Tail-Dancing Steelhead Put on a Show


Grey, wispy clouds to the east covered the stars and gave way to partly cloudy skies in the west, half covering the sliver of moon occasionally peaking in and out. My favorite time of the year is here, and this morning looks to be a dandy. I unhooked the last line and pushed the Grand Illusion 3 away from the dock as Capt. Trevor slid her into gear and headed toward the lighthouse. “Let’s head a little south and set on our lines from yesterday; those steelhead should still be close by,” I suggested to Trevor as I grabbed my coffee for the ride out. 

By this time of year, shallow-water brown trout fishing has usually slowed as the browns seem to slide deeper and are not as active. Sometimes early in the month, the kings are just getting started, but if you venture deeper in the lake, you can find temperature breaks forming on the surface. On those breaks, you can find feisty steelhead actively feeding on early season hatches of bugs and small young-of-the-year alewives that are found in schools near the surface. These silver torpedoes are cruising and darting high in the water column, and they are putting the feed bag on! 



I set my deep diver with a flasher and fly setup. Next was the high Slide Diver with a blinking B & E spoon. This is my go-to spoon for steelies; the blinking LED light is a magnet for the fast-cruising, sight-feeding steelhead. 

I just set that Ugly Stik in the rod holder when Trevor shouted, “Fish on! Grab your diver.” That didn’t take long. my Ugly Stik was pounding towards the water and the drag was screaming. “Who’s up?” I shouted as I handed the pole off to my customer. “I’ll keep setting lines Trev, you take the fish,” I instructed. Trevor cleared the back, and as he reached for the net, he yelled out, “Another fish! Who’s up”. And he grabbed the pounding rod, working the front end of my Blinky spoon. “Here it goes again! That one was hot yesterday!” he added. Minutes later, he slid the net under a feisty 17-pound king salmon, flopped it on the deck, and then turned to scoop a nice lake trout to complete the double. 

After very mild winter temperatures in the Lake Michigan region, we are seeing water temperatures a bit warmer than usual to start the fishing season. This should lead to an earlier-than-normal start to both kings and steelhead. While the thrill of the long, hard runs of a king salmon slamming your line is hard to beat, calm, bright, sunny days often bring a thrill like no other when feisty steelhead smack a shallow-running, brightly flashing spoon and soar skyward, leading to long, aerobatic battles. 


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“Furiously fast” is the trademark of spring fishing. Early mornings often deliver a mixed bag of salmon and trout. Once the lake turns over in spring (warm water rises to the surface and cooler water sinks to the bottom), thermoclines start to set up. The sun warms the surface water on calm days and further helps to set more distinct temperature breaks. The warm water side of the breaks will attract and hold more baitfish, and that attracts hungry king salmon and steelhead. They’re perfect ambush sites to target. Following these breaks from day to day helps you to stay on the fish.

Steelhead were on our minds this morning, and it wasn’t long before we ran into some. The sun had popped above the horizon sometime during that last little flurry of activity, and the clear skies made for dark shadows cast on the deck, mimicking our every movement. “Fish on! Five-color, look at him jump!” Trevor shouted. It was on. The first steelhead of the day was dancing at the end of our far line and the anglers were in awe and counting the jumps—six, seven, eight—and cheering in total awe of the dancing acrobatics. Minutes later, Trevor stabbed the net under the sleek steelie.

Steelhead are mostly sight feeders. These fast-swimming torpedoes can cover a lot of water in no time and are consistently attracted by the flash of the lure. I like to target them in the top 25 feet of the water column. This is where they spend the majority of their feeding time, targeting younger alewives that tend to feed near the surface. Also, as older alewives weaken, they make their way up in the water column and become a sizeable meal for steelhead. Steelies also like to surface feed on bugs that accumulate on temperature breaks that we call slick lines or scum lines. Targeting these areas by weaving back and forth along these lines is a very productive and visible way to fish steelies.

Spoons are undoubtedly the number one go to bait to catch steelhead. I have found that lures that have orange, yellow or red are most effective. Just as effective as the silver flash is spoons with blinking LED lights in their eyes. Anything that attracts the fish’s attention and triggers a strike is good. I tend to drag the lighter, shinier baits on sunny days and darker, more colorful baits on overcast or darker days. Also, because these powerful fish are such fast swimmers, pulling more spoons, which are very speed forgiving, picking up your speed and covering more water will increase your catch. 


June is a great time to target steelhead as the surface water warms up for the colder winter months. As a bonus, we tend to see coho salmon making their way up the shoreline as the water warms, which makes for a great mixed bag in the cooler. So, turn up the speed, drag some orange and red spoons, and get ready to experience some tail-dancing, acrobatic leaping steelhead action and fill your cooler with some of the tastiest grilling fare you will catch this summer!

For more information or current fishing reports, visit my website at FishAlgoma.com, follow Haasch Guide Service on Facebook or call me at 920-255-0604.