SE WI Great Lakes Steelhead - Silver Bullets
of Fury, they're the biggest Rainbow Trout you laid eyes on!
They're what most tributary anglers (including
myself) wait all year for....STEELHEAD, the migratory form of the
Rainbow Trout! Steelhead are known for acrobatics, runs and general
fighting ability second to none; pound-for-pound they are the hardest
and cheatingest freshwater gamefish. Its' been said that Steelhead
will literally fight to the death if given the opportunity. We're
privileged to have them in our streams!
If you've never tangled with a steelie, this is
something you NEED to experience at least once in your lifetime.
Nothing I've ever fished for has ever matched the thrill of holding
on for dear life as a dime-bright chrome steelhead goes nuts, regardless
of size! Speaking of size, the average steelhead is around 5lb.
However, fish approaching 20lbs are caught every season. That's
a huge hunk of rainbow trout!
As with so much of tributary fishing, I tend to
think of the "year" starting midyear. As fall approaches,
our first opportunity to land steelhead is typically the August
push of summer run Skamania steelhead. This strain is known as the
cream of the crop...the largest potential size and the best fighters
of the year. Generally, the SE WI Tribs receive a run of Skamania
strain steelhead anytime there's a rain event, but the one you can
count on is August. The downsides? First, river temps are often
close to if not at the mortal limit...most fish landed will be tough
to revive. The second hurdle is timing the run right - admittedly
I've pretty much missed it in both 2003 and 2004. A strong run of
fish on the Root River is usually completely trapped in the weir,
the fish then being transferred to the Kettle Moraine Fish Hatchery.
So goes the August run, should've been there yesterday. It's best
skipped - if Skamania are your true prize I highly suggest the strong
summer runs in Indiana which start earlier, often in May, and last
throughout the summer, fall and winter.
After August, I tend not to think much about tributary
Steelhead again until the King Salmon start running. More Skaminia
strain steelhead, as well as Arlee strain "rainbow trout"
start making their way upriver following the salmon. As the fall
salmon runs progress, steelhead are often a secondary or "luck"
fish as I like to think of it...most often they can be targeted
by fishing downstream of spawning salmon, where steelhead (and brown
trout) are sometimes found feeding on the feast flowing down to
them. Steelhead are often the toughest part to get in a "Root
River Slam"...the Brown, Coho and King are usually landed first!
While I've never done it myself, a few anglers have. Late September
and early October are the BEST opportunities to achieve a Root River
As fall progresses, steelhead continue to trickle
in, including the start of the Chamber's Creek strain. Both Chamber's
Creek and Skaminia strain steelhead are present in the rivers straight
through ice up and on into spring. In my opinion, fall is not the
ideal time to target steelhead...I've continued to encounter them
only on a sporadic basis. It can be done, but as mentioned prior,
King & Coho Salmon as well as Brown Trout are the predominant
fish through the fall season.
The winter/spring Ice out is when things really
turn on. As the streams melt, flows rise. Holes that have congregated
fish through the winter are now free to fish. Generally, one week
after ice out (which can occur anytime in February or March) we
see our first push of fresh fish following the increased flows due
to melting ice and snow. While water temperatures remain in the
low 30s', this is prime time to target fish in the deep slow pools
with the centerpin and spawn. The best bite tends to occur in early
afternoon, around 1-2 PM, when water temperatures are at their "peak"
for the day. Fish are rarely caught on flies during the early season...I've
done it, others have too, but the most effective method to target
early fish is with the Centerpin. For the die-hard fly guru, picking
up the Centerpin and drifting flies is a viable option.
As the water warms up, Steelhead start to become
more active and spawning commences as if without warning. Ice out
and early rain events bring in the main waves of Chamber's Creek
Steelhead. When the water hits 38F, all hell can break loose and
right about that time you need to pick up the fly rod! First to
spawn are the Skamania strain steelhead (sometimes spawning below
38F in February). Right behind them are the Chamber's Creek. Pretty
much every rain event in the spring is followed by a wave of fresh
fish entering the tributaries. Once the water warms, the best times
for fly fishing are first light and right at dusk...mid-day is the
Generally by April 1st the SE WI tribs are a steelhead
free-for-all. Late March and Early April are also the prime times
to experience "combat fishing", sometimes literally HUNDREDS
of anglers in a given stretch of river. Being on the water, ready
to go, at your spot, WAITING for legal fishing time to commence
is the BEST way to get into fish. Thankfully I know some waters
that get less pressure and can keep you away from the crowds if
that's your desire. Another good option to avoid the crowds is to
schedule a weekday trip....thankfully many steelheaders have day
With ongoing rain events, Ganaraska strain steelhead
start to show up in large numbers and persist through April. Skamania
strain steelhead may still be present in April, but the bulk of
the has tapered from Chamber's Creek to Ganaraska steelies.
