Making the most of this steelhead season. . . .
Summer is hanging on just like it always does as we plan our first steelhead fishing trip. To make the most of this steelhead season, the initial trip will set the stage for more to follow so plan carefully.
I find it hard to believe that anyone who calls themselves an angler is clueless about Great Lakes steelhead fishing. You would think, looking at the crowded parking lots, that everyone got the memo. But no, each season a few people show up and unknowingly fall into the addictive trap. Those beginners have a lot to learn, and they will.
Experienced anglers approach the steelhead season from a different perspective. We have fine-tuned our equipment, gained an understanding of what presentation and bait to use, and discovered good fishing locations.
A “wild-card” that potentially could spoil trip planning and fishing success is how much has your stream changed since last season?
For instance, the course of Elk Creek usually remains constant year to year. Some older anglers remember the year that a hurricane-fueled high water event moved the mouth of Elk Creek 400 yards to the west. Water passed the “mud-hole” and flowed directly north straight into the lake. No water flowed northeast toward the red garage and the grumpy neighbor that lives next door. Lake winds closed that exit and returned the flow to the East.
Years ago, the lake level was low and water riffled past the mud hole, northeast past an island in the middle of lower Elk Creek and into the lake. That fast flow is hard to imagine when you see how lower Elk Creek looks now. The rising lake level turned 500-yards of good trout water into a slow backwater that looks more like a lake bay than a tributary.
Walnut Creek also suffers from changes caused by historically high lake levels. From the falls above Manchester Bridge to the lake, good steelhead holding pockets have been filled in with sediment that no longer reaches the lake. The Walnut Creek channel now seems to extend to a point above the Stop Sign Hole. Anglers are forced to fish a slower moving lake backwater from the parking lot curve to the lake, or they are jammed into crowded fast flowing water above the stop sign hole past the Manchester Bridge through the “chutes” ending at the “falls”.
Even Trout Run goes through flow changes that affect your fish catching success. Steelhead follow a “stream scent” carried by the flow of water even after it reaches the lake. That flow usually goes straight north on calm days or bends east or west depending on the off-shore winds. If the mouth exit is pointed east along the shoreline, anglers have plenty of fish catching locations to the right of the stream mouth. When the water goes straight north, only anglers close to the stream exit stand the best chance of hooking up. You watch the action on any day and you will see what I mean.
Everyone who has fish for steelhead knows that flowing water always present problems when it goes from a trickle to a raging torrent when excessive rain hits Erie. Away from the lake, trees falling into the streams float north and form log jams. The new structure attracts steelhead, but it also redirects water flow presenting a new element for anglers to factor into their game plan. Not to mention, calving stream banks and construction runoff sediments affecting stream turbidity. There sure is a lot to think about when you are determined to make the most out of this season.
Finding a new steelhead “bait” could make the season special!
Discovering a can’t miss steelhead bait is not something experienced anglers worry about each season. Since the introduction of Power Bait in 1988, not much has changed in most tackle vests. Soft plastic lures are a more recent development that gets plenty of attention, but even this presentation is well-known to most of us. Jigs, nymphs, buggers, beads, “fuzz ball” egg patterns change in color and sometimes materials, but any new bait is merely a variation of the same presentation. A blue/silver Cleo or some color combination on spoons and spinners keeps the “crank ‘n yank” crowd happy too.
On the weird side, I did see an angler catch multiple steelhead on whole kernel corn. Now that is something you just don’t see every day on Elk Creek.
So what can any of us do to make the most of this steelhead season?
The best advice I can offer is for all of us to fish new water and use the stream gauges to our advantage – we get into a rut floating egg sacs through the mud hole day after day. I have found several new locations that are hot, but only when water conditions are just right. If you do some looking, you too will discover your own honey-holes.