The Great Lakes Angler Diary program continues in Michigan and anglers will help researchers and themselves learn more about this special fish by participating.
A very noticeable trend for the steelhead reported from the 2021-22 run was that hatchery fish were more prevalent in the spring. Winter hen hooked by Bob Bryans.
Late fall found me struggling to catch steelhead. Autumn rains had failed to materialize on the watershed I fished and a family illness had greatly curtailed my fishing time. When I did go fishing my time on the river was always very limited. One late November afternoon I squeezed out a couple of hours to fish and I donned warm clothes and rushed to the river. A blaze orange hat finished my fishing clothes as it was deer season and I would be fishing where the river flowed through a state game area.
The first areas I fished shielded no action from the anadromous rainbows. I debated whether to try one more run that required a bit of a hike to reach. As usual I wasn’t ready to surrender and made the trek to a long rock-strewn run. Lots of casts were made as the reach was covered with a silver spinner but, alas there was no answer from the river. I calculated that I had about 10 more minutes to fish, so I switched out the spinner for a Bomber Long A and started back downstream. It took just a couple of minutes and a few long sweep casts for my luck to change. A hefty steelhead hammered my lure and took off downstream. I put as much pressure as I thought I could as I stumbled after the strong fish. There was no give up in this fish and I struggled to get it to the net. I was going to now be late getting home but had a good excuse. Staying patient finally paid off when a wild, ten-pound female steelie found the bottom of the net.
Another problem emerged when the steelhead tangled the free treble on the plug in the meshes of the net. Just what an already likely late angler didn’t need as the struggle to unhook the steelie ensued. After what seemed forever, I freed the steelhead and watched her swim back to the run with vigor. I climbed the bank and walked out to the primitive game area road and then to my car. Obviously, I was showing my age with my gate as deer hunters in a truck stopped to see if I was okay. Cell phone coverage allowed me to call home and make sure being a bit late was not going to be a problem.
The Great Lakes Angler Diary program continues in Michigan and anglers will help researchers and them-selves learn more about this special fish by participating. All hatchery steelhead that were planted in Michigan in the last three years, 2018, 19, and 20, plus those planted in 2022 had their adipose fins clipped and a coded wire tag implanted in their snouts. There was no egg take in 2020 due to the pandemic so no steelhead smolts were planted in 2021. The lack of small steelhead or skippers in streams that are dependent on hatchery fish was very noticeable in the angler reports for the 2021-2022 season. Since a significant percentage of the steelhead run after their second summer in the lakes there could be a noticeable reduction of these fish, which will mostly weigh from four to seven pounds, in streams that are dependent on hatchery fish for a significant part of their run.
All hatchery steelhead that were planted in Michigan in the last three years, 2018, 19, and 20, plus those planted in 2022 had their adipose fins clipped and a coded wire tag implanted in their snouts. Dark winter steelhead on the snow.
There was some concern that unclipped hatchery steelhead planted by Ontario in Lake Huron could affect Michigan returns as we know that steelhead planted in Lake Huron tributaries do make the trip to Lake Michigan in search of forage. However outdoor writer Darryl Choronzey reports that the province does not stock steelhead in Lake Huron tributaries. A sportsmen group does plant steelhead smolts in the Saugeen River but they hand clip the adipose fin of these fish before they are released.
A very noticeable trend for the steelhead reported from the 2021-22 run was that hatchery fish were more prevalent in the spring. This was especially true in Michigan’s Big Manistee River, where we had over 1,000 steelhead reported using the Great Lakes Angler Diary. The seasonal trend held true for all parts of the river but was most pronounced in the upper river from Tippy Dam to Pine Creek where 18% of the fall run were clipped versus 53% of the spring running steelhead were miss-ing their adipose fin. Despite the strong seasonal difference in 2021-22, the reports from the previous 2020-21 season did not show strong evidence for the prevalence of stocked steelhead in the spring run. It will be helpful to get additional data this year from the 2022-23 run and future seasons so we can better understand if differences in river temperatures and water levels might play a role in the timing of the stocked versus wild runs.
When anglers record and report their trips and catch that includes time spent, length of steelhead caught and whether they were missing their adipose fin or not they will provide valuable information. If they decide to keep a steelhead that is missing its adipose fin they should cut off its head and freeze it, placing information about where and when you caught it in the bag. MDNR can provide tag forms and drop locations.
It is important to note that Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension handle all of the data reported and work to ensure that all your data remain confidential. This means that they never share your data in a way that can be traced back to you. When they report results, they only report aggregated results for a river or stretch of river. The program doesn’t even ask for details on specific holes or runs fished. Thus your “secret spots” will be preserved. So, if you fish Michigan rivers you should strongly consider taking part in this program.
When you register for this program you will be able to enter their catch data via mobile devices and home computers. For more information and how to register, anglers should check out www.glanglerdiary.org. Questions can be directed to Dr. Dan O’Keefe of Michigan Sea Grant who is leading this program and can be contacted via email at GLanglerdiary@gmail.com.
As participants reported their fall fishing results in December it was obvious there were big differences in the catch rates between rivers. Author with trophy ice-water steelie.
As participants reported their fall fishing results in December it was obvious there were big differences in the catch rates between rivers. An obvious correlation to this veteran steelheader was that the best fishing was found in rivers that received ample amounts of autumn rain. As you look forward to winter outings on the rivers that are open and to the early spring fishing it will be wise to pay attention to the streams that received good fall runs. In a normal Great Lakes winter there will be little movement of steelhead in the winter. Paying attention to tributaries where strong autumn runs of steelhead occurred will jump start your late winter and early spring fishing.
Even though the rivers are cold in the late fall and winter the steelhead in rivers seem to mature faster than those that remain in the lakes. Since summer run steelhead enter the rivers in the summer or early fall, they mature even faster than the fall run steelhead and will be the first to spawn, often in late February.
So as you plan your winter and early spring trips always pay attention to whether and how strong the summer and fall runs were to the tributaries you are planning to fish. Obviously, you can’t catch them if they are not there.