Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

Archive for the tag “Steelhead”

Spring Steelhead in Small Streams

Mike with Steelhead

Mike scores a Steelhead on the Baldwin

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.

Jake Lucas Trout Diary

Jake Lucas, my grandfather and fishing mentor to family and friends, kept a written diary of his daily trout catches on Michigan streams from 1954 to 1976. The diary includes place, weather conditions, baits or lures, largest fish, total fish and other notes. The diary may represent the only existing record of the trout population of brook trout, browns and rainbows (not to mention steelhead) in many of Michigan’s noted trout streams though this time period. While the diary is in spreadsheet format, he was inspired to add this account after a couple great days of fishing.

1965 – May 6

Fished Little Manistee above public fishing site at Indian Club Bridge. Hooked a large RB (rainbow) in a deep run by some stumps on a curve. He jumped and then he tore downstream for 40 or 50 yards. I turned loose the reel and he unwound line from the reel faster than anything I have ever hooked. He turned into the slow side of the stream and moved up into a drift and got loose.

Had a strike by another RB in front of the drift. Hooked another one about 20 feet in front of the same drift. Played it until I thought I could get it into my net. Had it close in front of me and started the net up it’s tail – then he turned head first into the net and a hook caught the net and the fish pulled loose.

I was ready for a straight jacket. Boy: I was mad and disgusted.

Hooked another one in a run of water by some raft type cover. He was smaller than the other two and I finally got him into the net downstream about 75 or 100 yards. It was a 27 inch male. I took it back to the car and met Doc (Dr. Pratt) at about 11: AM. He had an 18 + a 12 inch Brown. In the afternoon went back to the same area (points 3 to 5) caught another 27 inch female, + one 20 inch male and had another good one and my line broke inside the reel because of a grooved pickup pin.

Friday AM, May 7

Hooked a big one and he broke my line so quick I didn’t have a chance. I think the grooves in my rod tip cut it. Hooked a big one by the tail and lost it. I just could not wear it down. He got off after going downstream from me. Hooked a really big one but he went downstream and just dogged it in the middle of the stream. Felt like I was hooked to a snag because I could pull hard and he would just stay there. Finally he bore downstream rolled on the surface and the hook came out.

The following is a handwritten note in Jake’s diary from Doc Pratt (first a client for Jake’s guide business, later to become a close fishing buddy)

I never saw anything to beat this – what it takes Jake has and aplenty. Accuracy and handling and the lure in the water tell a tale and my experience was worth every cent – a real pleasure.


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