Steelhead Fishing on a Rare Day Off

A couple of days ago, I had a rare opportunity when one of our Wolfe Outfitters trips was cancelled at the last minute, and I had a free day. My Wolfe Outfitters guide, Matt, and I went fishing. We took Janice with us – the Recreation Manager at Crystal Mountain Resort, and the woman with whom I worked to create Wolfe Outfitters’ partnership with Crystal Mountain Resort.

A slight warming trend made for a nice day out on the water. Add in that we didn’t get to the ramp until after 10am, and we were relaxed and ready to go! Why not be more informal and relaxed when it comes to fun fishing? Janice even made our lunches the previous evening to be heated on Matt’s on-board grill.

 November steelhead tend to relate to a few different patterns. Cured salmon eggs tied in spawn sacks and round-bodied crank baits dominate for gear anglers. Fly anglers have options such as beads, nymphs and streamers. Depending on water temperatures, the king salmon that run the rivers have likely ended their spawn, and the steelhead that gorge on the eggs in the river now have to find another food source to sustain them throughout the remainder of fall and winter.

 The single egg pattern holds up well throughout winter, but it isn’t as effective as other techniques, as the salmon eggs are no longer prevalent in the river. However, spawn sacks offer tempting scent and life-like softness that even picky steelhead oftentimes just cannot pass up.

 During the mid-fall period when the salmon have finished spawning, and the steelhead are still active with warmer water temperatures, throwing round-bodied crank baits can be an absolute blast. Similar to throwing longer bodied crank baits for king salmon, the technique is the same. Casts are made downstream, close to the bank and to cover (holding water). A medium retrieve, allowing the deep diving baits to work their magic as they are pulled through seams and creases induce violent strikes that anglers thoroughly enjoy. Medium weight rods are used to cushion these aggressive takes, yet have enough backbone to turn large steelhead away from logjams and snarly cover. For big steelhead on the Big Manistee River, I use 20 pound braided line, and either 14-pound fluorocarbon leaders or 12 pound, if the conditions are really clear and the flow is low. Fluorocarbon has the same refractive index as water, and is nearly invisible to fish. Steelhead often strike out of a feeding response, and looking as natural as possible is a huge advantage for my guide customers and me.

I’m glad that we were able to get out, even if it was for only 3 hours of fishing. We had a number of bites, and were able to land some beautiful Manistee River steelhead. And cooperatively mild weather made it all that much sweeter! It was nice to fish with good people, and experience the fun of fishing for oneself for a few hours. Does casting crank baits using spinning gear or casting flies for steelhead sound like fun? I can guarantee you that it is. And with one of the world’s premier steelhead fisheries at our doorstep, Wolfe Outfitters is ready to get you out on the water for your own adventure. Happily, I just had mine!


Making a Case for Winter Steelhead Fishing

During the cold winter months, it’s down right cold, and the motivation to head out of a warm house to go fishing is difficult to say the least. Two of my guide services are still in operation during these cold winter months—Manistee River Salmon Guide Service and Wolfe Outfitters, and we’re happy to brave the cold with our customers. Sure, motivation for us to leave the comfort of our homes and trucks is tough too, but usually once we’re out on the water casting, enjoying the day with our customers, things don’t feel as cold.

Despite the chilly temperatures, the Big Manistee River doesn’t usually freeze over due to its big flow, and there is often fishable water for the beautiful steelhead all winter long. And one of the most enjoyable things about winter steelhead fishing is the relative lack of fishing pressure. It’s not uncommon to go all day without seeing another angler. The quiet solitude of winter fishing is a true joy, and most customers are thrilled to see the river without much other fishing pressure. And the fishing can be absolutely hot, even if the temperatures are cold.

Many a snowy day have we experienced tremendous fishing for steelhead on the Manistee River and other area rivers. Not only does the sight of a chrome steelhead warm the blood, battling these acrobatic fish also gets the body moving, and the adrenaline up. During the dead of winter, steelhead don’t maybe jump as frequently as during the fall, but they still jump and run, thrilling anglers of all ages.

Manistee River Salmon Guide Service is suited with a custom jet sled that can utilize much of the river, searching for active fish. And with my USCG Captain’s license, I can legally fish my customers in the lowest stretches of the river, where some fish tend to hold in the deep, slow pools.

A plus for the Wolfe Outfitters guide service is that it is based out of Crystal Mountain Resort. This makes for a comfortable retreat after a cold winter’s day of fishing. Spa services, a heated pool and a couple of nice restaurants are just some of the more pampering amenities offered by Crystal Mountain Resort. Not to mention that it’s a fantastic ski resort as well! There are lots of ski runs catering to both downhill skiers and groomed runs for cross-country skiers. What a great way to combine either a fishing and skiing trip with the guys, or pile the family into the comfortable rooms for a winter get-away! Crystal Mountain Resort has just about everything on-site, and is done in a first class and stunning fashion. We are proud to have partnered Wolfe Outfitters with a resort like Crystal Mountain Resort.

Just because the weather has turned chilly doesn’t mean that the fishing has cooled down. Come and experience the hot steelhead action that’s available in northern Michigan!

Aaron with a beautiful steelhead hen that we caught while wading.

Winter steelhead action can be downright hot!