Generally, by May, fish are still present, what
remains are for the most part post-spawn, drop back fish, mostly
the smaller Ganaraska strain. These are actually some of the easier
fish to entice into biting as they are actively feeding, regaining
strength as they return to the lake. Fresh fish may continue to
show up with rain events, although their numbers are small by comparison
to the earlier spring runs. It is possible to find Steelhead in
the SE WI tributaries as late as June 1, but usually by then river
temperatures have risen to the point where steelhead have been driven
back to the lake.
Throughout the runs conditions are constantly changing...we
may be sightfishing one day and fishing blind the next. During the
early and later parts of the runs, a one hookup day wouldn't be
atypical. Always a challenge, it is my experience that on average,
a day consisting of a couple hookups is a GOOD DAY in SE WI. A fish
landed should be considered an accomplishment by the layman, I myself
can count the days I've gone 0/5, 0/8, 0/12 etc... Sure, you can
have banner days during the peak of the runs where you land several
fish, but SE WI is typically more challenging than that.
Spring returns on the world-famous Root River are
often under 1000 counted fish. It would not surprise me to find
that a steelhead has been landed multiple times during it's migration
- with limited numbers of fish I STRONGLY encourage catch and release
of all steelhead, especially as steelhead can make multiple spawning
runs throughout their lifetime. If landing several smaller steelhead
is your desire, look to other states along the Great Lakes for that
(I've been some of these places, they're mind blowing). Come to
SE WI if you're looking for larger steelhead with a total of 5 strains
now in the mix (Skamania, Chamber's Creek, Ganaraska, Arlee and
SE WI Steelhead Clients - what do clients
need to provide?
- You gotta get there. When tributary fishing, we may opt to fish
more than one stream per day. You should be prepared to make a 15
or 20 minute drive from one location to the next.
Equipment - Rods,
Reels, lines, leaders, tippets and flies are all provided at no
Apparel and Wading Gear
- Dress appropriately for conditions - layers work great for 'heat
control' throughout an outing. Gloves and a warm hat are essential.
Be prepared for rain - rainy days can be some of the best on the
river. Check out the weather forecasts before your trip - you don't
want to be miserable and have to cut an outing short. Do not forget
I do not provide wading gear, which is only required
for Tributary Fishing. Hip boots will work in most situations, although
chest waders are preferable. Polarized Sunglasses are essential;
you'll need to bring some. The $10 kind work just fine...it's not
uncommon to lose them.
Food - Meals
are not included; we have a variety of options. By no way am I the
shore lunch guru, I'm the guru of keeping things SIMPLE. I am however
happy to discuss all of our meal options.
Lodging - If
you are coming up from out of town and could use some help with
lodging, just ask. There's a variety of good places to stay in SE
Waivers & Agreements
- Prior to your trip, you will be required to sign a liability waiver,
as well as photo release form and equipment rental agreement (if
Deposits - A
nonrefundable deposit of 50% of your trip cost is required to hold
SE WI Great Lakes Steelhead Rates
- 4 Hour Tributary
Pro Guide Trips - $300
for 1 or 2 anglers, up to 4 hours.
- 8 Hour Tributary
Pro Guide Trips - $450
for 1 or 2 anglers, up to 8 hours.
- Tributary Trips for
3 or more Anglers? - inquire for special rates - multiple
guides are available to handle your larger fishing parties.
Fish Rates - subtract
30% from the above rates.
- Tributary Bamboo
Experience - add $50 per rod rental per day. Limit
2 maximum anglers.
Outings - add $25 per rod rental per outing. Currently
limit 1 maximum angler.
- Gratuities are solely at the
discretion of the client.
Rambling Reports Great Lakes Steelhead Guiding
I'm willing to discuss a trip for ANY season and
date I have available, but these are the general times of year we
should focus on Steelhead:
- Fall Run Steelhead - November and December,
primarily Skamania, Chamber's Creek and Arlee strains.
- Spring Run Steelhead- February through May, peaking in March/April.
Primarily Chamber's Creek, Ganaraska and Kamloops strains.
Book your Steelhead
Trip Today! - email email@example.com
or call my 24/7 cell at 847-732-7333.
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