For some reason, everyone in my house was awake at 6:30 am Wednesday morning. That may sound normal for a house with working parents and school-age kids, but it’s certainly not the norm here. The combination of flexible job hours, a night owl for a wife and kids who really like their Zzz’s keeps us all snoozing closer to 7:30-8:00 am on a normal day. Actually, who am I kidding… it’s a rare sight to see me awake at such a time, unless it involves fishing.
I’ve been itching to break out the 3 weight on my local stream this year, but early spring steelhead makes it too risky until they drop back out to the lake. With everyone awake early, the sun shining through the bedroom blinds and birds chirping, it seemed like a good morning to sneak out for a couple hours before work.
I love small streams and all the perks and challenges that come with them: solitude, stalking wary fish, light gear and technical casting. Sure, fish size generally correlates to stream size, but when you’re casting a 2-3 weight rod with 6-8x tippet on a small stream, an 8 inch trout can be just as exciting (or more so) than a 12 inch trout on a larger river.
A wider-than-average stretch of the stream I fished Wednesday morning
I feel like a broken record when I mention my avoidance of steelhead over the years, but in case you missed my previous rants, it all comes down to crowds – I don’t like them. This spring though, I finally decided to put forth a bit of effort and track down some nearby steelhead water with little fishing pressure.
Unlike many excellent steelhead rivers in other regions that are open year round, we’re limited to fishing only the lower stretches of rivers that drain into the Great Lakes for the bulk of the year. The remaining middle and upper sections of rivers are open for steelhead only during regular trout season. This means that fishing between October to April has you sharing limited sections of open water with everyone else, while fishing the upper sections of water in the few weeks of open trout season when steelhead are still in the rivers brings massive crowds. Thankfully, this year’s colder temps and excessive precipitation seemed to have dragged out steelhead season longer than normal, providing more time and options to target them in the rivers.
So, a few days after opener, I hit a nearby tributary that I heard held decent numbers of fish. It’s a pretty quiet spot, surprisingly unusual to find other anglers around. The river is tight in this section, with lots of debris making it difficult to fight and land fish without having them run under a fallen tree or log jam and snap you off. My timing was right, with a good amount of rain falling in the days prior and water levels still high. Water clarity was also quite good here, making sight fishing a solid possibility. After a bit of scouting, I stumbled onto a pool with a number of active fish that seemed to be feeding.
A number of active steelhead could be seen feeding in this pool
I really wasn’t expecting to see this and likewise didn’t arrive with much of a game plan. In fact, I hadn’t prepared a single steelhead fly – no egg patterns, no bright headed buggers or anything other special. I had a bunch of size 12 hares ears, some white and black woolly buggers and a few other large streamers that I used for resident trout.