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Mid-season steelhead tactics

By DICK MARTIN • Feb 10, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Some outdoor folk in he Huron County area just give up fishing in the winter because it can be cold out there and ice fishing doesn't appeal, but there's open water too, at least when warmer days let rivers and streams open up and some of those open waters harbor big fish indeed.

They're called steelhead trout, a fish the Division of Wildlife stocks in Lake Erie tributaries each year and has since 1991. These are BIG trout, very big, fish that reach 20 pounds or more, though they'll average nine to 12, and they're unbelievable fighters, heavy weights that can rip 50 yards off your reel in seconds or snap rods and/or line like a twig. Most anglers ignore them, believing they're too hard to catch, but they aren't. At least if you remember a few simple rules.

The first rule is to check before you go. Winter weather can be unpredictable, and though this winter has had its ups and downs so far, another really cold spell can ice over Erie tributaries and end all fishing until a thaw comes. Rains will muddy up the streams too, and it's no fun to make an often long drive only to find you can't try your luck. So, first smart move is to call first and make sure the water is either low and clear or at least green and fishable.

To do that, call such as the Snug Harbor Bait & Tackle at 440-593-3755, or maybe the Mad River Outfitters at 888-451-0363. The latter is a good choice for beginners since they offer full day guide service for $375 or there abouts per day, and while a day may seem costly they'll teach you more about steelhead fishing than you could learn yourself sometimes in half a dozen trips.

Tackle comes next and you'd best have the right kind. You'll need a long, whippy rod rather than ordinary spinning gear because that first run or two is so fast and furious that many will break off before you can take a deep breath. A long rod with lots of give will absorb that initial shock. Monofilament line doesn't matter much. I usually use 15 pound test in the thinnest and most transparent mono I can find, and a third necessity is a drag that's smooth as fresh butter. If you can get past the first minute or two of hookup, you have a fair chance of landing your fish, and the above should let you do it.

Next choice is what are you going to fish with? Many use spawn sacs of salmon, steelhead, or sucker eggs encased in a thin mesh. Some make their own, and some buy them at Lake Erie bait shops, and they work fine most days. But if not available, there are other good choices. You might opt for a jig and bait, just a tiny 1/16 ounce jig baited with a waxworm or several maggots available anywhere ice fishing is going on, fished below a bobber and splitshot adjusted to keep the jig swimming just above bottom. Take several colors and try them all until you see what interests fish in a given day.

Other good choices are flies if you're a fly fisherman, anything from Glo-bugs and Clawson Minnows to purple Woolie Buggers and Egg Sucking Leeches. Hardware works too, especially in clear water where you can see fish and send the lure down to wriggle right in front of their snouts. Use smaller sizes that wiggle or vibrate madly, such as Wee Warts, old Flatfish, Sonics, HotNTots, Rattletraps, and Hotshots. Blue and silver works well usually, but take several colors.

Finally, make sure you have maps of the chosen river. Fish are waiting in the Chagrin River, Rocky River, Conneaut Creek, the Grand, Huron, and Vermillion as well as several smaller creeks like Arcola. To get them, Google the Ohio Division of Wildlife, then Fishing, then River & Stream Fishing Maps, then pick your river. Simple rules, really, but they're the key to some wonderful winter action.

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• Coyotes are becoming ever more common, and braver too, so much so that I had one walk up my driveway last winter. You might see one in your own backyard, and if so, what do you do? The Division of Wildlife suggests that if you see one close, first remove all attractants like dog or cat food for outside pets. Keep small dogs and cats inside at night since that's when coyotes roam. If you see one and it doesn't run, try clapping your hands and shouting to make it flee. And if nothing works, call the DOW at 1-800-WILDLIFE and ask for assistance.

• Ducks Unlimited recently announced a $5 million contribution by Energy Transfer Partners to support wetland conservation efforts in Ohio and Louisiana. Wetlands provide many functions necessary for sustaining wildlife and fisheries, and also enhance water quality and outdoor recreation opportunities. So far, along with federal and state partners, DU has conserved more than 14 million acres across North America since 1937.

• A recently e-mail from a reader asked "How long should one play a coyote call before turning it off? Two minutes? 10? Intermittent? My answer: If it's a commercial call played on an electronic caller, the expert who made the call should have it timed properly. But if nothing happens in a half hour or so, you probably should pack up and move elsewhere.

• A special drawing will be held Saturday, March 24 at the Lake La Su An Wildlife Area headquarters for youths interested in turkey hunting, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Youths age 17 and younger may participate. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. and will continue until the drawing at 10 a.m. Youth hunters must possess a valid 2018-2019 hunting license to register. Youth hunters are not required to be present to register. Adults may register a youth by presenting the youth’s hunting license.

Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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