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3-01-03 - All signs on the beach pointed to an infestation of Canada Geese.
What's this? This is the Pike River Mouth! Peering over the mountains of ice, Lake Michigan is FROZEN. This is the first time all winter that I've seen the lake NOT open. GEESE GEESE EVERYWHERE!
A bit of saving grace...just enough open water for me to waste my time with :)
Time spent at the Pike River Mouth is a bit "otherworldly" right now. This view north shows the mountains of ice (those were actually 6'+). A unique experience.
If you didn't know where this shot of the Pike Mouth (looking south) was shot, you probably WOULDN'T think this was in Wisconsin. Feels like somewhere in Alaska to me. The sun did make a brief appearance today.
My first published picture of Trail Creek (not saying where folks!). Just like the LC, lots of log jams. We spent our time fishing immediately in front of jams and in the pools beneath them.
FISH OOOOONNNNN! Sorry folks, some of you may know where this was taken and know where we fished from this shot. If you know, then you've been there and I'm not outing spots to folks who haven't, so get over it! It was pretty dark when I shot these pics, so they didn't focus well and I had to "enhance them", but there ya go. Nice to see a battle with chrome in progress this time of year!
She's in NO hurry to come to shore!
Chromeseeker and his 6 lb chrome hen. Finally landed sans-net (First time I don't bring the net and we land a fish. Looks like I'll be fishing without a net when I'm going for Steelhead!).
A close-up of this gorgeous fish.

3-01-03 - Just when it can't get any worse, it does. But then it gets better!

Rivers Fished: Lake Michigan (Pike River Mouth), Trail Creek (IN)
Fish Caught: 1 (not by me)
Outing Date: 3-01-03
Weather: Mostly Overcast w/a touch of snow
Air Temp: Hovering around 35F
Water Temp: 34F in the Pike Mouth, 36F in Trail Creek
Water Level: Ultra Low
Water Color: Pike's outflow was clear, lake is cloudy. Trail Creek is Jade Green Stained much like the Little Calumet.
Fish Species: Steelhead
Pattern Fished: Speys & Antrons in the lake, Assorted Nymphs and such in Trail Creek. CS used spawn.
Pattern Color: Assorted
Fishing Quality: In the end we had a good day.

3-02-03 - So it all started at 6:30 am Saturday morning. FAT Day on the Root River was canceled due to "NOW", aka. No Open Water, AKA TOTALLY ICED OVER. Rich moved his meeting to the Denny's in Racine at 20 & 31. While the plan was to get there at 7:30, I didn't make it until about 8:00. Rich gave his River Doctrine Presentation which is always a good refresher course. I got to see some "recognizable" faces (IMTRYIN, I remember the team fishing outing with you...was great to see you again) as well as met some steelheaders who were new in my fold. There were 5 of us + Rich; it was a nice way to get up early and have breakfast for a change!

Around 9:40 I finally headed out after seeing a handmade spey and split bamboo rod (Jim, NICE WORK). Never being one to let Ice and Cold stop me, I went to the one place I was sure there would be open water to start the day; a quick jaunt south to the mouth of the Pike River on Lake Michigan. I figured I'd toss some speys into the lake in the hopes of catching some cruising / staging fish.

Upon arriving, things didn't look all that great. There were TONS of Canada Geese, everywhere. On the walk down to the beach I noticed the most interesting pattern in the sand; the footprints of hundreds, no wait, THOUSANDS of Geese. As I got closer things took a turn for the worse. Over the mounds of shore ice I could see that Lake Michigan had FINALLY FROZEN OVER! GD! What am I going to do now?! Well, I didn't give up and started climbing the 6'+ mounds of ice, snow and sand. Upon reaching the summit, I peered down to find that there was approximately 30 feet of open water where the Pike was flowing into the lake. After a treacherous jump down to the beach, I started swinging speys. A lot of gravel was pushed out into the lake; it basically appeared that the open water was all shallow, and around this gravel bar's edges/drop-off the water got deep and cloudy (water in the lake) and shortly thereafter it was icy.

I started by drifting all the way out underneath the end of the open water into the lake, but after a few drifts I snagged up both speys and had to retie. I took this opportunity to rethink my approach and changed to the ANTRON BUG ;) I worked the seams where the lake water and Pike water intermingled; it created this whirling pattern of clear and cloudy water intermingling. It also played tricks on your eyes; you could never tell whether it was a fish or a shadow moving in the seams. The intermittent sun didn't help either!

