Top Five Spring Steelhead Flies Many fly anglers eagerly await the start of the spring steelhead run. In this blog post I will point out what I believe are the top five spring steelhead flies. I will show you how to tie them and explain when to use them. Any list of the top five […]
Steelhead fishing in Northern Michigan, with a main focus on the Manistee River system . Tips and techniques to help you become a better steelhead angler. Learn from experienced guides Chuck Hawkins, Jon Ray, and Ed McCoy as they share of their guide secrets.
Steelhead are cold-water critters. Steelhead anglers need to learn how to Stay Warm during the Winter while chasing them. Steelhead can be caught all winter long in water temperatures as low as 33 degrees. Steelhead will feed all winter long, fight extremely hard when hooked and don’t seem to give a damn how cold it is!
As cold bloodied animals, steelhead have that advantage over warm blooded humans. To be a successful steelheader you need to learn to deal with and be comfortable in the cold. Steelhead season lasts almost 6 months, and some of the best fishing is during the dead of winter.
In pursuit of warmth start with base layers. It’s hard to beat capilene or Patagonia’s capaline Air which is half merino wool and half capaline. I wear one or two of the thinner long sleeve crew and long johns versus thicker singles. It seems to keep me as warm as the thicker versions but is less bulky, more comfortable.
On my feet I use a thinner wool baselayer sock followed by a thicker wool sock. About your feet, if you are fishing from the boat, which is what we do most of the time, waders and wading boots aren’t your friend. Bigger, insulated boots are the best. We wear calf high Boggs or Muck boots that are heavily insulated. Snow pack boots will also work well.
If you are wading, boot foot waders are warmer than stocking foot waders and wading boots because they aren’t as tight and allow better blood circulation to your feet. You actually want blood and air to circulate around your feet. It helps keep them warm. Also when wading don’t wear felt soles. Snow builds up on the bottom of your boot into a big ball. Wear the rubber soles to avoid this.
A great option for non-felt wading boots is Patagonia’s Tractor Boots featuring aluminum bars on the soles for traction on rocks and in muck. I wear these boots on the Garden River, they are fantastic.
My next layer on the bottoms depends on temperature. If it’s below freezing I wear Patagonia’s Nano Puff pants or the Patagonia Snap T Fleece pants ,a very warm option as well. If it’s warmer I’ll wear just an average pair of wool or capilene pants. On the upper half of my body, after the baselayer, I move to all wool, usually a medium weight wool zip front crew, followed by a wool hoody and finally a Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody. If it’s really cold I have a light weight wool hoody that I’ll add into the layers.
Wool and down are natures greatest insulators. Wool will keep you warm even when wet. The latest and greatest wool is Merino wool. It isn’t itchy when next to your skin, it’s very soft and comfortable. I buy almost anything that I need in wool if available.
One of Jon Ray’s new favorite items for those extremely cold days is the New Extreme Core Tops by Simms , the built in Ergonomic hood and integrated neck gaiter really keeps your upper body warm in the coldest of days. I do not recommend this item if your going to do alot of winter walking though. It’s too warm of an item, great for long days in the boat only. But if your breaking trail you will over heat.
The exterior layer has to protect me from two things, wind and rain/snow. There are a variety of bib/jacket combos that Hawkins Guides have tried through the years. Orvis, Simms and Patagonia all make a variety of insulated outfits that work. Personally, for the last five years I’ve been wearing Gill sailing bibs and my Simms heavier rain coat. I look at the exterior layer for wind rain protection not insulation, I’ve covered that underneath.
If you are wade fishing your waders and a good quality rain jacket will protect you from the elements.
Either way black clothing is best in a cold weather situation. It absorbs more heat and is less visible to fish than bright clothes.
On my head I wear a wool or synthetic beanie type hat on top of a normal billed hat so that my eyes have sun shield and my ears and head are kept warm. Then I can pull the aforementioned hoodys up over the beanie for additional warmth.
A Buff or some type of warm gator around your neck between your shirt and chin is very comfortable when its’ cold. It should be capable of being pulled up over you nose, nice when the wind blows!
Finally, and the most difficult for me, is hands. Years ago, guiding an elk hunter I got very close to frost bite on
my hands. Since then they are more difficult to keep warm and pain free. I’ve tried every glove and glove combination I’ve seen for years and have come to the following solution. I were the best quality fingerless gloves I
can find, currently Simms Wool Gloves are my personal choice. Inside that glove I have a heater pack in each hand. In addition I have another heater pack in each coat pocket that I can hold in my hand when possible. Also a heater pack in your boots is a warm, comfortable thing on colder days.
I also carry a small towel to dry my hands that get wet from handling the line while fishing.
Side note, the fingerless gloves with the pocket flap are not good. You will lose fish when line warps around that flap. Finally a pair of thick mittens, I use ice fishing ones, can be put on when we are running from spot to spot to take the edge off when not fishing. The mittens are also good to have when wading. You can put them on during a break to help warm your hands.
Steelhead are a fantastic gamefish, beautiful, strong and a prize worth pursuing. You’ll enjoy the pursuit more if you are comfortable in a steelhead’s favorite weather, cold, wet, and miserable. With today’s modern materials there is no reason to be cold. Be prepared, you’ll be happy you are!
Capt Chuck Hawkins
Introduction and Where
Hawkins Outfitters is excited to introduce a new option to pursue steelhead in the Southwest portion of Michigan. This is a great choice for those folks traveling from Chicago, Grand Rapids, or Detroit that need a quick chrome fix! Hawkins Outfitters now has the capability to fish several of the southwestern tributaries of Lake Michigan for steelhead. These fisheries get astonishing numbers of returning steelhead and the season can extend well into December. Ambient air and water temperatures will remain a few degrees warmer in these tributaries compared to our northern tribs. Additionally, these rivers are under 3 hours from Detroit, Chicago and approximately an hour from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.
