"The two most burning questions in the emailbox this week were are the smelt running yet and are the steelhead running?" reported WW&W meteorologist and Spring correspondent Verna Equinox. "I can tell you the smelt are not running yet, but I passed the steelhead inquiries along to WW&W senior fishing correspondent Ed Wetelainen."
I look forward to wettin' a line with Ed about this time every Spring when we head south for the hills of Baraga County, the banana belt of the Copper Country, to fish the fabled five; the Falls, Silver, Slate, Ravine and Huron Rivers which flow north into Keweenaw and Huron Bays. And let's not forget the research, the fact-finding angler intercept interviews and hot anecdotal action collected in-stream and at the brand spankin' new Billy the Finn's.
The Huron is traditionally the first to turn on with those big, blushing, brawling, fresh-from-the-lake steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss, world record 42 lb-2 oz) that navigate her serpentine seven-mile stretch from her mouth on Lake Superior to the confluence of her East and West Branches, where they thrill throngs of Yooper steelheaders, who pack into Big Eric's Bridge Campground for the annual Rainbow Rendezvous & Spring Spawn-o-Rama.
The runs are often as elusive as Verna Equinox herself. Neither rain, hail, snow, sleet, dark of night or freak spring blizzards will keep steelhead from their appointed rounds, nor steelheaders from shagging them. This is what they call combat fishing; It's challenging and takes a while to get the hang of, but if you're the kinda person who enjoys fishing without the catching part, you're gonna love steelheading. Steve Koski, Indian Country Sports, on the downtown L'Anse Vegas waterfront keeps his finger on the pulse of the runs. Call 524-6518 for reports and river conditions.
In case you're wondering how a guy named Ed Wetelainen wets a line, I can tell you he's a purist, a stealth steelheader. Ed's a bare minimalist, which doesn't mean he fishes nekkid, it means he has a stripped-down, no-frills presentation. He pretty much waves the proverbial 10-foot pole like a magic wand, fishing his 9-6"steelhead rod and fly reel spooled with 12-pound test line. His terminal tackle consists of a short 8-pound test leader tied to an ant swivel with a single bead, a drop sinker, and a small egg or yarn fly soaked in Dr. Juice on a red No. 8 or 10 hook. That's it, the whole kit and kaboodle.
Ed won't reveal all his secrets, but I will. I fish a long Fenwick HMX rod with an Abu Garcia Soron reel spooled with 12-pound Stren Brute Strength mono, and the rest just like Ed, yet I consistently catch fewer and smaller fish. But then, I sleep through more bites than he does.
"The best bite usually kicks in about mid-day between noon and 3 p.m. when the water warms up from say 34 to 36-37 degrees," Ed says. "That's when they start snappin' my single eggs."
"Steelhead hits vary; You know they're feeding when they sip an egg like a stonefly nymph," he tipped. "The take can be so subtle it's almost imperceptible, but they don't fool me."
Other times they get aggressive and slam it. If they think it's a foreign object invading or contaminating their spawning redd, they will accost your crawler, streamer or spawnbag, ravage your rapala, savage your spinner or spoon, yank your yarnfly, or gaffle your glowball. If a five pound steelhead thinks your Rapala is a shiner, chub or some other infidel baitfish, steel yourself and hang on tight.
Other hot feeder/attractor baits that trigger the bite are hand-tied yarnflies and eggflies in chartreuse, yellow. hot pink, blaze orange or combinations thereof. Some guys get lucky drifting crawlers offa long 8-weight fly rods, or stripping flashy mylar and marabou streamers cross current.
A good rule of thumb for steelhead size is a 25-inch fish will weigh about five pounds. They tend to grow a pound per inch after that, so a 26-inch lake-run rainbow will run about 6 pounds, a 27-incher about 7 pounds, and so forth. Hook a wild lake-run fish like that in the Huron or any U.P. river, and you've got a fight on your hands. Good luck getting it to the net.
Now that you're thinking about chasing steel, and I encourage you to do so, I recommend the right music for the yob from a hot Yooper band by the same name. Chasin' Steel is a high-energy bluegrass rocker band outa Marquette, four musician-fishermen who have set their passion for steelheading to music with songs about fishing and life in the U.P. You can listen to cuts from their CDs at chasinsteel.com.
No matter where he is, Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at firstname.lastname@example.org.