Great Lakes Steelhead Report - Nov 25/22
If you’ve looked at the charts, most rivers in our region were slowly rising where substantial snowfall had accumulated, but that just changed.
We’ve been holding off sending this update as we monitored weather rolling in and as we watched the accelerated melt that really kicked in today. Rivers that were once rising slowly are now on a very steep rise, along with the rising flows will be declining water clarity. This is not true however for all rivers in our region, so check the charts before you head out (link below). It's always a shame to put in a long drive to find an unfishable river or adverse conditions.
Notably upper Lake Huron tributaries and the tributaries of Georgian Bay are seeing very sharp upticks in levels and declining water clarity.
We also have a notable amount of rain hitting our region starting on Sunday. This rain is much needed in the Southern and Eastern areas of our region. We are expecting increased waterflows on Sunday, which should usher in fresh fish and turn things on!
For areas already seeing accelerated melt, this added rain is sure to accelerate it even further; even higher water and even more decreased clarity.
Best-bets to find fish-able water conditions this weekend are to stay in the Southern and Eastern areas of our region. While conditions are not perfect in these areas (water levels are low), we'd far rather fish low water than high and very dirty.
Our long-term forecast is looking cold, our window for ice-free conditions is shortening, we hope you'll be making the most of it!
When you’re heading out on the water with these cool temps and snow melt (read: very cold water) there are a few factors which we rely upon to find fish reliably.
When water temps cool, a fish’s metabolism and activity slows with it. Navigating dams and other barriers like rapids becomes more difficult for fish. For example, this time of year, fish heading up the Grand River will have a very difficult time jumping the dam in Caledonia (the fishways at this dam are very ineffective). Once fish hit barriers they can’t pass they will drop back out of faster flows and turbulent water to find winter holding areas (slow, deep, & steady water). You can apply this to any river with an obstruction that fish can’t pass or navigate.
Steady Water Temperatures:
Steady water temperatures are found at the site of, and for a short duration downstream, of seepage into the river or creek from under-water springs. These are tremendously good places to consistently find fish. This also holds true for resident trout, not only migratory fish! Springs that enter a river, or creek, offer very stable water temperatures and fish just love and seek-out stability. If you’re able to locate these areas you’re in a great place to find fish.
So, how do you locate seepage areas from springs?
Different coloured bottom substrate can indicate where a spring may be pushing up. Look for clean sand or clay on the river bottom where it doesn’t exist elsewhere in that vicinity, this is usually a dead giveaway of a source of seepage into the river. Another key is green vegetation in an otherwise cold river, if you spot this it likely means there is warmer water keeping it alive! In the warmer months, wet wading your steelhead rivers and creeks pays off in spades. You’ll be able to feel the water temperature differences on your feet and legs – landmark or pin those spots and you’ll be in great shape for the upcoming season.
Thermometers – if you have a long electronic probe type thermometer you can locate cool water entering rivers and streams with it. You’ll need to put a lot of time in, but if you’re looking for a leg-up come trout and steelhead season, this is your secret weapon.
Winter Holding Water:
Most fish, and we stress ‘most’, will find water in rivers and creeks that offers very little resistance to hold in. Sometimes this water is extremely slow moving, we refer to this as “frog water”, you’ll find a lot of this lower in waterways towards the mouths of rivers and creeks. You can find frog water in the main section of a river as well if there are low gradient sections with deep pools, bends and settling areas. Winter holding water can also have some chop on the surface with the water below being very slow moving. Obstructions such as boulders, logs, depressions, even shopping carts, offer current breaks for fish to settle into to ride-out the winter expending as little energy as possible.
Winter Holding Water Fishing Tips:
Low & Slow
Match the fish’s energy. If fish are slow and sluggish, slow your presentation down. This will involve using sink-tips if swinging to get below faster surface currents and mending appropriately when swinging. But don’t constantly mend, set your fly up for success then let it do its thing.
While nymphing concentrate on the slower water and get deep enough to where fish are holding to not make them move too far to take your fly.
Tips for Targeting Fish in Frog Water:
Limit your noise:
In other words, be quiet! Noise matters, a lot. Water moving at very slow speeds does not have a lot of ambient noise. When you talk, stumble over objects, cast & re-cast with a lot of surface disturbance, skip your floats back over the water, you are spooking the heck out of fish if they are anywhere nearby. As mentioned above, fish love stability, disturbances are not stable.
Fish sitting in slow water have a ton of time to watch what is heading down current. If your flies are not presented well and are not truly drag-free, fish will find it suspicious. Work on getting your fly to drift perfectly naturally if you’re nymphing or float fishing. Keep your line off the water, remove drag, mend well, and get that dead drift dialled.
The Right Length:
If you’re swinging flies in the slow-stuff, try using a longer piece of tippet or longer leader. Fish can see your fly lines and sink-tips especially when the water is clear, so give them less to look at.
Try speeding up your fly if you’re swinging in very slow water to add action to it.
Even in cold water, fish may want to chase down their prey, and giving a fish too long to look at something can turn them off your swung presentation. An easy way to speed-up your swing is to cast at more of a perpendicular angle to the current and even add a mend downstream. The current will catch more of your line and push it down and across the river much faster than if you cast at a 45 degree angle downstream. You can also strip your fly very slowly throughout the swing to simulate current pushing your fly along.
Even though these fish are cold, try stripping and twitching streamers. This is an uncommon presentation for Great Lakes steelhead in our region compared to the popularity of float fishing, nymphing, and swinging flies. Stripping streamers does not have to be aggressive or fast. Give your streamers a seductive action, pick flies that move well in slower water, and fish them well. Give fish something different, and get their attention!
While nymphing, float fishing, or euro nymphing in slow water, try adding subtle movements to your dead drifted nymphs or streamers. While aquatic insects and other life follows the flows of a river when drifting down stream, they do move, twist and writhe. Subtle motion can add the ‘proof of life’ that a fish may need to commit!
While swinging a fly, try pumping your arm forward and back while swinging (a small motion will do in the cold), that extra motion could be the ticket to get a fish out of its slump and onto your fly!