Float fishing for fall steelhead is my favourite way to fish during the fall months. Yes, big fall bass, musky and walleye are feeding in preparation for the cold winter ahead but there is something special about wading some of Ontario’s most pristine rivers chasing prized migratory rainbow trout for me. From the east shores of Lake Ontario to the north shores of Lake Superior. Fantastic fishing can be found anywhere in between. The following are a few tips for anglers looking to hook a few more steelhead this season!
Probably the best tip any good steelheader will give you is to fish prime water as much as possible. When I say prime water, I mean ideal water level and clarity. Typically, fishing can be at it best anywhere from a day or two after a rain and even up to a week after. There are several systems that I fish north of my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie which all react different to rain. Some of the rivers with clay or muddy bottoms take about a week to clear after a substantial rainfall and others only a day or two. Generally it will take larger systems to clear compared to smaller rivers and streams but remember some big rivers fish extremely well under dirty conditions.
Early fall brings upon the opportunity to catch steelhead at their peak fighting potential. During the warm water months of September and even into early October is when I like to run nice, fat dew worms for steelhead over roe or even artificial baits such as jigs, flies and plastics. The ground during early fall is still very much warm which means worms are still very plentiful and can be found in the runoff spilling into the tributaries. This is why I especially like to run dewies during the first one or two heavy rainfalls when high, warm, dirty water can be found in the rivers. I don’t hook my worms in any particular way except I try and make it look as natural as possible. I will try and stay away from balling up my worm presentation by only hooking the worm once or twice with my #6 or #8 Raven Specialist hook. For the most part, I tend to fish dew worms tight to bottom. I am basically trying to mimic a drown worm, bouncing along bottom in the current. If you spot salmon spawning doing their business on the reeds try fishing the next 100 yards or so downstream of them. This is typically where most steelhead are going to hand out during early and into mid fall. Steelies will just sit there all day gorging themselves on single eggs that are blown down river away from the spawning areas. This would be the perfect conditions to drift a pegged bead. Beads are becoming increasingly popular each season because they simply work. Not only do they work but they are simple to run and are cheap. Peg your beads with a toothpick or a peg specifically designed for beads. Either way, they both work well. I like to run size 12 hooks with my beads which are rigged only a few inches below the bead. www.TroutBeads.com has an amazing selection of sizes and colour patterns for any anglers needs throughout the entire province.
Mid to late falls brings along a whole new ball game. This is when the true river rats can still be found wading the rivers off the Great Lakes. Cold, windy and rain filled November is hands down my favourite time to fish steelhead in the fall. By this time of year most or all salmon have spawned and have either died or are just about to. That being said, roe is hands down my best producer. Dime sized bags are typically perfect for this time of year but even big, greasy nickel or bigger sized bags can be deadly during the right conditions. Late fall is not the easiest time to fish though. Slippery banks, forming ice and even frozen guides can be a terrible problem. Be extra careful when walking the banks, stay away from areas your unfamiliar with while wading and apply a light coat of chap stick to your guides to help prevent ice build up on your guides.
Fall steelheading is so much different than spring steelhead. All the anglers who opt to tote guns around during the fall are off the water. Others have already put their gear away for the winter and have begun to prep for ice fishing but what most don’t realize is that they are missing out on some of the most spectacular steelhead fishing the Great Lakes has to offer throughout the entire year! Dress warm and get out on your favourite tributary and bank a few of these fall chromers!