December 30, 2020
By Matt Michalski
Great Lakes brown trout and steelhead are among the most beautiful, powerful, finicky, and pressured fish in the Midwest. If you are a local angler, you know that standing shoulder to shoulder with someone casting in the same hole is a norm nowadays. Here in the Midwest, we have had one of the toughest seasons in years. Due to low water from lack of rain, and immense crowds pressuring these fish, many anglers have found little success. Even under these conditions, however, I’ve had great success in locating and catching these fish.
The fish are very wary of their surroundings in the clear water. Even a small step in the water can easily spook an entire group of fish holding in a hole. Being as stealthy as possible gives you an edge over most anglers. Downsizing your tackle is a must. I typically run a 12-pound monofilament mainline with an 8-fluorocarbon leader with a #8 cutting-point hook, but I’ve found greater success with10-pound mainline, 6-pound leader, and #10 cutting-point hooks. This setup makes my bait look as natural as possible when it drifts down the river.
Using the right rod and reel helps improve bait presentation. I recommend a medium-light rod in the 11- to 13-foot range. A longer rod allows you to keep your line off the water and allows the current to swing your bait forward making it look natural. A medium-light powerallows you to use a lighter line and the rod’s cushion helps prevent the line from breaking when fighting fish. A baitcasting or centerpin reel provides for long smooth drifts without having to falter with your presentation. Great Lakes trout bring a whole new meaning to “standing out from the crowd.” One of the most popular and effective baits for these fish is a spawn bag (salmon/trout eggs tied in colorful netting). Nowadays, you can pick up a dozen spawn bags at almost any tackle shop. In pressured situations, I like to tie dime-sized bag—the smaller the better. Another great way to make your bags stand out is what I like to call “clown bags.” Simply take any colored netting and place pieces of a different colored netting in with the eggs which creates a multi-colored spawn bag—great for clear, murky, and pressured situations. A simple bead can imitate a single trout egg drifting down the river. This is a perfect technique when anglers are mostly using spawn. My favorite beads sizes for situations like these are 6 and 8 mm. I like orange, pink, chartreuse, and yellow beads.
Stepping away from your comfort zone is the best advice I can give when fishing these tributaries. Whether that's exploring new water and getting away from crowds or experimenting with new techniques, not only will it make you a better angler but will help you in understanding how these magnificent fish behave.