Christmas has nearly arrived and the winter steelhead season in Ontario is well underway. For Huron tributary anglers, big runs and hot fishing have not been the norm, and anglers are left scratching their heads for answers. Don’t panic, the end of days is not near, nor have the steelhead vanished. Mother Nature is simply making things a little more difficult this year, and if you understand the issues and adjust accordingly you can still score on Huron chromers.
The 2014 spring steelhead spawn on Huron tributaries was the latest in recent history. Massive snowfall and a very late spring resulted in steelhead laying eggs in the gravel much later than in years before. Many of the major steelhead tributaries saw fresh fish migrating to the spawning grounds well into the month of May, and plenty of fish never headed back out into Huron until the first weeks of June!
This super late spawn put our steelhead way behind the regular schedule of recuperation on Huron. A shortened offshore feeding window resulted in steelhead needing to stay offshore to feed during primary fall migration months. Fish that entered systems in October and early November appeared skinny and still bearing the brunt of the late spawn. River temperatures dipped low late in October and the warm lake temperatures on Huron provided ideal feeding conditions, which in the long run meant the majority of fish stayed out in the lake. Many anglers have been blaming commercial fishing, cormorant predation, poor year-class survival and disease for the late returns, but anglers “in the know” are not nearly as concerned, instead they are patient.
December has brought more stable weather conditions and two warm fronts, which have spurred the winter run with enhanced precipitation. These fish appear to be in much better condition as compared to the early fall migrants. Over the past couple of weeks we have seen a good number of fresh fish enter major tributaries such as the Saugeen and Maitland. They are fat, sassy, and chrome! Another snow event followed by a warm melt may just trigger the largest push of steelhead this season, and you don’t want to miss it.
For winter steelheading opportunities on Huron, anglers should concentrate on the larger flows that attract good numbers of fish during the winter and tend to maintain water conditions better than the smaller watersheds. The Maitland, Saugeen, Nottawasaga and St. Mary’s Rapids are sure bets for anglers looking to score on Huron silver. These are all situated near fairly large population centers such as: Goderich, Southampton, Collingwood and Sault Ste. Marie, respectively. The lower sections of these major flows provide the best chance to connect with fish. There is plenty of food in the lake and winter fish tend to poke around the lowest sections of the river, heading in and out of the system based on the weather and water conditions.
Ontario anglers putting in winter steelheading time on Huron tribs usually depend on floatfishing roe as their primary technique. Float/centerpin reels, long float rods, floats, micro shot and tiny hooks are the norm. Winter steelhead eggs cured in Pautzke BorX O Fire are my staple winter steelhead bait. I scrape the eggs off the membrane to achieve a single egg, and then I cure them and tie them in bags with Redwing scarf material. These are lethal baits that have an incredible shelf life in the fridge. I find BorX O Fire in natural and pink or combinations of both to be my go-to in the clear winter waters of Huron tribs.
Huron winter steelheading gear list:
-CTS or North Fork Composites float rod – 4-8lb blank, 13ft length
-Islander Steelheader float/centerpin reel
-8-10lb Maxima UltraGreen mainline
-Drennan or Blackbird floats – 6-16 gram in size
-4-6lb Maxima Fluorocarbon leader line
-Kamasan Sedge style hooks sizes #8-#12
-Redwing or Sure Shot lead crimping shot in size BB, AB, etc.
-winter steelhead eggs, scraped of the skein membrane, cured in Pautzke BorX O Fire
-Redwing scarf material for tying dime to quarter sized bags