Spring Steelhead

Spring Steelhead

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Spring Time in Michigan

Spring is surely here in Michigan!

I passed through Omer on Friday March 30th and the river banks were lined with the usual sucker fishing crowd. The campfires were roaring, the river was flowing (along with the beer), and the anticipation of dropping the sucker nets at midnight at 12:00am Sunday morning was in the air.
I remember as a kid spending a weekend each year in April sucker fishing with my family, it seemed to always be the first camping trip of the year. We would drop big bell sinkers with night crawlers on them into deep pools on the lower Rifle River, go for hikes in the woods, and end each day with a campfire. Occasionally my father would land a big pre-spawn 10 pound walleye that always broke his heart as walleye season didn't open for several weeks and the fish had to be released.
The only time we ever catch suckers now is if they take a fly or spawn bag when we are on the rivers spring steelhead fishing and the sucker run is on. Friday April 6th we were on the river and I was chucking and ducking an egg cluster pattern that came off my vise, and shortly after what looked to be a nice steelhead shook the hook, I again said "FISH ON!" Thinking it was another nice slab of Michigan Chrome, it turned out to be a White Sucker.
We hadn't paid much attention to what was going on in Omer as we cruised through that early morning since we were more focused on getting into some steelhead a bit further north. We left my place at 5:00am, were on the water at day break, and fished till night fall. I had spoke to a good friend several days before heading up and they had did well on a different river system with several steelhead to hand, but the trip he had planned was a day of sucker fishing with his son. I had read the Michigan DNR weekly fishing report as I do each week merely for amusement, and it stated "The sucker run in Omer is over." When we drove through heading home Friday night, it was a ghost town. No campfires, no sucker booms, nothing! The warm weather in March had brought the fish in, they spawned, and fell back. From what I've been hearing there are still some suckers lingering around the lower sections (as you can see photographed above), but the majority of the run was over before the nets could even hit the water.

Plenty of river guides and friends that fish the west coast of the mitten state are saying the only steelhead they are getting into are drop backs and that the run is over. I'm sure "fishermen" are still roping gravel over at Tippy and "catching" fish, but reliable sources have told me the spring run over there is really winding down.
The run is still going strong on the Au Sable with plenty of fish in the river! Fish deep pools behind the gravel, they're holding fish! We did see some fish on the gravel spawning but left them alone to do their thing. It seemed like the best part of the day was late morning to late afternoon when the sun was out. We had a pile of graphite spin rods as well as several fly rods on board with a huge assortment of different nymphs, egg patterns, and spawn tied in a variety of different color screen.
The fish that made the day was caught by my dear friend and cousin Corey a.k.a. Two Gun Pawlak.
Fishing a deep pole behind some gravel with a 10'6" graphite spin rod with 8 lb. main line and a 6 lb. leader, Corey was drifting a spawn bag and then I heard the words that bring smiles, "FISH ON!"
After quite the battle in a swift current, the fish wen in the net then in the boat! As Corey was taping the fish his hands were shaking, actually his entire body was! Mike gave him a little help with the tape and this enormous winter lay over clown buck taped at 33 inches and weighed 12 pounds. I would have to say, the most amusing part of that fish story was a river guide just pulled away from fishing that run, we pulled in and got the fish! Which likely was the largest steelhead caught on the Au Sable River that day.
What a great fish!!! This big boy is sitting in a freezer at our taxidermist's residence and will be added to Corey's collection of memorabilia harvested in the woods and on the water. The minimum entry weight for a Master Angler Award for a steelhead in the state of Michigan is 17 lbs. Though the minimum length is 34 inches. This fish was one inch short of a Master Angler Award! What a catch!!! Congratulations again my friend!!!

Several weeks prior:

Just a few weeks prior, Mike and I drove up and I knew by watching the USGS website the river would be high and dirty since it was running at roughly 2,800 cfs but we thought we would give it a shot regardless. It was quite a sight to see the river so high as we motored up stream searching for water with a little better clarity. We saw 2 other boats on the river that day, and not a single shore angler (probably because there was no shore)!
Mike and I only fished 4 pools/runs that day, but at the last pool (one of my favorites for winter steelheading and early spring when the fish are entering the river) Mike managed to land a magnificent fresh run hen along with a little skipper.

The water certainly has warmed on the lower river! When beaching the boat for rest breaks and a bit of wade fishing away from the crowds, Belle was enjoying doing a bit of wading as well!

The woodchucks are out of hibernation and we're out hiking the country side with sniper rifles!!!

Spring time and early summer present the opportunity to get out and hike miles and miles through a little over 6,000 acres we have access to shoot woodchucks on. I started shooting woodchucks as a kid with a .22 longe rifle, then eventually progressed to centerfires, then eventually to tricked out custom rifles. In several years back we videoed 5 hours of woodchcuk hunting!!! Woodchucks are very destructive and are no friend to any farmer. If you take some time to knock on a few doors and talk to some farmers, typically they will give you access to their property for busting chucks. The art of precision is necessary since the majority of your shot opportunities are going to range from 100 to 500 yards. Get yourself a nice rifle and a scope to match, fire only premium ammo, and a spotting scope/range finder, and you can have some fun!

Jereme overlooking several dikes and some farm fields looking for woodchucks. This day he had his DPMS Panther .223 with Nikon optics, Harris bipod, and more accessories than I can remember!

Jereme glassing for woodchucks.
When we were out glassing for woodchucks, we came across a raccoon with mange who was missing a leg. I took him out with my Remington 700 SPS .308 tactical.

Target Shooting

We've also been taking advantage of the beautiful weather and doing some target shooting in the 350 yard back yard gun range.

Nothing but custom built rifles...

Some of the other fun we've been having close to home:

Since the weather has been so nice, when we typically are chasing rabbits and coyotes in late March, we were out fishing warm water species at the back of the property! I was just back there the other day and carp are starting to stage and in pre-spawn mode. Regardless what some of you might think about carp and the reputation they have have being these gross fish that are bottom feeders, well all I can say is apparently you've never tied into a 15-20 pound carp and fought it till your arms felt like rubber! Of course we just throw them back, but they are a blast to fight and if I don't have time to drive 1-2 hours north to chase trout or steelhead, I can walk out my back door and be fishing warm water species in 5-10 minutes.
Here are a few photos of a big fat catfish my cousin Scott landed while fishing out back.

My cousin Scott and his Polaris Ranger we took fishing that evening! All I can say is I want one!!!
The suspension is so smooth...

Only a few more weeks before trout opener and hopefully we don't get a blow out like we did last year when the rivers were all at flood stage opening day. But hey, it's Michigan! The weather is simply unpredictable! We did see quite the blue wing olive hatch Friday and I've heard reports from several outfitters and friends in northern Michigan say "come prepared with some dry flies, nymphs, and a streamer assortment." That sounds about right for spring (not knowing what the weather will do, so bring it all)!!! So much going on and so much water to take advantage of before the Aluminium and rubber hatches begin.



  1. HUMONGOUS! Although it’s one inch away from getting you that Master Angler Award, I still think it’s a great catch. ^___^ Don’t stop fishing now or you might just miss the one that will beat the record!

    Melanie Daryl

  2. Actually my younger cousin is this one who caught that steelhead. Only the 3rd steelhead he's ever caught!!! Absolutely beautiful fish!