Lower Huron River gaining attention for steelhead
Written by Booth Newspapers   
Sunday, 26 February 2006 09:31

Lake Erie has always been a little different than Michigan's other Great Lakes. From Port Huron north and around the state, the bulk of the fishery has been for trout and salmon. At Erie, it's walleye, bass, perch.

But Lake Erie is increasingly becoming known for a fishery more often associated with the west side of the state: steelhead. And while Ohio's tributaries and Ontario's ports (Erieau, for instance) have garnered the lion's share of attention, a pretty fair steelhead fishery has developed in Michigan on the lower Huron River.

Case in point: I met with Scott Zaleski, a local construction worker who has found he can consistently catch fish throughout the winter months in the seven-mile stretch of the Huron below the dam at Flat Rock. Although the conditions were against us -- our trip corresponded with a significant weather event that roiled and raised the water -- we managed to coax a couple of fish out of the rain-swollen river.

Zaleski, who started fishing for steelies on the Huron about a decade ago, often puts a boat in at the river's mouth and motors upstream, where he gets out and fishes the deeper holes with a bobber and jig combination. Our first stop -- during a constant cold, peppering rainfall -- yielded nothing. But the next stop delivered.

"If we don't catch one here, we might as well go home," Zaleski said as he anchored the boat along a mud bank. About a half-dozen casts later, Zaleski was fast into a shiny steelhead.

Zaleski was fishing with a 1/32nd ounce white maribou jig that he tied himself. He buys the bare jigheads and ties his own, not only because they're cheaper, but because he likes a big fluffy jig and most commercially available jigs don't suit him.

He'd dressed the jig with a few wax worms, mostly because of the high murky water.

"You definitely have to give them something they can find," Zaleski said.

In clear water, he'll go with a single wax worm, though he's not sure that's necessary.

"We've caught them plenty of times without wax worms," he said, "but maybe they clomp down on it a little better when they get a taste of it.

"But I think that pink jighead might look like a single salmon egg floating downstream, too."

Perhaps. But I was using a white-on-white jig with a single wax worm when I noticed my bobber shimmy. When I set the hook, I connected to a fairly fresh hen steelhead.

It was no match for the long rod, even with 4-pound test line.

Zaleski uses 13-foot rods, which he said help significantly.

"It absorbs the shock and it helps tremendously to keep the line off the water," he said. "My brother uses an 11-6, but he has problems keeping the line off the water. A 13-foot rod works perfectly for keeping the belly out of the line."

Zaleski says if weather conditions are favorable he expects to hook between 10 and 20 steelhead in a day's fishing.

The steelhead fishery has never been as large in the Huron as in most west Michigan streams, but it has been given a hand by a fish ladder at the Flat Rock dam, which was completed in the late 1990s. The ladder gives the fish 13 more miles of river to run, all of which is bordered by public parks, providing additional fishing opportunity.

Lake Erie, perhaps the single best walleye fishery in North America, is better suited to steelhead than most anglers think.

"The eastern half of the lake is a deep, cold-water fishery," said Department of Natural Resources biologist Jeff Braunscheidel, "with salmon, steelhead and lake trout. The steelhead find their way to the Huron because we stock them there."

Michigan stocked 20,000 steelies in the Huron for years, but tripled the effort after the fish ladder was completed. Braunscheidel says he's never confirmed natural reproduction, but doubts many smolts would survive because of the walleye population.

Braunscheidel thinks walleye like trout as much as people do.

The lower Huron River lacks the ambiance of most west Michigan steelhead streams. The land is flat, instead of rolling, and the river is more turbid than clear. But there is a good enough run of fish to keep anglers busy from November, when they first appear, through spring. And that's a steelhead fishing opportunity within easy driving distance of the state's largest population center.

"You don't have to go Up North to fish for steelhead," Braunscheidel said. "There's excellent fishing here."

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