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Steelhead On The March

It seems like spring is starting to take effect here in West Michigan. River temps are slowly on the rise, insects are starting to be seen along the river banks, and some salmon fry hatching from the gravel and congregating in the shallow slack areas in the river. Recent outings to the river have shown lots of steelhead activity.  

There has been some fish up and on the gravel and a few have been digging in the gravel creating redds. A redd is an area of fine gravel that is “cleaner” than the gravel around it. These fish lay their eggs in a polished depression in the gravel. These areas should try to be avoided and not stepped on or walked over due to steelhead spawning on them. The fish on these redds should be left alone to spawn.

Most of our fish encounters have been with dark “holdover” or winter fish. These holdovers have been in the system all winter long waiting for warmer water temps to spawn. The vast majority of these winter fish have been males or “bucks”. 

With recent rains and snow melt over the past week, we have seen a great bump in water levels which has brought some new fish into the system. Most of these new fish have been females or “hens”. Remember these females are import to our future steelhead and should be released to finish their journey and complete a spawning cycle. With the few chrome fish showing up and vast majority of fish being darker steelhead we believe more are still coming. 

With rising water temperatures food is starting become more as well as a variety of food. Lots of small black stone flies have been seem all around the river both on the bottom of the river and flying around the banks. Even though they are small, steelhead will still key in on these bugs as an alternative food source to eggs. Generally in size 10-16 and almost are all black in colors. 

Salmon fry have been seen in the shallower, softer edges of the river but not in huge numbers yet. These fry are typically only a few inches long and have small barring down their sides with a small egg yolk on their undersides. Sense these fry are so small in size we tie them on a size 10-12 hook and are usually dead drifting them under an indicator. These small fry don’t have enough power to fight current so are an easy meal for fish. 

Egg imitations have been the primary imitation whether fishing egg flies or beads. Most sizes have been producing in more Orange and Peach colors. With spring time water clarity always varying, just pay attention to the conditions. In dirtier water with more stain fish larger sizes, in clearer water fish smaller sizes. 

With fishing being a wide verity of spots we have been fishing some different techniques. As always indicator fishing or bobber fishing is most effective. Lately a 6 gram float with according split shot has been most common for us. We can use this float set up in deeper winter runs for our “holdover” fish or run it very shallow to fish fast shallow pocket water. On the terminal end of these indicator rigs we have been running eggs, nymphs, or salmon fry.

Swinging flies has still produced some fish. We have still been using our winter lines which are typically and intermediate head and T-14 or T-17 with a weighted fly. Sunny days more natural flies in black or olive with less UV materials have found some fish. Darker days we have fished more “loud or attractive colors with more UV materials to them. 

Remember that this is a busy time of year in West Michigan. Lots of people flock to the rivers to escape cabin fever. We are all here for the same reason and that’s to enjoy what the river has to offer and be patient with people fishing the busier times of the week. As always please try and practice catch and release as this is an important time of year for our fish to complete another spawning cycle and to avoid fishing to actively spawning fish. 

Fishing will only get better as March rolls on and into April, so contact us today to get on our calendar.

Capt. Max Werkman

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