Steelhead fishing is doing fine these days with some excellent catches in rivers from the Vermilion to the Grand to Conneaut Creek. Fish are now evenly spread throughout all Lake Erie tributaries and prime action should continue from now through mid-April when fish descend their rivers again and head out into the big lake.
I like steelhead fishing always have. I don't eat them much, though I don't mind an occasional fillet baked under bacon strips and lemon juice, and I occasionally smoke one for finger food. I like them primarily because they're incredible fighters, especially when I hook one that goes 10 pounds or better. It's like being attached to a freight train.
Back in my early days of steelhead fishing I ignored advice from veterans and used an ordinary spinning rod with medium action on the rivers. It took just one fish, a trout that jerked my arms straight, the rod straight out, and broke off to teach me that a nice long, whippy noodle rod was much better. Even then you can count on a sizzling first run or two, some high leaps, and a magnificent scrap before they come to the net.
Perhaps you're a veteran steelheader and perhaps you're a beginner who'd simply like to drive a hook into something truly heavy. If you're the former, you need no advice, but if you're an amateur, keep these thoughts in mind.
First, best bait for steelies is fresh, milky spawn sacs. I've caught more fish on spawn than anything else. But lots of you have no access to spawn, don't know how to make sacs and keep them, or don't want to make long drives to near lake bait shops to buy some.
Then you go to Plan B. I made a trip to Michigan once to steelhead in the AuSable River, and fished with a guide who knew his business. He rigged four rods with crankbaits, put me in the back where I could reach them easily, then began rowing upstream at a crawl. The current kept the boat moving downstream, but slowly, and he worked the craft from side to side, putting those four madly wiggling lures into every eddy and pool. That morning I hooked five fine fish, and landed three.
You can do the same on Lake Erie tributaries and without a boat. Steelhead in winter rivers are not only usually hungry because there's little available food, but they're there to spawn and are aggressive to anything they think might feed on eggs. Your best bet is to wade smaller streams, tie on something that wiggles madly like a WiggleWart of Flatfish, and slowly move back and forth across the stream, letting the lure drop down five or so feet on each crossing to thoroughly cover the water.
Move quietly, fish far down, wear dull colored or camouflaged clothing, and travel with as little splash as possible. If you can see the fish, your chances are even better, because then you can put the bait a foot or so in front of a trout's nose and let it wiggle. Often enough you'll draw a strike. If the water is too deep to wade, use a fast diver, something bright, maybe blue and silver, and cast quartering across the water, walking down a few feet each time. You should still draw an occasional strike.
There are other things that work. A middle hooked nightcrawler drifted through pools with just enough splitshot to keep it near the bottom has taken many a fish. And some guides fish routinely with several inch-long minnows doing the same, lip hooking their bait and adding just enough splitshot to keep it low. Not only do steelhead eat minnows, but they don't like the little egg stealers and will often come several feet to kill one. Finally, don't forget a tiny jig baited with a few maggots below a bobber.
It's a simple tactic. Use spawn if you can get it, and if not, use something else. You should still catch some steelhead.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ohio is one of the nation's leaders in protecting its natural heritage, but money always is needed to protect scenic rivers and endangered species. Readers can help the ODNR's worthwhile efforts by donating any portion of their Ohio state income tax refund. Use Line 29 on the tax form to donate to the preservation of Ohio's nature preserves and support education programs, scientific research and natural area acquisitions. It's for an eminently worthwhile cause.
Carp fishing is growing steadily more popular, not only in Ohio, but nationwide, and dedicated carpers are finding ways to catch their yellow quarry year round, even through the ice. The Ohio chapter is very active and growing steadily with tournaments held in places from the Ohio River to East Harbor. To find out more about this lively organization, visitwww.carpanglersgroup.com.
Educators wishing to learn how to improve wildlife habitat at their schools and use it in classroom curriculums are encouraged to attend the WILD School Sites educator workshop Feb. 2, hosted by the Division of Wildlife. The workshop will be held from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Wildlife District One office in Columbus. There is no fee for this workshop, but registration is required by Jan. 26. For more information, call Lindsay Deering at (614) 644-3925.
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 06-03-09CR at Station Marblehead is offering the "America's Boating Course" from 8 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Jan. 27 and at the same time Feb. 24 at Van Guard Tech Center, Fremont.The fee is $25 for materials and will be refunded to participants, ages 11 through 17 who successfully complete the course. All students under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult. There also is a family plan, a different fee per individual, inquire for details. This course meets Ohio, U.S. and Canadian requirements for persons born on or after Jan. 1, 1982 to operate a power boat or jet ski. To register, or for further information call Bruce Hammann at (419) 929-4154 or attendees can register at 8 a.m. the day of the course.