Spring Steelhead in Small Streams
Michigan has an early opener for spring steelhead and depending on how you look at it – it is either the most fun you can have or a good way to destroy your Chinese made fishing reels. Spring steelhead can run upwards of 25 pounds and aren’t shy about hitting lures. It is a science and passion for a lot of anglers. Depending on weather and stream conditions the spring steelhead spawning runs can overlap the opening of the general trout season so you might find yourself casting for a keeper Brown and think you snagged a beaver.
I remember the first time I saw Steelhead in a stream, on the Little Manistee back in the seventies, and it was spooky looking down and seeing these huge fish cruising right next to your legs. There is a momentary panic where you wonder if you are on their menu.
Mike and Denny, if they don’t head up to Pigeon River country for the general opener, will usually check the Baldwin for Steelhead. If they are there, they are game. I should point out that they don’t test their Zebco underspin reels against the big fish, but rather use Shakespeare 1810 reels (circa 1960’s) and stout seven foot rods, equipment more geared to hold and keep bruiser fish out of the log jams. As far as I know they toss lures, not spawn bags, the most popular bait.
The Baldwin River, north and east of the town of Baldwin, is a great brown trout stream in the summer. South of town it empties into the Pere Marquette River which is on everyone’s list as a great steelhead and salmon river. So the big fish take a left turn at the Baldwin and find themselves in some pretty small water comparatively – think 15 foot wide and a foot deep most of the year. Lots of gravel and lots of tight cover. So hooking a steelhead and landing it on the Baldwin are two separate things.
According to Denny, and this sounds familiar, every year one of them catches all the fish and they go back and forth. The above photo, taken by Denny, is from May of 2010 – so that must be a Mike year, and he’s holding one that may go 12 pounds (best guess) which he may weigh in on if he reads this post. I wish I could say steelhead was a priority for me, but I’ll trade them all for a twenty inch brown.