Steelhead fishing takes center stage

BIG RAPIDS — It’s that time of year when anglers need to keep an eye out for “winterkill.”

The Department of Natural Resources points out that when the ice melts and the winds pick up, lakes and ponds go through a period called “turnover” when water turns over from top to bottom.

In this case, residents might see some dead fish which is usually the result of “winterkill” caused by a harsh winter with thick ice. But the DNR adds that this typically does not affect the overall health of fish populations or the quality of fishing.

The DNR also reports that in the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula, ice fishing is done since there is no safe ice.

Steelhead fishing in the rivers has been slow because of cold temperatures and a lack of warm rain. But fishermen that are trolling and pier anglers are getting steelhead in the big lake, the DNR said, adding that a few brown trout were also caught.

At the Muskegon River, steelhead are being caught and the fishing should only get better, the DNR reports.

That also applies to the Pere Marquette River.

“Steelhead should be picking up with warmer temperatures,” Doug Loomis of Ed’s Sports Shop in Baldwin said. “Overnight, we had rain and wind, so the river should be considerably up. The last time I  measured it, it was normal and 44 degrees. It was dark. Visibility is two feet. But that has changed.”

Frank Willetts of the Pere Marquette River Lodge in Baldwin has been encouraged with recent developments, especially after heavy rains late last week.

“There’s a lot of steelhead fishing,” he said. “The river is up. We’ve got water. It should bring in a lot of fresh fish. Fishing has been awesome. Catching has been pretty good.”

Jason Mayberry of Council Bluffs, Iowa, was at the Pere Marquette for his first time.

“It’s gorgeous out there,” he said. “I like the lay of the land. The river, everything, is just gorgeous.”

Drew Johnson is a guide at the lodge.

“It’s been good,” he said. “The water is high and dirty right now. Last week (April 1-4) was perfect. It will probably be back to normal in the next few days.

Jake McMillon of the Baldwin Bait & Tackle shop agrees that fishing is improving.

“The fishing is getting good,” McMillon said. “We’ve finally got some fresh fish. With this recent rain, it should have brought some fish up. We needed water. It was getting low and clear and kind of tough. We finally got a little moisture. Things are looking good.”

As of recently, productive flies have been soft-colored eggs and  small stones.

“We’ve been getting fishable numbers throughout the entire system the last couple of weeks,” McMillon said.

In Onekama, anglers caught steelhead and brown trout on fresh spawn, the DNR said, adding that ice flow in Portage Lake leaves boaters no access to Lake Michigan.

“All the ice at Portage Lake is gone,” Dan Osborn of Dan’s Sport Shop in Bear Lake said. “They’re catching browns off the pier and at (Lake Michigan). There’s not very many, but they’re catching them. Tippy Dam, I was over there and there were supposedly 40 guys over there, but I only saw a couple of fish being caught. I’m pretty sure this rain is going to bring them way up.”

Pier anglers at Manistee are catching steelhead and brown trout when using spawn, the DNR said, adding that boat anglers are getting a few brown trout on orange spoons and body baits. There are two docks in at the First Street launch.

“We’ve got high water right now,” Paul Transue of Schmidt’s Outfitters in Wellston said. “We’ve got some steelhead moving in the river. Glow bugs, and stone flies are the best bet for catching fish. The water is starting to come back because of the rain we had (recently).”

Pier anglers at Ludington are catching the occasional steelhead or brown trout when using spawn, the DNR said. Boat anglers trolling along the shoreline and around the piers are getting steelhead and brown trout, the DNR said, noting that there are two docks in at the Loomis Street launch.