Chasing Springtime Steelhead

It was a fairly dark night, but the grey skies were slowly letting some yellow and orange hues peer through the parting cloud cover. As we slipped our waders on, Tyler explained the game plan. We would hike down the trail about 300 yards and slowly and quietly sneak up to the bank about daybreak, and work both sides of the bend in the stream. It was a fairly deep hole and had been holding steelhead as a good lay-over spot on their journey upstream during their spawning run. Water levels have finally receded to a good fishable level, and I got very excited when I got Tyler’s call last evening. His partner Tim Maher was joining us upstream, chasing springtime steelhead.

Capt. Tyler Yunk, co-owner at Habitual Guide Service, takes clients up streams full of streaking steelhead and busting with trophy brown trout. With higher-than-normal water levels the previous fall, rivers had filled with fish, providing an excellent fall fishery and exceptional winter ice fishing for these trout. But in spring, as ice leaves the river, the large amount of wintering fish will be joined by even more strains of steelhead entering the tributaries to fulfill their spawning ritual.

As we neared the S-shaped bends in the stream, Tyler motioned me to take the upstream portion, while he took the lower side. The stream had, over time, eroded a fairly deep hole alongside the far bank as the current worked its way back and forth as it wound through the wooded terrain.

“Remember to cast upstream, lay the float along the far side of the current break and let it track right into the hole,” Tyler instructed. “Your first cast is the best, so make it a good one,” he added with a big grin. He adjusted my float to about 3 feet in depth and I laid it right over the swift current to the far edge. As the float neared the hole, it disappeared, and all hell broke loose as the water exploded. I reared back on the 9-foot custom rod, and a giant steelhead shot out of the water and shook its head, attempting to throw the hook and spawn sac back at me. I kept pressure on him and downstream he headed; as if being towed, I followed. “Fish on!” I yelled.

Mindful of snags, I attempted to steer the powerful steelhead away from the branches; not an easy task, but luck was on my side. Waiting downstream was Tim Maher, Tyler’s partner, who joined us this morning. Tim skillfully slid the net under the beautiful buck steelhead. Carefully, we positioned for a couple pictures, before I slid the colorful male back into the stream to continue its journey and complete its spawning run. A couple of “high-fives,” and a few minutes to check the leader for nicks and to rebait, and we headed back to our spots for another drift.

Not to be outdone, it was Tyler’s turn next and he wasted no time tying into a big female. It was fun watching someone with so much experience masterfully handle that large fish with his center-pin reel. Much like a fly reel, it looks similar—only larger.

Like these young guys, I grew up fishing the streams, spring and fall, but that was a long time ago. Like riding a bike, it comes back—just the skills are a little rusty. Tyler reared back on the large female and kept her away from snags as he tired her out, and after an epic battle, Tim slid her into his net. Tyler showed me the hook-up, “See how she hit the slider hook?” he exclaimed. “This bright orange bead on top of a small red hook, sliding above the weights. Sometimes they miss the spawn sac and see this single bead, think it’s a loose egg and grab it.” Another dandy steelhead, photographed, revived and released.

Tim wasted very little time getting back to his spot and hooked up immediately. While he fought this one further downstream, I returned to my spot and laid into another dandy. Tim soloed this one into his net, while I battled my tail dancer, taking me right into a downed tree branch. This one didn’t end so well. I managed about a ten-minute battle before feeling my bent pole go limp from the broken line. The powerful fish, the current, the light tackle—trying to manage all the aspects is not as easy as it seems. But the fight, well, spectacular just doesn’t quite say it all. Now I had to re-tie and start again. Attention to details is the key to success here.

Tim and Tyler spend countless hours between trips doing just that, paying attention to details. There just are too many little things that can go wrong, so putting all the odds in your favor helps. It starts with their Lamiglass rods, custom tied by Mags Custom Rods, and center-pin reels. The rods, built to their specifications, are very sensitive, yet very strong. They handle the biggest fish battling in the current, yet you can feel your weights ticking the bottom as the current rolls it downstream. Carefully tying the leaders with 10-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon, keeping the exact placement of weights above the hook, is important to fool these steelies; adding the upper single hook and Derk’s bead adds to bonus strikes. Raven floats help keep your bait the right distance under the water and give a good visual for strikes.

Tyler and Tim gather fresh spawn and cure it themselves to ensure the best and freshest bait. Soaking fresh, hand-tied spawn sacs on rigs with brightly colored beads, drifted along bank cuts and deep-water pools, attracts vicious strikes from powerful steelhead.

Tributaries like the Ahnapee River in Algoma wind many miles inland, and several feeder streams run into it, offering the stream angler miles and miles of productive fishing area. “We’ve seen steelhead and brown trout holding in deep pools in every stretch on the systems this fall and winter,” noted Capt. Yunk. “After one of the best fall fishing years ever, and a fantastic winter season, we expect to see the best spring river fishery in decades!” If you are unsure of the area you are going to fish, try calling Tyler at 920-255-7865 or check out his website at habitualguide.com. Tyler and his partner Tim will be happy to help you out; they have fishing reports and can show you where and what to look for to make your stream experience successful.

 

Be Prepared

Springtime stream fishing can be a very rewarding experience. Anytime I can spend time one-on-one with nature I am more that OK with that. Finding and getting to secluded spots on the tributaries, however, can be a challenge for any angler. Sometimes a hike of up to a mile can be involved along a winding shoreline. With cool springtime weather, it is important to dress in layers, and often start your hike with minimal layers to avoid sweating and later getting chilled. I like to carry my extra layers in a backpack, which I can add back on when I arrive at my destination. Also, snacks and beverage are good to have along. Remember to research out landowners along your trail, ask permission to access the river, and make sure to not leave any refuse behind. Being a good sportsman ensures future access to your favorite spots!

 

 

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