Great Lakes Steelhead Fly Fishing

The History of Great Lakes Steelhead

The pacific salmon that exist in the great lakes region of Canada are not a native species to the area. Stocking of these species began over a hundred years ago, and continues today in many rivers to enhance the population and help curb the pressure of sport fishing. The species that has recieved the most focus in this area is the Steelhead, or rainbow trout.

Stocking of rainbows began in Michigan in 1876. Genetic stock was taken from the Cambell’s Creek and McCloud strains from California as well as from the Klamath River in Oregon. These fish, both wild and hatchery stock were first planted in Michigan’s famed AuSable River. This stocking program was so successful that the program continued and saw the planting of fish into many tributaries throughout the state. Soon to follow were more states and provinces as news spread quickly that this species was taking quite well to the environment of these giant inland seas known as the great lakes.

Ontario Steelhead Rainbow Trout Migration Timing

Sometime in the late summer and early fall months, a mass migration begins to occur from Ontario’s Great Lakes (Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, and Superior). As Rainbow trout prepare themselves to move into the rivers and streams that feed these lakes, the now eager and addicted steel header begins to follow their every move. Single hand fly and Spey fishers alike await this time of year. When the rain never stops, the sleet is blinding and the sun never shines. It is true that the best steelhead fishing occurs when the weather is at its worst.

Lake run Rainbow trout for the most part spawn in the spring. Usually from March – May. These fish begin to move into the rivers usually following shortly after, or with the migratory pacific salmon species (Coho, Chinook, Pink Salmon) that have left the lake and moved into the rivers. This can begin as early as September, or as late as November. Weather plays a huge roll in when fish begin to move in and out of the rivers.

Steelhead are very finicky when they enter the small streams and larger rivers of the great lakes. They are easily spooked, and once they have detected your presence, they will usually sulk in their deep holes hiding. Most of these fish will enter the river in the fall or winter and find a section to call home for a number of months.

Once spring begins to peek its head out, the water begins to warm signalling to the fish that it is time to mate. The females begin digging large redds by fanning their tails creating deep pits in gravelly areas of the streambed. Males begin to court the females, and fight off any other male fish that may attempt to take over. The strongest fish wins. Shortly after reproduction occurs, the fish quickly begin to move downstream back to the lakes where they will remain for another year or more before returning once again to their place of birth in the headwaters of the great lakes tributaries.

Ontario Steelhead Fly Fishing Equipment

Migratory rainbow trout are a powerful fish. Ranging from 3 to 15 pounds on average in the great lakes, these silver fish are like rockets. The equipment necessary is similar to the equipment you would find yourself using fishing for salmon species in the fall.

  • 7 to 8 wt rods
  • Floating and Sinking line to match rod weight
  • Large arbour reel with a capacity of 100-150 yards of backing plus fly line
  • Waders with felt soled or studded boots
  • Extremely warm, properly layered clothing

Ontario Steelhead Fly Fishing Flies

  • Nymphs – Prince Nymph, Caddis Larva, Mayfly Larva, Stoneflies, dragon fly nymphs etc.
  • Woolly Buggers, zonkers, mickey fins
  • Egg patterns in various colours and sizes.

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