The truck display read 25 degrees outside and the snow was falling softly against the windshield. I pulled the truck off the side of the road and slipped down a small access road that would lead me to my final destination. As I pulled up and stepped out of the truck I could already hear the rush of water over the shallow riffles of this special area. The pre-dawn light was enough light to allow me to carefully slip on my warm weather gear and pull up my waders. I grabbed my weapon of choice, a custom made 10 ½ float rod, made sure I was armed with plenty of bait, and made my way down to the water’s edge. The water was slightly stained from the recent runoff of thawing snow, but was at a good level for this time of year. I knew that this was going to be a good day, but how good, well that would be up to me.
While most fisherman are sitting out on a frozen or semi-frozen surface of a lake, I had chosen to search some tributaries of Lake Michigan in search of the elusive Steelhead. With the recent rains and snow the tributaries would be flowing nicely and would push water out into the main lake basin. With this push of water would come the scent from the stream that was all too familiar to the steelhead. They would be unable to fight the urge to enter these tributaries and start the process of moving further and further upstream to begin their spawning ritual. I was searching for some of these wary and often elusive fish. They can make a grown man weep like a baby when they break your line on a logjam or giggle like a school boy as they toss themselves into the air while doing battle.
Wintertime is the prime time to take advantage of the opportunity to hook into some of these beautifully colored and strong fish. As I said many of these fish are moving up in the tributary system in search of their spawning grounds. However, there are also fish in the systems that have been there since the summer months. These fish can be even more of a challenge as they have either been caught or have been pursued for many months. Fishing for these brutes can be both challenging and humbling. There is little need for high-tech gear. Gear as a simple hook, some split shot, and float are typically all that is needed to properly present your bait. The key, however, is to present the bait in the right spots, at the right time, in the right place. When you have gotten all of these key factors aligned up just right then the action can really be heart pounding. I personally like to use a multitude of offerings to entice these fish. Offerings such as: wax worms, spawn sacs, hair jigs, shrimp, and sometimes nightcrawlers.
As I said high tech gear is not needed, however there are a few items that will help improve your chances of not only hooking, but landing some of these fish. A long rod with a good backbone will allow you to get better casts and allow you to control the fish in tight areas much easier. The long rod will also allow you to better control the drift of your bait and give it a much more natural presentation. Floats play an important part of your presentation as well. Floats should be matched up to the type of water you are fishing. Deep water with slow current calls for a small skinny float while faster water would be the time to use a larger float. You want to present your offering in the most natural way possible.
The air is crisp and the snow crunches underfoot as I slowly and quietly approach a section of the stream. I scan the area looking for that perfect spot to carefully cast my presentation. I know that there is a fish in that area, I can feel it somehow, sort of a sixth sense. The anticipation of the strike is almost as exciting as the hook-up itself. Stealth will work to my advantage as I kneel well back from the streams edge, keeping my shadow from being cast across the water and the spooking any fish that may be in the area. I have put together the game plan in my head and have gone over it many times. It is all coming true now. Time to put all of the preparation to work. I fish the area thoroughly and make drift after drift thru the hole. I work the area using different baits at differing deeps until that one magic moment when my float slowly sinks into the depths of the pool. I set the hook and the battle has begun. The battle between man and nature. I am over come with excitement as I slowly bring a beautifully colored male steelhead to hand. The fish’s cheeks are rosy red with a bright red stripe beginning to form down each side of his body. I can feel the power in the fish while I hold him for a few shots from the camera. My mission has been completed. My game plan was put to test and was successful. Before I know it the time has gone by quickly and it’s time to pack up and head for home. Another mission accomplished, another day that I was able to share in the beauty of the outdoors.
Wintertime to most can be a time of sadness and cold blustery days. But if you let the winter blues get you down, then you will not be able to experience some of the best things that Mother Nature has to offer. The sound of the snow hitting the ground, the rushing of the water over the rocks and the screaming of the drag as a bulldog of a steelhead runs downstream in an epic battle that would get any person’s blood pumping. Go out and enjoy the winter. Enjoy what you have been given in this world. Take advantage of your surroundings, but don’t forget to appreciate what surrounds you. Drink it in and relish it for years to come.