older and less willing to test new waters, I find that the boat makes the fishing activity much simpler and a darn sight less strenuous. I follow the old saw,"economy of effort" to achieve the desired results. DocWet
My favorite trout stream picture; below, shows what a first class trout river looks like. The lack of stream gradient means that this river is not subject to the roaring scouring floods so common here in PA. that wipe out everything in the river.
SayfuMarch 8th, 2013, 10:09 am
Posts: 560
I was a steelhead guide for many years, and it is very difficult to answer a generalized question regarding "how to" for steelhead. Depends on is it cold water steelheading, or warmer water steelheading? The type of river structure can determine how you approach steelhead fishing. Are runs long enough to swing the fly when temperatures are right for steelhead to move to the fly? OR is it pocket water fishing where the fly needs to be presented slow, and in front of the fish where nymphing techniques are deployed? Hatchery fish may dictate smaller flies while bigger, native fish like a much bigger offering.
DocWetAugust 16th, 2018, 5:38 am
Erie, PA

Posts: 13
We had an incredibly fit husband and wife come to fly-fish for lake-run rainbow trout last April. They were from Alaska and when I questioned them at the Fish-USA tackle shop, they explained that all the rivers in Alaska are glacial till flow and will not clear until June or July. Fly fishing there is largely impossible so they came to Erie, PA where all our streams are small and usually clear in one day after a spate.

Cheers, DocWet
My favorite trout stream picture; below, shows what a first class trout river looks like. The lack of stream gradient means that this river is not subject to the roaring scouring floods so common here in PA. that wipe out everything in the river.
TroutnutAugust 19th, 2018, 7:37 am
Administrator
Bellevue, WA

Posts: 2454
they explained that all the rivers in Alaska are glacial till flow and will not clear until June or July.


That's not really true. It's typically late May or June before spring snowmelt subsides, but most of the rivers aren't glacial, and most of the glacial ones aren't fished. The ones that are fished don't clear during the summer, because that's when the glaciers are melting the most.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
RleePAugust 19th, 2018, 9:19 am
NW PA - Pennsylvania's Glacial Pothole Wonderland

Posts: 350
>>We had an incredibly fit husband and wife come to fly-fish for lake-run rainbow trout last April. They were from Alaska and when I questioned them at the Fish-USA tackle shop, they explained that all the rivers in Alaska are glacial till flow and will not clear until June or July. Fly fishing there is largely impossible so they came to Erie, PA where all our streams are small and usually clear in one day after a spate.>>

Stuff like this never ceases to crack me up... Back in the 90's, I guided the Perkins brothers on Elk out at Folly's End. Not because I was the acknowledged world beater regarding the fishery, or because I knew everything about this weird ass Fritos fishery. I certainly wasn't and I surely didn't. I was usually down catching walleye out of French Creek when the steelhead were in. But, I worked in an Orvis shop at the time and my boss needed somebody from the Erie area to guide them. Anyway, one of them told me that their two favorite places in the world to sight fish were Kamchatka and Elk Creek. I liked them a lot; they were nice guys. But Jeez... Kamchatka and Elk Creek?

I've just never been able to take the PA Lake Erie steelhead fishery serious. Maybe I grew up too close or I speared too many spring suckers out of Elk when I was a kid. I don't know... But every time I cross either Elk or Walnut in August and see the dust balls rolling up off the stream bed, I take it even less seriously...:)
WbranchAugust 19th, 2018, 5:25 pm
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2365
I've just never been able to take the PA Lake Erie steelhead fishery serious. Maybe I grew up too close or I speared too many spring suckers out of Elk when I was a kid. I don't know... But every time I cross either Elk or Walnut in August and see the dust balls rolling up off the stream bed, I take it even less seriously...:)


Well maybe some of those youthful experiences made you jaded to the fall and winter stocked steelhead fishery. I have heard that from other long time locals. I on the other hand still find it to be a lot of fun especially on sections of Elk where you have to walk one half to a mile from the parking lot. You don't see any road or hear any traffic, it is in the woods, and often you can find a run to share with a buddy, and catch half a dozen steelhead. I used to fish the Salmon River in NYS. That in my opinion is not for the faint of heart. It can be combat fishing at it's worst. I have never seen an argument anywhere on Elk and everyone I have ever spoken to was very nice. I guess the quality of the experience is in the eyes of the beholder.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
RleePAugust 20th, 2018, 1:05 pm
NW PA - Pennsylvania's Glacial Pothole Wonderland

Posts: 350
>>I guess the quality of the experience is in the eyes of the beholder.>>


That must be it...

Still cracks me up, though...:)


A lot of it depends on how we define "fishing" and what we are willing to accept as a portion of our experience. I'll choose solitude over (so-called) quality every time. It's very rare for me to fish within sight of another angler. I've been fortunate in where I grew up and the places I've lived and fished and haven't ever really had to compromise on this. And I probably wouldn't compromise anyway. I just go somewhere where there isn't anybody else. If I want to see people, I'll go to the Mall.
WbranchAugust 20th, 2018, 5:37 pm
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2365
I'll go to the Mall.


I hope you enjoy your visit to the Mall.

I can do both, I can, and do, fish without another fisher within eyesight. Either wading or more often in my drift boat. On my annual Montana trip I can easily spend the entire day without seeing another fisher other than my partner. Since my priorities don't include spending $7,000 for a British Columbia steelhead trip to the Skeena, Bulkley, or others I elect to fish for steelhead in more accessible waters. Admittedly Elk Creek can be a zoo but a short trip into Ohio and I have had days on the ____ where I never saw another angler or maybe one or two all day. Same for the Cattaraugus in NYS. A much bigger river with at least 30% of the steelhead being wild. Up in the Zoar Valley there are miles of remote river where it can be spooky with so few other fishers.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.

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