As the temperatures dip below freezing and the snow begins to fly around the Great Lakes region some fisherman put their fishing equipment away, however some fisherman are just getting geared up to brave the cold and take on the rivers of the great lakes in pursuit of steelhead. Fishing in the winter on the Great Lakes can be brutal to say the least, but it also can be very rewarding. Often fishing in the winter means smaller crowds, bigger fish, and more fish. So what do you need to know to go fishing in the winter and what is the most productive way to fish in the winter months. You only need to know two words warmth and slow.
First, lets talk about warmth and how to stay warm when fishing when the temperature drops below freezing. A must have is 5 mm neoprene waders boot foot preferably these boots are heavier than the Gore-Tex and Fly-Weights, but when you are standing in water with ice floating on it you will be glad to have them. Next, you have to learn how to layer clothing and what types of clothing to layer.
Insulated Underwear – Spend the extra bucks for the good pair. This is probably the most important layer you’ll have on.
Fleece Wading Pants – There are many different kinds of fleece wading pants but find a pair that feels thick and have straps at the cuffs to keep them from rolling up.
Socks – I have found that there isn’t any better sock than wool. Always put a base layer sock on first under your wading pants then pull the wool sock over the bottom of your fleece pants.
Turtle Neck – A thick cotton turtleneck or wool turtleneck sweater can’t be beat as your middle layer.
Fleece Coat – Get yourself a really good fleece coat or jacket, one with waterproof arms is really nice it will help you completely dry.
Wading Jacket – Find a wadding jacket that is 100% waterproof preferably Gore-Tex, some wadding jackets have neoprene cuffs to keep water out.
Gloves – A good set of fingerless gloves with a mitten cover are great, they will allow you to tie your hooks and then cover your fingers when needed.
Head – Cover your head with something warm, most of the heat lost from your body is from your head. A Mad Bomber hat is a great addition; they may look a little funny but ask anyone who spends time in the cold how they feel. Or just a good fleece toboggan will work.
All right you’re dressed for the conditions, but how do you go about catching a Steelhead when the water is freezing cold and fish don’t want to move to bit. The technique is rather simple you need to slow your bait presentation way down if you are fly-fishing. The best way to do this is by adding more weight to your line and then dragging the bottom, which will slow your bait slower than the current. This presentation works best when the fish are extremely lethargic and not wanting to move too much. You need to cast your fly upstream then mend your line toward the fly to keep it moving slowly along the bottom. You will get snagged a lot but you will catch fish. Flies that seem to work the best when fishing cold weather are egg patterns, egg sucking leeches, sucker spawn, and nymphs.
Now the most important part of steelhead fishing in the winter is how to find them in the stream. You will want to be fishing the deepest slowest section of the river you are fishing. Fish tend to go to the deepest and slowest sections of a creek and pool up together during the winter months. Often if you find one fish there is a lot more there with it. Fish often hit very lightly in the winter so be mindful of your line and feel for the lightest of bites.
In conclusion, winter steelheading is great time, but you need to take some precautions to hit the stream in the cold of winter. Be extremely careful when fishing in the winter there is often ice on the banks and you can take a nasty spill. Also be careful when wading a fall in ice cold water can be deadly, if you do fall in get to your car and get dry quickly. Also ice build up on the guides of your rod can be a real pain, I have found that by either using lip balm, Vaseline, or even WD-40 can help keep the ice off. So instead of putting your fishing equipment away this winter keep your gear out and give winter steelheading a try. Just stay warm, safe, and most importantly have fun