Winter Steelhead Shangri-La

Age is a limit we place on ourselves.

Chang, Lost Horizon

Paradise, for me, is an open river, ice shelves clinging to the banks, snow on the ground, and nobody around for miles. I gave up ice fishing for ten straight years when living in Michigan, spending every spare moment wading semi-gelid rivers, jousting with steel-sided trout.

Michigan itself is a winter paradise. Not too cold, certainly not too warm. Her best rivers remain open due to a high percentage of  ground flow. Steelhead are willing biters in the icy flows. Rivers like the St. Joseph, Big Manistee, Muskegon, and Au Sable are big enough to be safe bets for travelers. Smaller rivers can, on occasion, almost freeze from bank-to-bank.

Climb aboard a  guide's boat anywhere in the state and he'll have a sunflower heater, hand warmers — most make a hot lunch.

Drifting a float, like the Grayling Ultra I'm using here, through a quiet, winter pool is pretty much as awesome as it gets. I like 12- and 13-foot St. Croix and G. Loomis float rods from the bank, but a 10-footer is preferred on a drift boat. Less vulnerable, easier to bring fish to the net.

Friends tell me this has been one of the best winters on record. Unbelievably warm lake temperatures in the Great Lakes region have kept runs going. Lake Michigan proper has been reading 40°F and 41°F off shore — 6 or 7 degrees above normal.

Guided trips are available every day of the week, all winter long. For a list of guides in steelhead Shangri-La, contact or the Michigan Fishing Guide site.

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