As late fall gives way to early winter, there are a lot of things that we are excited for here at Sport Fish Michigan. After an incredible salmon and steelhead season for us guiding on the northern Michigan area rivers, we are still plying the waters for a variety of species and gearing up for another busy season on the ice, guiding customers from all over the country.
For river anglers, late fall/early winter can be a tremendous time to be on the water steelheading. The crowds are low, and the fish often bite several different presentations extremely well. For traditional gear anglers, spawn bags can really ignite a bite during the chilly, dark days as the scent from salmon eggs can get fish into a feeding mode. Beads presented under a float or indicator can also pay huge dividends: smaller presentations can often be the ticket if fish are fussy. Brown trout in river systems will often prefer these smaller bead presentations when fished along holding waters and seams in the river currents. As the waters cool, fish are less apt to move far to take baits, and thoroughly working a run or hole can be crucial to finding where the fish are holding. Fly anglers fishing streamer or egg patterns can do very well this time of year as fish are still looking for a pre-winter meal.
A funny phenomenon occurs on the rivers at this time of year to which many steelheaders can attest: some days, a sunny afternoon can lead to some incredible action as just a degree or two of temperature rise can get a bite going, in contrast, sometimes a snow squall with near-blizzard conditions can yield the better bite.
Open waters still have some excellent fishing opportunities during this pre-ice period, and anglers willing to brave the cold can be rewarded with some outstanding catches. Yellow perch both on Grand Traverse Bays and area inland lakes are heavily feeding, and having a variety of baits can be the difference in getting bites from the jumbos or just catching the smaller biters. Perch can switch from one offering to another more easily than we would like, but having everything from minnows to wigglers, small pieces of shrimp, and even small jigging spoons can be crucial in figuring out what the jumbos are willing to bite.
Walleye fishing this time of year can be dynamite as well. While many anglers troll, looking for active fish, don’t be afraid to cast reaction baits like a Rapala Jigging Rap or Flat Rap. Near dusk, or on dark days, a rattling rattle-trap style bait like the Rapala Rippin’ Rap can be deadly, calling fish in from a distance. Fished in a yo-yo retrieve, fish will actively chase down and crush these baits when seemingly nothing else will work. And, of course, a big minnow under a slip bobber can also do its share of damage as fish are on the prowl looking for an easy meal.
Pulling out the ice fishing equipment at this time of year for a pre-ice inspection is often much more comfortable than looking over shanties and running augers when the temperatures are bone-chilling and the snow is flying. Charging electronics batteries to ensure that they will hold a charge is another good thing to check when taking stock of ice equipment. Before our boats are winterized and put away for the season, one thing that we at Sport Fish Michigan like to do is to transfer GPS waypoints that we have from our Humminbird electronics to our Humminbird ice electronics. Waypoints that we find during the warmer months can often produce well for us through the ice, and transferring these now is just one of the things that we try to do as we prepare for our guide season.
Late fall and early winter fishing can be exceptionally rewarding and fun. Get out, have fun on the water. Most of all, stay safe!