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Steelhead Fishing

There aren’t many brands of fishing available in winter, but seeking steelhead ranks high.

They’re big, 8 to 12 pounds usually and extremely hard fighting. If you decide to take one home, they are not bad eating, especially smoked. Veteran steelhead hunters from the Ohio River to Lake Erie and from the Indiana border to the Pennsylvania border know just how to catch them, and amateurs and part-timers usually know enough to bag one.

If there’s a real secret, it’s knowing when to go.

Lake Erie’s steelhead rivers are sometimes just perfect, green and slow flowing or clear with good visibility. But they might be bank full and muddy, or the fishing slow for other reasons and a sometimes long drive is wasted.

One good place to call for information is the Mad River Outfitters at 614-451-0363. They’re usually on top of river conditions and also offer guide service, a good idea for anglers who’ve never fished for steelhead. Other places to check on the major rivers which are mostly east of Cleveland are the Harbor Bait & Tackle at 440-354-8473, or the Snug Harbor Sports at 440-593-3755. Those planning to fish the Vermillion River west of Cleveland might try the Central Basin Bait & Tackle at 440-967-6466.

Then plan your trip. Anglers who know nothing at all about steelhead fishing might be wise to first Google the Ohio Division of Wildlife, then hit Fishing, then Steelhead Trout Fishing for a quick rundown of the sport with maps of the rivers.

If the water is good, you either make or buy some spawn sacs at an Erie bait shop, purchase some maggots or waxworms for jig fishing, or pick up some live bait such as minnows or nightcrawlers to drift through the pools. They’ll all produce fish. But if you’d like to try something different or have no easy access to spawn sacs and live bait, you might try your luck with hardware. Not many steelhead folk do this, but it works, it’s lots of fun.

The first time I sought these big trout with plugs was in Michigan’s AuSable River, and it was a memory maker. The weather was bitter cold and the stream so near freezing it oozed like oil rather than flowed. I had a guide with a drift boat and his tactic was simple: to drift slowly downstream with four rods rigged with plugs running below the boat. He worked every pool, rowing quietly back and forth, letting the current provide action for the frantically wiggling baits.

“They’re cold and sluggish now,” he said, “but those lures working back and forth right in their face seems to make them mad. Sooner or later, some will strike and try to kill it.”

He was right, to the tune of five hard fighting steelies. You can do the same in some of Lake Erie’s larger tributaries, using maybe a 14-footer and either anchoring at the head of each pool as you let the plugs wobble and gyrate, or trading off with a buddy, letting one row as the other tends the rods. If you don’t have a boat, try wading in some of the smaller streams, hopefully in water clear enough to spot fish downstream or just fishing blind. I’ve done it more than once in rivers from the Chagrin to Conneaut Creek and had good success.

But there are some things to keep in mind, boating or wading, and one is to do it slow and easy. To aggravate a cold blooded fish swimming in cold water, you’ll need to keep it in his face as long as possible. In fact, when fishing for visible fish or in likely pools, a half-hour might not be long to wait for a strike.

You’ll want to pick your spots, too. Steelies aren’t going to be sitting out there in the main current where they have to swim constantly to maintain position, unless it’s slow indeed. Instead, look for a good riffle where the water flows fast into a pool, then curves back in small swirling eddies. They’ll usually be close enough to the fast water to watch it for passing food, but hold in the slower current. Long, smooth runs are good, too, as is slack water below rocks and other obstructions.

You’ll want to use smaller offerings, like ¼-ounce Hot-n-Tots, Wee Warts, Rattle Warts, Hot Shots and such madly wiggling offerings as small Flatfish. The point is to make them mad, not scare them to death. It doesn’t hurt to add some tasty spray scent to a lure occasionally, since trout have an excellent sense of smell. Finally, remember that getting out there at dawn isn’t as good as hitting the stream around 11 a.m. after the water has warmed up a degree or two. A couple of degrees might not sound like much, but they can make a difference.


Could ice fishing be around the corner?

It’s starting to look that way.

Ponds and some lake channels are freezing over and there were rumors of some daring souls venturing out on some of those late last week. The colder nights help make good ice while windless days preserve it.

Now keep in mind that experts say you need at least three inches of hard ice to be safe. Also, ice rarely freezes uniformly; it could be three inches in one spot and one or less in another.

However, first ice can provide some of the best hard-water fishing of the season, but you have to know what you’re doing and go at it safely.

If you’re a newcomer or someone wanting to learn more about ice fishing, you might consider making a run up to D&R Sports Center in Kalamazoo next weekend for the store’s free, two-day weekend Ice Fishing Show.

That’s where ice fishing experts will share their experiences, tips and tricks throughout the weekend while more than 25 representatives from ice tackle companies will display their latest product innovations.

The two-day event runs Saturday from 9-5 and Sunday 10-4.

The seminars cover a variety of topics. For example, Bill Ferris, a veteran ice angler who lives in Ionia, Mich., will detail where to look for bluegills, crappies and perch and how to catch them consistently.

Keith Stanton, will present his seminar, “Pike Under Ice.” He will demonstrate his PikeKilla lure and the vertical jigging techniques he has perfected. He also will share his methods for spearing pike and the proper use of pike decoys to attract trophy fish.

