The far-reaching effects of Hurricane Sandy have slowed fishing action around Michigan. While low pressure and weather changes normally turn fish on, heavy winds rendered most waters turbid and murky. Most action this week was found on rivers or smaller inland lakes. A few days of quiet weather will help clear up water conditions, and angler luck should improve once the waters settle.
Remember that even when weather is cold, rainy and grey, many species of gamefish go on a feeding spree as winter approaches. This last-ditch feeding effort can make for an excellent day on the water in terms of fish hooked and landed. Perch, walleye, whitefish, pike, bass and steelhead all “turn on” when the cold weather of November sets in, and this can provide non-stop action if you figure out where and what they are hitting.
SOUTHEAST LOWER PENINSULA
Lake Erie: Strong winds and heavy waves kept many anglers off the lake.
Huron River: Steelhead are being caught downstream of Flat Rock towards Labo Park. As higher water conditions persist, steelhead will disperse through the river system, some making it most of the way to Belleville Dam. Some of these fish will winter over in preparation for the spring spawn. Crappie were caught near the Belleville Dam.
Detroit River: Perch are being caught near Sugar Island. Smallmouth bass were caught in the Trenton Channel, Livingston Channel and the cross-dike near Sugar Island. Walleye were caught by those trolling crawlers and minnow type baits.
Lake St. Clair: Those fishing inside the Metro Park reported limit catches of bluegill from Black Creek. Yellow perch were caught off the 400 Club. Smallmouth bass and northern pike offer the opportunity for serious action on big streamers and sinktips. Don’t be surprised if a muskie shows up to see what’s struggling at the end of your line.
Lexington: Those casting spoons, rapalas or spawn caught the occasional brown trout, steelhead or Chinook salmon. There are areas in the harbor that are conducive to flyfishing, with large streamer patterns most successful. Indicator rigs with eggs or nymphs may offer a static presentation, i.e. not enough attraction in the relatively still harbor conditions, but may be worth a try if nothing else is working. Pike and perch are being caught on minnows.
Harbor Beach: When the wind and wave action permitted, walleye were caught off the north wall by those casting at night.
Saginaw River: Perch anglers were fishing the lower river. Heavy rains and river flows may have brought in this season’s first run of sewer bass.
Weekly Fishing Tip: Why steelhead love spawn
Steelhead are a migratory strain of rainbow trout have been stocked in the Great Lakes since the late 1880s. These salmonids are a popular target of anglers for several reasons. Steelhead routinely grow to 10 lbs or more, migrate up rivers that don’t have resident trout populations and they strike and fight hard when hooked. Considered to be one of Michigan’s premier game fish, steelhead are challenging to catch on conventional tackle or flyfishing gear, although not particularly difficult to pattern once you know their haunts.
A popular method of fishing for steelhead involves using spawn bags for bait, as spawn is a naturally occuring food for steelhead. The reason for this is simple – steelhead are opportunistic feeders that consume most edible stuff found in rivers, including baitfish, aquatic insects and eggs from spawning fish, including salmon, trout, etc. The loose eggs from other fish species (salmon, brown trout, suckers or other steelhead) can be bundled into brightly-colored mesh material, with the material either tied or melted to form a small spawn bag. These bags are put on a hook and cast or drifted through runs and holes in rivers, streams or below dams where steelhead have congregated.
Using a spawn bag while flyfishing can be difficult, as the repeated casting motion can cause the bag to rip open, spilling the eggs. Some flyfishers run spawn bags on their chuck-n-duck running line rig, as the added weight and simple casting motion is easier on mesh. I’ve fished from mouth to waterfalls on certain OH tributaries with flies, then switched to spawn for the downstream trip. Did the flies work as well as spawn? Almost.
The sheer number and variety of egg patterns available for sale is almost enough to keep you from fishing spawn. These flies are simple to tie, low in cost (yarn and estaz come in every color of the rainbow), and easy to load a box with. Modern yarn, fly foam and synthetics glisten, shimmer and get translucent in the water, just like real spawn does. The main element lacking in egg flies is scent, which yarn is well-equipped to hold. Guides I’ve fished with on Michigan rivers have used Smelly Jelly and other horrid concoctions that work well, as long as you can keep it on the flies and off your hands. A cork grip impregnated with that goop will remind you of fishing trips past every time it gets wet. Rumors abound that even WD-40 (yes, that WD-40) has been used as a fish attractant when sprayed on flies. It’s supposed to contain anise oil or some synthetic compound that smells like anise, and that’s been shown to be a steelhead attractant. Whether fish are drawn to it or it simply covers up human scent hasn’t been proven scientifically, but if it works, you can’t help but wonder if it’s worth a shot.
Having spawn bags in your vest or boat is a great way to even the odds when the scales are tipped in favor of the fish. Steelhead can be stubborn, lethargic or just too pressured to strike flies. Those are the days when dunking a spawn bag under a bobber (gasp) may put a bend in your rod and a shot of adrenaline into your bloodstream. Let the purists complain that spawn is bait. Chances are you’ll be too busy fighting a fish to get drawn into the argument. Tight lines!