Much like the rest of our west side Michigan tributaries, the fall steelhead runs begin in early October and peak from mid October through December. Mid winter fishing opportunities still exist, however we are more selective on when we decide to go and target our efforts around the most productive times of the day.
Spring fishing picks back up in March and can extend as late as early May. Additionally, these tributaries have impressive numbers of summer run steelhead that enter the systems starting as early as July and are present through September.
These fish can only be targeted from a boat. These rivers are large and deep therefore, wading can be treacherous. In the boat, we are able to cover water, remain comfortable in adverse conditions and locate the next chrome bullet!
Steelhead are aggressive in the fall and take stripped and swung flies exceptionally well. I can think of fewer things more exciting than
fishing a beautiful stretch of a quiet Michigan river, swinging a fly with a tight line, only to have your line come tight with an angry steelhead at the other end.
The most common way to target these fish would be to utilize two-handed rods, typically 13-14 foot rods in 8 to 9 weight. We load them with either with either floating or intermediate Scientific Anglers Freightliner skagit lines, in 480-560 grains depending on conditions. Our flies vary from small and natural to fairly large and quite flashy, again. Our fly choice depends on water and weather conditions. Here are two links for tried and true Hawkins Outfitters swing flies. The first is a more natural sculpin pattern, despite its purple color scheme.
The second fly pattern, named “The Perch” has proven itself over the years to be a top producer for the Hawkins Team. It can also be used as a template for other swung flies. Vary the color and flash combos and dial in your new swing fly creation. (video below)
Another method we utilize is stripping streamers in the fall and spring. Typically, we use 9 foot 8-9 weight rods loaded with Scientific Anglers Sonar Sink 30 in 200-350 grains. Much like streamer fishing for trout, we target structure and tempt the steelhead to attack! It is much more visual, especially when you see silver roll and eat right at the boat.
While these rivers are ideal for swinging and stripping flies, indicator fishing also produces great results. We fish the same way we fish our northern rivers.
Whether you are a seasoned Spey angler, indicator angler or a streamer junkie, these river systems have something to offer for all skill levels.
Hawkins Outfitters is very excited and happy to provide a new experience to our customers. We still have a few openings in the next few weeks during prime time steelhead season if you’d like to try this new opportunity! Contact us via the web or give Cherie a call 231-228-7135.
Spring Steelhead in Michigan
Spring steelhead fishing in Michigan is a different animal from fall steelhead fishing. The difference is due to several factors, water temperature, the urge to spawn, and available food supplies.
Steelhead begin moving into our rivers in fall. Their motivation is available food and the urge to spawn. The salmon spawn puts millions of eggs in the river that the steelhead feast on. During the salmon spawn it’s almost difficult to catch steelhead on anything but egg imitations. The steelhead spawn doesn’t occur until spring. No one knows for sure why steelhead that ascend the river to eat steelhead eggs in August and September and then stay after the eggs are gone. Sometimes they don’t! Coming early and staying is likely due to some of our original steelhead planted had to travel great distances to spawn so they started early. That urge may have remained in our Little Manistee River strain of steelhead.
Water temperature plays a big role in determining where to look for spring fish. The smaller rivers like the Pere Marquette River warm faster than the Big Manistee River. The earlier warm up has the fish moving up river to different runs, closer to spawning gravel. Spring Steelhead are motivated by Mother Nature , the spawn is the primary trigger for them to migrate the river. When fish are moving up river towards spawning gravel how do you change your tactics? Fish pinch points, funnels, and heads of pools versus the tailouts. We definitely find more fish in the spring at the head of runs, most of these spots are deeper and slower and you find fish there moving up river toward the spawning grounds. This is likely to occur in a normal year (who knows what that is anymore??) in February. On bigger waters with dams this movement generally takes place in very early March. Read more
Tying Flies with Beads Alaskan Trout and Steelhead anglers have known about fishing with beads for years. Bead fishing is an effective way to imitate fish eggs. Fishing with beads has really exploded here in the midwest over the past few years especially when targeting fall steelhead . While most anglers use beads by themselves […]
Manistee River steelhead fishing is some of the best steelhead fly fishing in the Great Lakes, maybe even the lower 48 states. Anglers from all over the country travel to Michigan for Manistee River steelhead fishing. The Manistee and other northwest lower Michigan rivers have steelhead in them from late September to well into May.
Orvis Underwader Pant Review
Orvis has recently produced an upgraded version of their Underwader Pants and I must say it is a significant upgrade! Boasting a dark charcoal color and chartreuse stitching these pants offer a comfortable contoured fit. The pants are very warm and will keep your pant legs from crawling up your legs as they easily slip into your waders. I also find the Underwader Pant great for lounging after a long day on the water or afield yet stylish enough to run my errands or grab a bite to eat on the way home. Other features include two deep front pockets, zippered rear pocket, elastic waistband, and a drawstring to fine-tune your fit. Hands down my favorite under wader pant on the rack, TWO THUMBS UP!
- Couple New Manistee River Fishing reports have been posted the past couple days. Jon Ray and Ed McCoy have been out chasing winter steelhead. The Manistee River is fishing well, with a good mixture of chrome hens and winter double stripped bucks.
- New February Newsletter – new fly pattern for matching the salmon parr hatch this is about to occur. This little guy matches the hatch, you don’t need to always throw big to catch nice trout.