A panel of three speakers, “Michigan Ice Guys,” (Chas Thompson, Steph Sissell and Chad Schaub) will cover modern ice fishing techniques and equipment.

For more information about the program, call D&R Sports Center at 372-2277 or visit D&R Sports Center’s website at

Steelhead still coming

The winter steelhead movement on the St. Joseph River continues.

Lake Michigan biologist Brian Breidert said although falling water temperatures (38 degrees late last week) have slowed things down, a few fish continue to move.

Bridert said 88 steelhead passed through the South Bend fish ladder between Nov. 21-27, but only nine have ventured upstream since Nov. 24. The steelhead are a mixture of Skamania and Michigan’s winter steelhead.

Some 1,000 fish moved up during November, bringing the total to 7,359 since June 1. Other fish moving up this fall included 444 kings, 469 coho and 8 browns. The bulk of the run occurred August (4,302) and November.

River anglers are catching fish, too, although best reports are coming out of the lower river below Berrien Springs dam.

State passes available

Annual entrance, boating and horseback riding permits for Indiana State Parks & Reservoirs for 2014 are available for purchase.

The permits are available online at and at state park and reservoir property offices.

State Parks & Reservoirs entrance permits cost $40 for Indiana residents and $60 for out-of-state residents. Golden Hoosier Permits, which are entrance permits for Hoosiers age 65 or older, cost $20. Motorized lake permits cost $22, non-motorized lake permits cost $5 and horseback riding permits cost $20.

Permits and passes for 2014 are valid from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2014.

For reservations at any of the state park inns, call 877-563-4371 or visit Reservations for camping can be made six months in advance at Reservations will be accepted for Memorial Day weekend starting Nov. 23.

Grass carp in Lake Erie

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has determined grass carp, a species of Asian carp, are naturally reproducing within the Lake Erie basin, confirming reports officials have been receiving from commercial fishermen.

Fishermen have reported seeing more of the carp, as well as specimens of varying age and size, indicating there may be a naturally reproducing population in the lake. This assumption was confirmed by the USGA this fall.

Grass carp do not present the same ecological risk as bighead carp or silver carp, although they do feed on aquatic plants and can significantly alter habitat required by native fish. Grass carp have occasionally been found in Michigan waters since the late 1970s.

Grass carp captured in Michigan’s waters of the Great Lakes were thought to be the result of fish movements from other states where stocking genetically altered (triploid) fish for aquatic vegetation control is allowed.

Triploid fish are sterilized through a heat-treating process when their eggs are developing. Several Great Lakes states, including Indiana, allow the stocking of triploid fish because they believe the fish have a low probability of reproduction, although the sterilization process may not be 100-percent effective.

Given their potential for negatively affecting fish habitat, Michigan has prohibited live possession of grass carp since the 1980s and continues to oppose their use in public or private waters in other states with connections to the Great Lakes.

The Michigan DNR Fisheries Division performs fishery surveys throughout the state, actively looking for these fish. Grass carp that are found during survey work are euthanized and dissected to determine reproductive development. Fish that appear to be fertile are analyzed to determine whether they are diploid (fertile) or triploid (infertile). Fisheries Division has also been actively working with state commercial anglers in Lake Erie to remove and report any grass carp they capture in their nets.



July 11, 2012 Orlando There’s NEVER been a lure system like this before. The Custom Catcher lure system will make its debut at the Icast convention on July 11 – 13. It features completely customizable and interchangeable bodies, hooks, and lips, to accommodate a variety of fishing conditions – without having to lug around an oversized tackle box.

Two unique Custom Catcher kits are being revealed: the Jointed Minnow Kit, and the larger Soft Body Kit.These quick change kits include easily removable, replaceable, and interchangeable parts, allowing for an endless array of customized lure possibilities. Because of their revolutionary design, no tools are necessary to create and recreate customized lures on the spot, making thefishing experience simpler and more enjoyable.

Burdick’s Baits, LLC is a family businessand the Custom Catcher story began about 30 years ago, as Scott Burdick and his father dreamt of a quick change lure system with multiple interchangeable bodies that could be easily carried in their pockets as they walked the shorelines of lakes and streams. Since a design like this did not exist, they made several attempts over the years to create their vision, but continued to come up short. Once Scottretired in 2009, at the top of his list of projects to pursue was creating the modular pocket lure system that his father and he had been unable to finish.

One day, while trying to detangle a ball of mixed-up hooks, snaps, paper clips, and leader clamps from a drawer, he picked the mess up by the paper clip, the two clips fell in a line with the treble hook… and there it was! By pure accident he had created the simple quick change system he had been dreaming of for years, and Custom Catcher was born.

Says Scott, “I enjoy the simple pleasures of life: special memories made with loved ones, enjoying the great outdoors, and especially, a good day fishing. But sometimes even the simplest of pleasures, like fishing the shorelines of our beautiful lakes and streams, can be hampered by burdensome equipment. Why carry around a large tackle box when all you need fits right in your pocket?”

Custom Catcher kits can be seen at booth1973 during the Icast show in Orlando, July 11-13th, and online at

Custom Catcher – You’ve never seen a lure system like this before!

Burdick’s Baits, LLC

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