By Kyle Buck | 03/04/2014

For the most part it’s been so cold for so long that 90 percent of every river in Western Michigan is frozen over. Right now there’s only selected areas that you can fish. Those include Tippy Dam on the Manistee and Croton Dam on the Muskegon. I’m sure there’s some other rivers around that are open, but right now it’s still five degrees out. As of today the Great Lakes are 90.5% ice covered and expected to reach 97% in the next two days, setting an all time record. That just shows how cold it has been around here.


However, I actually think it’s been good for the fish. It’s limited the angling pressure. When we have gotten out in those open sections fishing has been really good, but getting out has been few and far between. So what can we expect for the rest of steelhead season? Best-case scenario is it starts getting into the thirties and forties and we have a slow thaw. If that happens everything will remain fishable.


Meanwhile, we’ve had snow here in Muskegon since November and we only had two days, I think, above freezing since. What that means is there’s a lot of snow around and if it all melts at once, it’s not going to be good for fishing.


Right now, the ground is frozen and there’s feet of snow. So, if gets warm and there’s rain there’s nowhere for the water to go. It can’t soak in the ground. If this happens the rivers will all flood. We had record setting floods last year and didn’t have anywhere near the snowpack we have now. Basically, let’s hope for a slow thaw.


If we get a slow thaw we are going to have a steady trickle of fresh steelhead coming in which will join the fish that came in already. It should be a phenomenal season. These fish haven’t been pressure. I’m sure they are hungry.


On the other hand, let’s remember the next 20-day forecast is for conditions to remain the same; in the single digits at night and the low 20s for highs. This tells us we aren’t going to be steelhead fish open water for a few weeks in most sections of the river. It all depends on the weather, but I’m guessing by the third week in March I’m hoping the river will be open. The fishing should be good through April, but if we get a quick thaw and rapid warmth those fish could do a quick spawn and bolt before the water recedes. We just don’t know.


The majority of time this winter we’ve been float fishing with small bags. Our best setup has been very small bags and subtle colors when we are float fishing because the water is clear. I want them to look as natural as possible. What I mean by small is five to six salmon egg bags. I’m curing my eggs in Natural and Orange BorX O Fire. Due to clear water I’ve been using 8-pound fluorocarbon leaders and 14-pound float line.


From time to time we’ve been using plugs, too. If we have customers that haven’t fished much or are novices we can run plugs so we can run four lines at once. I’ll run Yakima Bait’s MagLip 3.5. The pirate colors have been good and variations and silver and gold.


Editor’s Note: Kyle Buck operates Great Lakes Guide Service. For more info on his Western Michigan steelhead trips please visit