Spring Steelhead Fishing on the St. Joseph River


Don’t let the late-winter blues keep you indoors this upcoming spring. It’s time to catch steelhead and brown trout in a heated and enclosed riverboat on the St. Joseph River. Here is the lowdown on spring steelhead fishing on the St. Joseph River.

Much of the fishing on the river slows down in January due to the extreme cold and abundance of ice. This can make for tough fishing. Many times, the Berrien Springs dam area is the only open water available.

By mid-February, however, most of the river is open from the Berrien Springs dam down to Lake Michigan. There’s more river to fish, increasing the odds of having a good day!

During the month of February, you typically want to fish the deeper runs: eight to twelve feet of water on average. At this time, steelhead will usually hold around logjams and wherever there might be a current break. Slower current areas are usually the best. Always position your boat well above the logjam and work spawn and lures thru it.

The two most popular methods on the St. Joe River are anchoring and working spawn and lures thru the run, or slipping with crankbaits such as Flatfish, Hot ‘N Tots or Wiggle Warts. Slipping is basically a controlled drift working plugs through a run, very slowly.

As March comes around, we start to see melt and runoff from the winter snows, which is actually good, due to the increase in current and warmer water temperatures. These bring in the fresh run of steelhead and brown trout from Lake Michigan. During the month of March, you basically fish the same way as February, with the exception of, if the water becomes stained from the melted snow runoff, I fish more spawn than lures.

If the river becomes higher, as it usually does at this time of year, the current will become faster in traditional spots. Don’t be afraid to try different spots where you can find slower current. These fish will be in spots where they don’t have to work against hard currents, such as along logjams, behind rocks and on the back sides of gravel bars.

This is also the time of year when steelhead will spawn. Spawning areas will consist of fast-moving current areas with a rocky bottom and is usually in shallower water—about three to six feet. This spawning time frame usually starts around mid-March. Combination spawn and lures are good at this time. My preferred lure colors being gold, orange and gold, and chrome and red.

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As far as tackle, I use 8- to 9-foot, light-action spinning and baitcast rods. I use 10-pound-test line when fishing spawn and 20-pound on my plug rods. When fishing spawn, I use a three way with a slipping dropper sinker with about an ounce sinker for set lines, and about a 1/2-ounce sinker for back drifting rods. I use a size 2 egg hook for the spawn with an egg loop. My lure preference is Flatfish in the slower current areas, and Hot ‘N Tots in the faster current areas, with straight gold or some combination of gold.

There is some productive shore fishing on the St. Joseph River, with the two best spots being located at the Berrien Springs dam and the Sportsman’s Club, which does have private membership. Both are usually very crowded during prime time.

There are several boat ramps on the St. Joseph River between Berrien Springs and Lake Michigan. In Berrien Springs, there is Shamrock Park near the Berrien Springs dam; midriver, there is a DNR boat ramp off Jasper Dairy Road which is off US 31; and at the lower river, there’s a boat ramp near where US 31 and I-94 cross at Exit 28.

I’ve been guiding on the St. Joseph River for 30-plus years now and have met an array of great people. I hope you will come experience our beautiful river, whether you choose to experience it with me or on your own. Just remember, you can be very comfortable during cold days in my 24-foot, heated and enclosed Carolina Skiff River boat. I wish you well with all your fishing endeavors and hope my information will make your trip even more enjoyable. Hope to see you on our magnificent St. Joseph River!



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