|Slammin' Winter Steelhead|
|Written by Mike Gnatkowski - Gnat's Charters|
|Sunday, 28 January 2007 15:24|
Great Lakes anglers know how much fun battling feisty steelhead in open water is. But imagine how tough it would be to land one of those lively devils through the ice. Granted, they wouldn’t jump as much (ha!!!), but you can be sure that you’d have one heck of a tussle getting them to the hole. Well, there’s a cadre of Michigan anglers who specialize in doing just that.
Michigan’s drowned river mouth lakes offer the perfect venue for ice fishing for steelhead. Rivers that dump into Lake Michigan on Michigan’s West Coast form lakes or drowned river mouths before they enter the big lake. Steelheads take up residence in these lakes during the fall and winter cruising around, feeding and staging before heading upstream in late winter and early spring. In between, ice anglers have the perfect opportunity to try their hand at icing these spirited battlers.
Steelheads can be caught though the ice using conventional rods and reels, tip-ups or ice-fishing jigging rods. You can hunt elk with a .22 too. It’s just not the best way to do it. Baits presented via conventional tip-ups or rod and reels offer too much resistance to light-biting steelheads for them to hold on long enough for anglers to run to a rod and set the hook. Steelies are also very spooky under clear ice too and it usually pays to get away from your set up.
With an abundance of steelies milling around under the hard surface curious anglers reasoned there had to be a better way of hooking, and landing, steelheads through the ice. After a lot of head scratching and experimentation an inventive group of anglers found a way to build a better mouse trap.
“We probably came up with the original Slammer prototype back in the early 1990’s,” said Slammer manufacturer Matt Schalk. “My buddy Rich Maciag came up with the idea for the ring mechanism, which makes the Slammer adjustable to fit different rod lengths and actions and produces the positive hookups we were looking for.” Slammer tip-ups are available in kit form or assembled from Slamco at (248) 399-4341 or online at www.slammertipup.com.
The new-improved Slammer features an L-shaped piece of 1 x 4-inch lumber and a cross member that helps stabilize the tip-up. On the top of the upright is a ringed release mechanism, which is basically an eye screw with a large split ring attached to it. To set the rod, the second eye on the rod is bent back slightly to fit under the ring when the rod is in the set position. Kind of like a downrigger on ice. A fish moving through takes the bait and pulls the rod tip downward, releasing the tension and the guide from under the split ring. The rod snaps skyward to set the hook. Fish on!!!
The major advantage of using Slammer tip-ups for steelies, besides improved hookups, is the fact that you have a rod and a reel with a drag to fish the fish. That’s a big advantage when a chromer is doing his best to bash a hole through the ice.
Steelheads go berserk under the ice. You need to think fast and be prepared to plunge your rod tip under the ice or risk getting sawed off. Obviously the rainbows can’t jump, but they can smoke a 100 yards of line off a reel in a heart beat and come screaming back toward you just as fast. Besides a Slammer, one of the most important pieces of equipment for icing steelies is a reel that is ultra-smooth and not prone to freezing up. Spool it up with a premium, clear 6- to 8-pound monofilament. The water can be super-clear in the dead of winter.
Wigglers are another option. “Wigglers are better during midwinter,” said Gruno. “I think they’re available to the fish then because they molt during the winter and migrate from deeper water to the flats where the steelheads are.” The best tactic for wigglers is to gob three or four on a number 12 treble hook. Steelies suck them in like spaghetti. Wigglers can be especially productive in slack water situations. Spawn seems to work better in the current.
Generally, winter steelheads frequent flats leading from drop-offs in 4 to 10 feet of water. The location is even better if there is some current nearby. A hot spot is on the edge of the current and the slack water. Steelies will patrol this edge. Look for places where creeks or streams enter the lake. As always, when you’re ice fishing and there’s current you need to use extra caution. Ice conditions can be unpredictable. Current also funnels debris so check you baits periodically.
Hot times for ice action for steelheads is first and last ice. Although the fish are available all winter, the rainbows are most active when the ice first forms. When melting ice and increased run-off coincides with school of silver bullets hitting the river mouths in late winter, action can be smokin’. Look for steelies under the ice to most active at first and last light. The bite can last longer or throughout the day on dark overcast days.
No doubt states like Ohio and New York have similar settings where winter steelheads are available. Others locations are waiting to be discovered in neighboring Great Lakes states.
You need to login or register to post comments.