Spring means ideal steelhead fishing season
Written by Chillicothe Gazette   
Monday, 30 March 2009 16:04
It's been a tough winter for local steelheaders willing to make the long drive north. There was some good fishing early on when fish were entering the rivers from Lake Erie, good enough that one veteran steelheader caught 31 in a single day on the lower Grand River. But after that good days when the water was green or clear didn't happen often, thanks to monsoon rains again and again, and bitter cold weather that closed the smaller tributaries

But it's March now and if the various streams, rivers, and creeks stabilize, action can be the best of the season. For one very good reason. Steelhead spend their winters in deep pools and long, smooth runs, and while they'll bite gently on spawn sacs, jig and maggot combinations, live bait, etc., they're not aggressive and unwilling to chase a bait in water that might be only 33 degrees. But come March the days get longer and the water warms a little, and suddenly these big trout have spawning on their mind.

The males develop crimson stripes, rather than their usual pale pink and hooked jaws for fighting other males. They're aggressive now and move up onto riffles sometimes in only a foot or two of water waiting for females to emerge from their deep water wintering and join them. Water that's clean and green is the best for steelies anytime, and folk at the Grand River Tackle and Guide Service (440-352-7222) said last weekend that the rivers were high and muddy from recent rains, but unless more rain comes the various Lake Erie tributaries should be down and fishable by now.

The small streams from Conneaut Creek to Arcola clear first, then the larger waters and from this point on well into April action should be good to excellent. Fly fishing reaches its peak now, and trout in the smaller waters will be eager to hit egg patterns and small nymphs like glo-bugs, especially those with bead heads. Try pheasant tails and other old classics. In the larger rivers fly fishermen can do well on woolie boogers and larger bead head flies and egg patterns.

I well remember a trip to Conneaut Creek, a personal favorite, in mid-March. We were working a long stretch of stream that flowed through an old campground, and catching nothing.

I was using a long noodle rod with a thin float, splitshot, and spawn sac, the float adjusted to ride my bait a few inches above bottom, but either nothing was interested or nothing was there. Then I heard splashing on a riffle downstream, walked down there, and saw at least a dozen fins and tails boiling the water. I quickly adjusted my float to shallow, drifted it down to the fish,and a dandy trout took hold. He raced upstream and came loose.

Another drift and another bounced the bobber. This one eventually got free too, after several spectacular jumps. The third was a fine female who did not come loose and eventually slid into my waiting net. That began a red letter morning of riffle fishing for spawning steelies, an event that's going to happen again as water temperatures gradually reach the trout's favorite 40 degree range for spawning.

And since the fish are aggressive then, your choices of what to try them on are greatly expanded. Non-fly fishermen can try tiny jigs with maggot dressing, and since spawning fish seem to hate large minnows, translate egg stealers, they'll slam into a good sized chub or golden shiner. Nightcrawlers? Sure. But give thought to hardware now. Some anglers swear by spoons like 1ΒΌ6th ounce blue and silver Little Cleos, Les Davis Hot Rods and Northland Fire-eyes.

Others like bright spinners with big blades that vibrate and stir the fish up, even if they don't hit. And they very often hit. A Mepps Aguila spinner, Roostertails or Blue Fox Vibrax can be productive, and both spoons and spinners have the advantage of covering lots of water while a spawn sacker is making only a few drifts.

And finally, don't forget to take along a few crankbaits. One of the best catches I ever made was on late winter riffles using blue and silver HotNTots and brightly colored WiggleWarts that vibrated nicely. I'd found fish on a riffle, stood well above, cast downstream to within 10 feet or so of the splashing, fighting steelhead, then worked it down to right in their faces, back and forth, away and close until they couldn't stand it and slammed into the intruder. That was fun.

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