Northern Ontario Steelhead Providing Late Season Chrome

By: Josh Choronzey

If you are Canadian Great Lakes angler and packing away your spring steelhead gear, you might want to re-think your priorities. You can thank Mother Nature for an extended opportunity to connect with fresh steelhead in mid to late May this year on the upper Great Lakes. Northern Lake Huron and Superior are still mid way through their annual run.

A week ago I took advantage of the incredibly late spring and made a road trip around most of Lake Superior. To say the timing was bang on would be an understatement. Melt water was still adding fresh runoff to nearly all the major tributaries along the Canadian shores of Lake Superior. The stage was set for intercepting the hardest fighting of all Great Lakes steelhead, and we greeted the first migrants of the season with grip and grin.

Normally, Northern Huron and Superior steelhead start their spring migration in the later half of April and finish up by the second week of May. However, 2018 is a different story, illustrated by the fact that north shore fish are still entering Superior rivers chrome sided and ready to battle well into the month of May. Spring break up of ice and snow was less than two weeks ago. Anglers can expect steady catches. Steelhead will still be lingering on the spawning gravel up past the end of the month and into early June.

Anglers looking to connect with northern chrome can use Sault Ste Marie as a jumping off point for Canadian and American endeavors. The Canadian tributaries north east of the “Soo” are popular among highway travellers, as are the rivers on the American side from Soo west to Duluth. North shore from Duluth Minnesota to Nipigon Ontario anglers can expect fresh fish and spawners to stick around for another couple weeks as the blackflies swarm and the temps soar. Pack the float-rods, lots of bug spray and fill your bait containers with plenty of BorX O Fire cured roe. May steelheading is full swing.

Top gear picks for connecting with late spring chrome is pretty basic. I prefer 10 to 13-foot float roads paired with a centerpin reel is a must. Mainlines of 8 to 12lb Maxima Ultragreen coupled with 6 to 11 gram Drennan or Blackbird floats are the norm. Leaders of 4 to 8lb fluorocarbon get the nod and hook sizes range from #12 to #8 Blackbird Sabre Tooth and/or Kamasans. Add some quality lead shot to the set up and you are in business.

Northern Huron and Superior rivers are hard on gear. From rushing fast water with jagged rock bottoms to woody silt filled creeks, be prepared to lose plenty of terminal gear here, but the risk is always worth the reward. The same can be said for waders and boots; this environment wears them out and tears them up!

When it comes to bait selection, it is tough to beat fresh roe up here. Float fishing the heavy flows and steep gradient rivers of Superior and northern Huron means anglers need a tough egg. I opt for a fairly heavy cure of Pautzke BorX O Fire on fresh scraped steelhead eggs, not loose roe. Scraping a mature skein and applying a liberal dusting of Natural BorX O is simple and incredibly effective. Let the eggs air dry with the cure dusting for at least an hour or two before bagging the eggs or tying the roe in sacs. I rely on Redwing – Blackbird spawn netting and spawn scarf material. With Natural or Orange BorX O Fire cure I tend to use white, champagne or yellow scarf material to create bags/sacs that are vibrant and hold their colour for many drifts. Nickel and dime sized bags are my standard for the clear waters of these northern tribs. Turn to tying larger bags as precipitation stains the water.

While most Great Lakes anglers are now chasing walleye, perch, offshore salmon and trout, the steelhead anglers of the North Country are reaping the rewards of a late spring. If you are still keen on hooking hot chrome now is the time to check that box while the runs are extending later than normal. If you decide to sample some of these northern steelhead remember that the populations are based on wild fish, with little to no stocking throughout Superior. Limit your harvest and you can help ensure opportunities for the future.

Editor’s Note: Josh Choronzey lives in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada and would rather steelhead fish than eat. His passion is chasing chrome.