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Michigan Winter Steelhead Fishing

Winter is a great time to target steelhead in Michigan! These active fighters leap, make blazing fast runs, and will strike savagely even in cold water. After their fall feast on Salmon roe, steelhead remain in the rivers providing outstanding opportunities. Winter steelhead trips are a terrific way to enjoy the beauty and serenity of the river in winter.

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About Michigan Steelhead Fishing

Winter steelhead are a slightly different beast than fall or spring steelhead. They tend to hold in deeper, slower holding water, where less energy is expended. Techniques to fish for winter steelhead vary:

For gear anglers, the use of cured salmon or steelhead spawn is a fantastic choice. The spawn is tied into mesh spawn bags of different sizes and colors. Some spawn bags are tied so that they are neutrally buoyant, through the use of small Styrofoam balls, while others are meant to sink. Depending on the exact technique - back bouncing, rolling spawn along the bottom or under a float, the technique dictates the type of spawn bag used. Gear anglers can also use inline spinners to great success, for absolutely vicious strikes. Spinners can be effective with slightly warming water, during a winter thaw, when the fish are a bit more active than they might otherwise be in the true wintry weather. Beads are another absolutely deadly way to target steelhead in the winter. Every day is different, and the exact bead size and color can vary day to day. It's hard to say exactly what it is about these plastic beads that steelhead like so well, but there's no doubt that they love them, and eat them aggressively.

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For fly anglers, beads are still in play, and is a top choice for our guides. Bead fishing has some tricks that can make them even more effective, but generally speaking, beads are a simple and effective technique. Also, during the winter, fly anglers use stone fly nymphs to tempt steelhead holding near gravel. Stoneflies are a natural in the rivers, and it has been proven that steelhead do eat these during their long winters, making this a great option. Also, for fly anglers, there is the option to use 2 handed rods for either spey or switch rod techniques, plying the waters through the use of a cross-current drift. Flies for this are often beautifully colored, and can yield heart-stopping strikes.

Winter steelhead trips can be done from our regular boats - either jet sleds or drift boats. Both are effective in the rivers, and season doesn't make much difference.

As with all outdoor activities in winter, proper layering and clothing is essential. Jeans are not recommended, as they tend to not hold heat well, or breathe appropriately. Thermal underwear is almost a must, with some sort of insulated layering overtop. Hats and gloves are also highly recommended as extremities are crucial to having a fun time out on the water in winter. We have propane heaters in the boats, but once chilled, it is difficult to regain enough heat to stay warm and comfortable. It's better to look like the Michelin Man and stay warm than to be lax on layering and be cold.

Most winter trips will be run on the Big Manistee River, but the Betsie and the Platte are also great choices if there is open water. The Boardman River in Traverse City can also be an option early in the season, and late in the winter, as things begin to thaw. Overall, the Manistee has the largest flow, and the best opportunities for winter steelhead fishing.

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winter steelhead fishing Michigan