for Spring Steel
Of the various methods employed to catch migratory rainbow trout, or steelhead, in the tributary rivers, creeks and streams that flow into the Great Lakes, float fishing is likely the most popular. Float fishing allows the angler to present a bait at any level of the water column, including in the prime fish-holding zone located within 18 inches or so of the bottom. But these areas also tend to snag hooks and sinkers. A float can carry a bait safely above these tackle-eating snags, and right at eye level of waiting trout.
Don't be afraid to experiment
and vary the distance from your float to your bait, however. Deeper runs
and pools, as well as float-shy fish in clear or shallow water, call for
long leads. Conversely, if you spot fish suspended higher up in the water
column, shorten your lead and get your bait up well off bottom.
It's critical to make your drifts as natural looking as possible. This means keeping as much slack line off the water as possible, to minimize drag on the float caused by the surface currents carrying your slack line faster or slower than your float. Periodically mending your line, by either retrieving excess slack or flipping it in the opposite direction of the line drag, is needed in steady flows. Maintaining a bit of pull on your float as it moves downstream of your position will also allow your bait to drift ahead of the float
Pencil floats, tear-drop floats, clear-plastic floats and slip floats are the main varieties available.
Centerpin float reels are also becoming the norm on many steelhead waters. Their primary advantage over spinning reels is their ability to smoothly pay out line to allow for long, natural drifts. Most models have no actual drag feature, requiring the angler's hand to apply a gentle brake to the reel.
Quality spinning reels with smooth drags are the next best thing. Baitcasting reels, however, are not meant to cast the light lines and baits most often used in Great Lakes steelheading.
Whichever type of reel you choose, you'll need a quality monofilament line to spool onto it. Eight-pound test main line, along with a lighter leader of at least three feet in length, is probably the most popular combination.
Fluorocarbon lines, meanwhile, have come to dominate the leader line market. These lines offer near-invisibility under water, as well as abrasion resistance superior to monofilament. But don't take this as an invitation to use a heavier leader; between two- and six-pound test, depending upon water clarity, is best. High pound-test leaders are still more visible than light ones, and can also add unnatural stiffness to your bait presentation.
Another reason to use a light leader is to ensure that your main line is at least a couple pounds heavier than your leader. By connecting your leader to your main line below your float, either with a tiny, quality ball bearing swivel or knot, snags will usually snap off your lighter leader rather than your main line, thus preserving your float - often the most costly component of your terminal tackle.
Hooks and sinkers are the next piece of the puzzle, and small and light continue to be the way to go. Size 14 and 16 octopus or egg hooks are not too small, depending upon the size of the bait. As for weight, soft split shot, whether lead or some non-toxic material, from size No. 8 up to BB, are standard. The trick is to use just enough weight so that the float is "cocked" and ready to be pulled under by the lightest bite. Either bulk the shot together well above the hook, or space them out evenly from 18 to 24 inches above the hook right up to the float. Using progressively smaller sized shot from the float down helps impart a curve to the leader, allowing the bait to drift ahead of the float, ensuring that the fish sees your offering before seeing your float.
When roe isn't working, dew worms or nightcrawlers can be hot. Red and trout worms are also a dynamite spring bait.
Maggots, waxworms and mealworms are an overlooked steelhead bait, and that alone makes them a worth a try
Flies and Jigs
Flies are not just for fly fishing. Stone flies, woolly buggers, egg sucking leaches, Michigan Wigglers and woolly worms, as well as yarn flies, are all productive spring patterns under a float. Experiment with different sizes and colours until you find something the fish want.
Various colours of panfish-sized tube jigs have become an extremely productive trout bait in recent years. Again, experiment to match the colour to the water conditions and light levels.
Bucktail and feather jigs, as well as curly tail grubs up to two inches in length, are not as popular for steelhead as tubes, but they too can be a productive bait.
One of the most effective baits recently has been three-inch plastic worms, particularly in pink. An import from the west coast, these baits have taken Great Lakes steelheaders by storm. Other popular colours include natural, white, red, orange and chartreuse.
Float fishing is certainly not the only way to hook up with some steel this spring, but few other methods are as versatile and effective. So load up your vest and experience some of the fabulous steelheading the Great Lakes area has to offer.