The Days Of Purple Fingers For Steelhead


Steelheading heavy toward the far north of their Midwestern range this week. Action included browns to 6 pounds, late-running, bright-silver coho salmon, and steelhead to 27 inches. Which is 7 pounds world 'round.

Bright cohos in November. What next? The weather has been forgiving to say the least. A normal scenario, during the ides of November, would include a sky spitting snow, ice-bound tributaries, and temperatures dropping into the single digits (Fahrenheit). Today, temperatures strove toward 50°F on November 18.


Steelhead bite no matter how cold the water gets. As I've observed and reported many times, steelhead readily bite in water temperatures registering 31°F — frozen solid but for gradient and movement. Pocked with ice floes, steelhead rivers continue to produce. For almost 40 years I've looked forward to those first nights where temperatures hover near 0°F to 10°F. The Days of Purple Fingers. Not for the faint of heart. Traffic slows to a trickle, the trickle represented by footprints of one man following his own week-old tracks into the woods.


Balmy 45°F days apparently won't discourage many hunters from putting their guns away for a few days. Last week I ran across 6 or 7 other anglers per day. In the northwoods, that's the equivalent of rush hour on Broadway.

The weather's too stinking nice. Beam me up, Scotty. I want to see deer tracks over the most recent bootprints. The smell of the salmon eggs, the roar of the crowd. Saw somebody an hour back. Adrenal glands are swelling. Cold sweat in a cold breeze. Need to clear out. Find a stream in the back of beyond with a few dozen steelhead in the entire river but nobody around. But. Where's the float?

Ok. Being a little hasty. We'll stick it out for another hour. Strike the order to strike Camp North. Still. The nostalgia of purple fingers is overwhelming around this next bend...

Steelhead just don't behave the same in 40°F water. They scatter into indiscriminate pools of indiscriminate depth and current speed (oh, the horror). Short days. Dark soon. Drifting Along to Jamiroquai on the way back to the Cave. (We find the cheapest rooms in the region and turn them into Steelhead Caves reeking of shrimp, spawn, good Scotch, and wet waders.) Caught 4. Not bad.

But not half as good as the Days of Purple Fingers.

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