Steelhead: 5 Reasons For Floats Early

Reason #1: Scenes like this one. Releasing multiple silver dynamos like this girl, fresh from the big water, is all the reason I need, actually. Especially when the emphasis is placed on "multiple." Many tactics will take a few. But early spring around the Great Lakes generally finds fish grouped. Taking four or five from a pool with a spinner, spoon, or a streamer certainly happens, but less often than it will with a float.

Reason #2: Cold water. We still have a lot of snow on the banks from Milwaukee north on the Wisconsin side. Less on the Michigan side. Lots around Lake Superior. (Lots.)

Snow melt, as mentioned in the last post, cools the river down. If you're reading 37°F or less with your temperature gauge. most if not all steelhead will be sitting in pools — not running. Floats efficiently and incrementally cover each current lane, bank to bank, allowing you to hit each fish in that pool right on the nose. Which is critical because steelhead won't move far to intercept baits in cold water.

Reason #3: Some post up along the break on the inside of the bend — where we all want to wade. In the above photo, I'm kneeling on the shallow sand deposited by the slower currents found there (as current slows, the ability of the water to "carry" sediment is reduced, which is why you find sand and silt below eddies, and it's why you have sand bars on the inside of the bend and often find rock or gravel on the outside of the bend).  Just behind me you can see darker water, indicating a drop-off. That water, right along the edge of the drop, needs to be covered before you step into the river. Nothing covers that stretch of cold water better than a float, because you can place yourself well upstream of that break, conceal yourself with streamside brush, or by just staying on your knees on the bank, while feeding line to a float that effectively covers 60, 70, even 100 feet of completely undisturbed water below you.

Reason #4: Versatility of presentation. What are they hitting? Stonefly or mayfly nymphs? A float can present a fly, a plastic nymph, or the real thing. By "checking" the float, the nymph rises toward the surface, just like the real thing. Beads? No problem. Spawn? Easy. Tie it up in spawn bags with some Red Wing Tackle netting in the size and color they prefer and present it with a small 1/80- to 1/16-ounce jig (size and color depend on water clarity and current strength). Plastics? Same same. Even small spoons and spinners can be presented with floats.

Reason #5: The child factor. A child remains peeking around a corner somewhere in all of us and this child still loves watching bobbers disappear. When it disappears on a steelhead stream, anticipation takes on a slightly different character than, say, on a bluegill pond. The mind fires off an urgent message to feet and legs: "Brace yourselves."

If you need a better fifth reason, floats allow a presentation to drift at current speed for long stretches of river. Longer natural drifts than any other method you can practice on foot. Guides on big rivers from the Niagara to the Columbia practice bottom-oriented techniques where clients cast or just present baits vertically while the boat is allowed to slip downstream at speeds that, hopefully, match what's going on down there on bottom. But a float can do that from a boat, too.

So floats can present a variety of things at current speed while covering the river incrementally — inch-by-inch if need be — from one bank to the other. Floats can reach and cover areas that bottom-oriented presentations can't. And floats allow you to cover an entire pool from one standing position, while fly fishing, bottom fishing, or using hardware demands that you keep moving. Which stirs up the bottom, creates vibration, and forces you to move in-and-out of the steelhead's field of vision. All that movement in all those different places adds up to one big spook factor that will, over the course of the day, cost you some opportunities to catch a few fish. Which gets back to the "multiple" thing.

Catching one steelhead is a good day. Catching 20 steelhead...

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