By: Kyle McClelland
As winter snow is replaced by spring rain and the sun shines longer anglers in the Great Lakes crave chasing chrome spring steelhead! Local tackle shops, guide services and chain and convenience stores thrive this time of year with anglers focused on favorable weather and steelhead.
There are many productive ways to catch spring steelhead. On the other hand, for me nothing has out-fished float fishing fresh BorX O Fire cured steelhead spawn. Float fishing is a versatile method that can be used on every stream and river in the Great Lakes. North and south of the border float fishing allows you to dial your bait into the fish’s holding level, results in far less snags and enables your bait to be fished at the natural speed of the current.
Oftentimes, a good float fisherman can determine if there is willing steelhead in a hole within the first 10-15 minutes. This is accomplished by adjusting depths, hitting every fishy current seem and switching up producing baits. Float fishing allows you to “run and gun,” meaning cover lots of water quickly until you find a section that’s holding a good number of fish.
The curing process for fresh steelhead spawn is basic, but may take practice to master the perfect bait. That bait is a firm tied spawn bag that keeps color and can be fished a half-hour without loosing dramatic color.
The Great Lakes Cure
Bleed Fish Properly
Once I land a female steelhead I’ll start by bleeding it while she is still kicking. This ensures the fish is blood free and results in eggs with great color. It’s important to let the fish bleed out on a stringer in the water for at least 30 minutes. If there is any blood left it shows up in the eggs and results in bloody eggs that won’t hold color for long, won’t preserve as well and become mushy. The best way to bleed a fish out is to simply cut its gills and place it on a stringer in the current.
Butterfly skeins open from the opposite side of the membrane while using a pair of scissors or sharp knife.
Scrape the eggs loose of the membrane while using a plastic spoon. Start at the tail and scrape the eggs toward the tail end of the skein. Use short, fast and light scrapes until the majority are loose from the membrane. If you don’t scrape the eggs the membrane will be left in your eggs and results in spawn bags loosing the desired color quicker. It’s okay if little pieces of membrane are left, but you want to remove the majority.
The Blood Removal Roll
Roll your eggs on a paper towel or paper bag. This aids in moving the majority of excess juices from the eggs.
Break out the BorX O Fire
Add a spoonful of BorX O Fire to your eggs, roll them around and let them air dry for an hour or two. Use the cure sparingly. It doesn’t take a lot to cure the eggs. I’ll generally only use a spoonful or two per scraped skein. The eggs will absorb the BorX O Fire and then will be preserved to hold the color of the cure you are using. This cure also adds a krill scent that steelhead love. Pink, Natural and Orange BorX O Fire are the colors I use most for all Great Lakes steelhead.
Once they’ve been cured it’s time to tie the skein into bags. The size of the bag varies. I’ll go to the river with many colors so I can dial into the bite, but always have the bags filled with BorX O Fire cured spawn. I’ll fish anything from dime to quarter size bags. My favorite colors for netting is pink, white and chartreuse.
If I have fresh steelhead spawn and don’t intend on using it for a few days I’ll fill a couple baby food jars with it and stick them in the freezer. I’ll never keep fresh steelhead eggs in the fridge for more than 3-4 days. While overlooked by anglers, scent definitely makes a difference, which is why you want fresh, cured spawn, especially while fishing fresh steelhead on the beach, off the pier or in the lower stretches of rivers.
The float fishing rig that I use is simple once you get the hang of it, but can be tricky to master. I line my spinning rod or centerpin rod/reel combo with 12-pound monofilament. Then put my float on the mainline. While fishing larger rivers I’ll generally use an 11-15g, fast drift Raven float. In smaller streams I downside to a 5.5- 8.0 fast drift float. After applying the float to my mainline tie a small black barrel swivel below the float to the mainline. Then add a two-to-three-foot leader of eight-pound fluorocarbon and tie a hook at the end of the leader.
Finally, add split shots. Stagger them evenly from the float to the hook. You don’t want use too much weight to where it sucks the bobber underwater. However, you want to use enough to keep it vertical, which gives it a natural drift. It’s important to have enough weight so your float is weighted down. Therefore, your float will ride at the same or slightly slower than the current speed. You also need enough weight to ensure that your bait is getting down to the depth you’re targeting.
The Great Lakes should have ample opportunities for steelhead through April. Use BorX O Fire cured steelhead eggs and you’ll have a great chance of getting bit.
Editor’s Note: Kyle McClelland is the founder of XXL Chrome Chasing. He’s been featured in nearly every Great Lakes fishing magazine and on several shows. For more info please visit www.facebook.com/XxlChromeChasing.