Revive - A Quarterly Fly Fishing Journal (Volume 1. Issue 4. Spring 2014) - Page 122

It usually happens sometime in February. The days are still cold and raw. The sky remains an eerie slate gray and ice clogs the guides every few casts just as its done all winter long. The water flows with it’s heavy tannic stain giving the impression of ink trickling its way through the many logjams. To the naked eye it is still very much winter with no relief in sight. But below the water’s surface, hidden from view and in a world all their own, steelhead start making their spring migration.

To the hardened winter steelheader the first few chrome fish of “spring” are like the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Months are spent probing slush filled rivers with frozen fingers. Any fish taken during this time are hard earned and many times you work all day for one opportunity. And then, like the flip of a switch, the deck is re-shuffled. Fresh dime bright fish join their colored up brethren in the deeper pools and add to the day’s bounty. While the winter fish favor a down and dirty bulldog style fight, the new spring fish are all piss and vinegar. For a few magic weeks the rivers are void of fisherman, full of an assortment of steelhead, and provide epic battles amidst a wintery backdrop.

Being a good steelheader in the great lakes means spending as much time studying weather forecasts and lake temperatures as tying flies. Fish continue to enter the tributaries with each bump in water and with each warm up. Each river has its own unique characteristics and fish behavior…learning how long it takes for fish to reach certain sections of river and where they stop along the way is the difference between a banner day or a mediocre one. Spring is all about change; nothing stays constant for very long and as an angler you need to follow suite. After months of dragging flies through the deepest, slowest pools in the river it’s a refreshing change of pace searching out chutes, troughs, and buckets slowly filling up with staging fish.