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When Winter Ignores The Exit Cue

by Matt Straw   |  April 21st, 2013 0

April is two thirds gone and we just received 12 inches of fresh snow overnight. That storm came on the heels of one that left 8 inches, which was riding on the heels of another. This week, the weatherman says we can expect yet another winter storm.

Talked to Tony Roach today. We’ve been trying to get on the ice for some saucer-sized bluegills for several weeks. We make plans and a storm buries our little lakes in deep, heavy, wet snow. Then it thaws, but before the ice can bend skyward again and the slush disappears we get another blinding blizzard with deep accumulations. What to do? Not staying inside, no matter how many articles the world’s fishing magazines throw in my direction.

You’ve heard all about making lemonade when the world buries you with lemons. So, when the universe sends unreasonable, unrelenting winter, go steelheading.

The conditions that make ice fishing all but impossible are favorable for steelhead fishing. Snow fall keeps the water high but cold, so steelhead sit in pools and wait. Every thaw brings silt and sediment into the flow from tributaries, which also works in your favor. Steelhead are more aggressive in slightly cloudy water. A foot of visibility is close to ideal, because cold water pushes steelhead toward slower segments of the stream, where they have time to react.

As discussed a few posts back, high water moves steelhead into segments of stream they otherwise wouldn’t use. Case in point: This past week I ventured up to Minnesota’s North Shore on Lake Superior. At the end of a long, hard day of trudging through slippery snow over hard-packed ice, I felt lucky to have beached 5 nice steelhead. On my way back to the car I stopped below an island, at a confluence pool that has produced, at best, one steelie for me in the past 10 years. But now the water’s up a foot or more above normal flow levels. The pool is wide and normally shallow but running about 4 feet deep. A classic wintering pool. Where the river widens, it slows. Wide. relatively shallow pools allow steelhead to feel some sun on their backs while maintaining maximum distance from those threatening banks where they see monsters like me—or maybe a bear, a raccoon, or something worse.

It was one of those odd pools, where the deepest water is on the inside of the bend—where I was standing. A tangle of logs commanded the tip of the point just below me. I simply dropped the float into the flow at the end of my rod tip and let it slowly track within 5 feet of the wood pile. The float disappeared. The fish broached, thrashed, dove, and rounded the bend.

It was too deep next to the wood pile to follow the fish around it. So I reached out toward mid river with my 12-foot float rod and held on. I’ve described the physics involved many times: The pressure eventually turns the face of the fish outward, where the current is employed as an ally. It brings the fish toward the rod tip whether it wants to go that way or not.

Eventually I teased it to me. For a Lake Superior fish, it was a real beauty—a 28.5 incher, meaning it probably weighed about 8.5 pounds. My biggest fish of the day. And, as I continued to work my way across the river, each cast a little longer than the last, I found two more steelhead and a nice stream brown.

Since that hole produces about one fish a decade for me, I may not hook another there until after 2050. Unless the weather conspires to create similar conditions. But this has been the longest, most extended spring steelhead season for quite some time. And it looks like it’s going to last at least two more weeks.

You won’t hear me complaining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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