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Meet Great Lakes Steelhead

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

Steelhead are rainbow trout that hatch in gravel-bottomed, fast-flowing, well- oxygenated rivers, migrate to the ocean or large lake for several years, and then return to the river where they were born to spawn. Steelhead are native to the Pacific Coast. In 1876, they were transplanted into Michigan’s Au Sable River, and following subsequent introductions, quickly spread to all rivers that flow into the Great Lakes. The average size for adult Great Lakes steelhead is about 6 pounds. They live for about five years and many return several times to the river where they were born to spawn. We have a lovely Steelhead in Cedar and Epoxy that is a lovely reminder of the species.

In Michigan, the best steelhead runs occur in late winter and early spring. The best rivers to fish for them are as follows:

• Manistee River, from its mouth in Manistee to the Tippy Dam near Wellston.

• Au Sable River, from its mouth in Oscoda to Foote Dam.

• Grand River, from its mouth in Grand Haven to the Sixth Street Dam in Grand Rapids.

• Muskegon River, from Lake Muskegon to Croton Dam in Newago County.

• Pere Marquette, from its mouth in Ludington to its headwaters in Lake County.

• St. Joseph River, from its mouth in St. Joseph to the city of Mishakawa, Indiana.

• Boardman River, from its mouth at Traverse City to its headwaters in Kalkaska County

• White River, from its mouth near the town of Whitehall to the dam near the town of Hesperia.

Steelhead are notoriously hard to catch. I have been steelhead fishing from a riverbank for nearly fifteen years and have never caught anything. I've seen the fish right there in the river and bounced multiple flies past their noses, even bumped them with the fly and....nothing! However, a few years ago I fished with a guide on the Manistee River and after hours of casting, finally caught not one but TWO!

Both were caught on the fly and released after an short fight on strong line and quick photo.

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