I tried this until about 10:30, at which point I'd had enough and figured I'd head to the Waukegan Discharge. On my way there, Chromeseeker called and said he'd gotten out of work early and was headed to Indiana to see Dave @ Creekside and start fishing the Little Calumet. Our plan was to hit Trail Creek later in the day, so I skipped Waukegan and headed south!

Traffic was a total nightmare. After making 3 pitstops (one for new waders, one for my IN license, and one for gas) I made it into Indiana about 2:30! CS had been fishing the LC and hadn't had much luck (lost one smaller fish). I waited for CS and he came up and met me around 3:15. We headed to Trail Creek.

CS had fished Trail at least once before, so he had an idea where he wanted to drop in. We got there around 3:45 - 4:00 and quickly got to the task of FISHING! The first thing that struck me about Trail Creek was it's similarity to the waters of the Little Calumet; same mucky-sand bottom, same water color, and the same type of structure. Neither of these IN waters compare to anything I've seen in WI thus far, and unlike WI the IN creeks are still free of ice.

CS quickly moved downstream while I fished our drop-in site. Met up with a younger angler who moved upstream to the next pool. While fishing another guy came up and moved to fish the pool with the other guy. I watched this obviously experienced fly angler move in and on the first or second drift, hook up with steel! A couple thrashes at the surface and the fish was off.

CS came back up and we headed a couple of pools further upstream. At this point it's probably worth mentioning that the smolts were taking our drifts with a bit of regularity. I had switched up trying a couple different nymph patterns (Steelhead Hammer, Bead-Head Prince). The smolts were annoying; with CS drifting spawn he didn't get as many on the end of the hook, or at least they seemed to come off easier. I always got these little guys well into the mouth; had to be careful to quickly remove the fly without damaging the fish and return it to the water. Definitely got plenty of tugs on the line, but I'm willing to guess they were ALL smolts.

Well, CS and I opted to go back downstream from the drop-in. On the way down I stopped and shared a smoke with the fly angler who had hooked up earlier. He was tossing an egg pattern and was moving upstream to try the areas we had come from. The young angler had landed a nice colored-up buck drifting red spawn, so I decided to re-rig and try a new pattern; a black w/red-body Antron variation.

CS and I continued to work the stream as we moved down from pool to pool, CS ahead drifting spawn and me following bottom-bumping the red antron pattern. A couple bends down the river the younger angler came down with a NICE prize; another large buck Steelhead! The fly-angler came down and worked upstream from us.

After a while the fly angler moved back upstream, and CS and I again decided to rework the areas we had fished as night was approaching. CS moved upstream from me and started drifting spawn were the other fly angler had just been fishing when WHAM, FISH ON! I dropped my rig and started shooting pictures; check 'em out. Bart brought in a nice, approximately 6 lb. chrome hen. This fish had completely swallowed his spawn.

Bolstered by the fact that it was now about 5:30 and the bite was definitely on, I resumed my fishing by trying out Peter's Antron Bug. 2 casts in I was totally snagged up and had to break it off. I again switched, this time I figured I'd offer a Steely Egg Sucking Stone Nymph. I continued to have phenomenal success with the smolts (I stopped counting after over an hour prior). As darkness approached, I again bastardized a cast and got the fly nice and high in a tree. Frustrated and now having a hard time seeing the water, CS and I decided it was time to head out.

To summarize, the day started out pretty shabby but CS turned it around into a worthwhile trip. The two Indiana Anglers I met on the river today really restored my belief that 98% of the Indiana anglers you meet are really GOOD folk. I didn't hear a single complaint about our presence in this limited stretch of river, these guys were totally cool. Wouldn't hesitate to share the Tribs with them again!

Trail Creek was a nice place but I could see with the limited access how it could easily become overcrowded. Litter Conditions were BAD! Probably not the type of place to fish at any time other than the dead of winter (such as now). Folks may again accuse me of "Advertising" Indiana and again, I have to disagree. The rivers ARE a good choice for the winter angler looking to brave ice, snow, and frigid air temps in an effort to find open water and winter steel, but I can think of MANY better places to fish in WI as soon as the conditions are favorable. So my take is that the IN creeks are a great haven for the DIE HARD winter steelheader.

So folks, guess what, unless there's a nice week of nighttime temps above 32F WI is still POINTLESS to fish. It's a great time of year still for tying flies and scouting; the plan next week is to scout Oak Creek and hit the Trail again (this time with a garbage bag in-tow)!

  MP 

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