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Detroit Free Press, Steelhead Activity Rises With Temps by Eric Sharp

Here is a reprint of a recent article in the Detroit Free Press featuring the Steelhead fishing in the PM and Indigo Guide Service.

March 26th, 2009

Steelhead anglers look forward to warm, spring rains that raise both the water level and temperature in tributaries of the Great Lakes, signaling the fish that it’s a good time to move upstream and start to think about spawning.

The higher water levels tell the fish that they can negotiate shallow spots along the way to reach shallow gravel shoals where the females will drop their eggs in highly oxygenated water.

The higher temperatures increase the chances that the baby steelhead will find optimal survival conditions when they hatch about 30 days after being dropped into the nests, or redds, that the females create by fanning the gravel with their bodies and fins.

Warmer water also increases the metabolism of the adult fish, making them more likely to go after a fly or lure whether it be from hunger or anger at a potential egg-eater nearing the nest.

Those conditions should approach perfection in the next week or so and produce the best steelhead fishing of the year on rivers from the Clinton on Lake St. Clair to the Pere Marquette on Lake Michigan.

Most years, good steelhead fishing is under way on many streams in the Lower Peninsula by the middle of March.

"This winter has been a little different because we had so much snow in the woods," said Kevin Morlock, who runs Indigo Guide Service out of Walhalla and fishes the Pere Marquette, Muskegon, White and Manistee River systems.

"When we’d get some rain, it would melt a lot of snow, and that meant that the rivers filled with water that was 33 degrees. But now just about all the snow has gone, so the next time we get some warm rain, it should bring the water temperature up and really start things happening," he said.

Bill Groh of Grand Rapids has been fishing the Grand and Pere Marquette for steelhead on a weekly basis, sometimes twice a week. "The Grand is running a little ahead of the PM, but that’s to be expected because the snow melted earlier in Grand Rapids, and it’s been about 5-10 degrees warmer every day for two weeks than it has been in Baldwin," he said.

"But the fish are still down in the deeper holes on both rivers. I’ve been doing better on big streamers that I swing down through the holes than I have on nymph and egg patterns. And the fish have been pretty spooky. I found that I do a lot better if I stay 40, 50 feet away from the lie and make long casts. It’s not like it will be when they start spawning aggressively and you can get really close to them."

Morlock said that most of the fish in the Pere Marquette and Muskegon have also been concentrated in deeper water, although there are a few up on the gravel in the flies-only water on the Pere Marquette.

"We’ve been catching them with a number of techniques, from lures (plugs), to center-pin reels on float roads, to the traditional chuck-and-duck fly-fishing," Morlock said. "The lures that have been working well are things like Hot-N-Tots, the Rapala Shad Rap and the original Rapala floater.

"The float rods have been doing pretty well with flies and beads. But what we really need is some consistent warmer weather. One day we had 68 degrees, the next it was 27. Steelhead don’t react well to swings like that," he said.


Morlock can be reached at 231-898-4320 or on line at www.indigoguideservice.com. Contact ERIC SHARP at 313-222-2511 or esharp@freepress.com.


Kevin Morlock with a nice Pere Marquette SteelheadKevin Morlock caught this steelhead recently on the Pere Marquette River using a float rod.



Tackle your tackle

While it’s possible to catch steelhead on the same tackle used for bluegills, the success rate for these big, migratory rainbow trout is much higher for anglers who use specialized tackle and specialized techniques.


Both steelhead tackle and steelhead know-how will be on display free on April 4 on the banks of the Clinton River near Yates Cider Mill in Rochester, and on April 11 at Huron Park in Flat Rock on the Huron River.

Phil Bustos, a member of the Metro West Steelheaders, said the events will bring attention to two urban rivers that enjoy steelhead runs superior to most of the runs in Pacific Coast states from where these fish were first brought to the Great Lakes about 150 years ago.


"We’ll have speakers who are biologists and well-known steelhead fishermen," he said. "At the Clinton River event, we’ll also have hot dogs, and we ask people to bring a can of non-creamy soup that we put together and serve.

"It’s mostly chicken noodle and vegetable, but whenever we do this, people love it. They think it’s some old family secret and ask me for the recipe," he said.

Both events will run from about 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Eric Sharp