Paying Attention to Cues and Conditions

Some days, we cast and hook up on seemingly every cast. Other days, it’s like we’re casting in a dessert, expecting to hook into a camel. Fishing. Why do we do it—well, I think we have to be optimists to get ourselves out the door. Sure, fishing in a dessert is part of the game, but we, as anglers all hope for those days of “stupid fishing”, when no matter what we do, or how we do it, we get bites. Those are the fun days, no doubt about it! And they’re also the days that our arms get tired from catching, and not just fishing. That being said, however, these are also the days to not only enjoy to the fullest, but to learn.

It’s during a hot bite that I experiment with off-the-wall ideas to see whatever else works. Not only does this eliminate dud ideas, but can help hone techniques and bait presentations, giving us confidence in these techniques when we encounter the dreaded tough bite days.

Such was the case the past several days. Most of July and August, we here in northern Michigan, experienced very little rain, leading to extremely clear, low water conditions. The past 2 weeks has had a lot of rain. In fact, the past week has had well over 6 inches of rain, leading to very high, muddy flood-stage water levels on all of the area’s rivers. The Big Manistee River was no exception.

Higher water levels on the rivers in the fall lead to fish such as salmon and steelhead to enter the rivers to spawn. Low clear water, by contrast, makes fish wary, and makes the spawning runs meager and not as predictable. High muddy water makes fish a little more predictable, but not necessarily any easier to catch.

The past few guide trips on the Manistee River has been like trying to fish in hot chocolate. Muddy, lots of leaves and debris floating down river, and fish on the move up to Tippy Dam. Under normal conditions, the steelhead that come into the river in October stage in various holes and runs as they meander their way up to the dam, where they spawn. High, muddy water forces fish out of their typical routine, keeping them on the move. As anglers, high muddy water must force us out of our typical routines as well, making us fish water that we might not typically, looking for the shallower runs that fish use as they move up river.

The bite was extremely tough during the highest water. Most tactics didn’t get a lot of bites, but we did manage a few. By putting the right presentations in front of inactive fish, we were able to get a few to react positively. Whether it was out of hunger, curiosity or aggression—at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter—we got some bites. But paying attention to cues that the conditions give us can help trigger some of these bites.


Rich and David with early morning late-season king salmon. We have no idea if the early bird got the worm, but these anglers got the fish!

Michigan This Morning

What an incredibly busy month we have had this past month. Fishing every day, and flip flopping between my two guide services, Manistee River Salmon Guide Service fishing for king salmon on the Big Manistee River and my Traverse City Bass Guide Service guiding on Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City. We have attracted some media attention, which is always welcome.

We filmed 6 small 2-minute segments with “Michigan This Morning”, a local morning show. During the filming, we highlighted both my coffee company, Deep Blue Coffee Company, and my 3 guide services. Despite beautiful weather conditions on the Manistee River, we struggled to get bites casting crank baits for the king salmon lurking in the deep holes. Bring out the cameras, and the fish get shy! Typical stage fright on the part of the fish, I’m guessing.

Not to make excuses, here, things were set up a little bit against us. For casting crank baits, we as anglers and guides rely on a couple of things to help us. First, we need plenty of fish in the system to really make the crank bait bite shine. Lots of fish makes the salmon even more territorial, and we did not have a lot of salmon in the deep holes that day. Secondly, due to the filming, we needed lots of light to allow the high definition cameras to do their best. The ultimate crank bait bite occurs the first half hour prior to first light through the first hour after sunrise. For this morning show, we were taping live, so we didn’t even get onto the river until 9am! Not an early start at all.

On the day, we filmed with my Wolfe Outfitters head guide, Matt Dunn, and Kalin Franks, the host of the “Michigan This Morning” show. Stephanie Adkins did all of the camera work, as well played producer. It was a great experience to pull in to the parking lot at Bear Creek, one of the launches where we have Federal permits, and have all of the other boats already well on their way, leaving the parking lot and ramp empty for us to film.

Kalin started out by interviewing me, introducing Deep Blue Coffee, talking a bit about the coffee company prior to launching our boat. We chatted about how I got into the coffee business, and what I offer my fishing customers each morning with my coffee.

After launching the boat, we ran to a few different spots, where I showed Kalin and Stephanie how we cast crank baits to the king salmon that inhabit the Big Manistee River in the fall. We did a few more interview segments to fill out the segment times, discussing everything from casting basics to cured egg presentations, to the great fisheries we enjoy in northern Michigan. Despite not having a good bite to really showcase, we had a terrific time fishing with Kalin and Stephanie. We shared stories and laughed a lot—much of which is probably good not to have captured on film! Thanks Kalin, Stephanie, Matt and “Michigan This Morning”.

And last but not least, it was fun and interesting to watch the segments the next day. I used my DVR to record the segments, since I was out on another guide trip, and watched the “Michigan This Morning” show that evening with my parents and wife. Exciting to see it all come together.

Kalin Franks introducing Deep Blue Coffee.

Kalin and I discussing the finer points of cured salmon eggs for bait.

Plugging the Deep Blue Signature Blend; the Cottage Morning and Great Lakes Blends.

Guide’s Day Off! Let’s Go Fishing!

On a rare guide’s day off from salmon and steelhead customers, what did I do? I went fishing of course! Not only did I have the day off from my busy guide schedule, but another guide friend also had the day off. It was mid October, with the fall steelhead run in full swing. Following a hugely successful salmon season on the Big Manistee River, it was nice to have a day’s break. Driving down to the Muskegon River to meet my guide buddy, it was filthy with rain. Just pouring. No matter, we were going to enjoy this.

After a relaxed breakfast at a local diner, we hit the water in my buddy’s jet sled. Backbouncing egg sacks were clearly the way to go, as we boated 17 or18 beautifully chrome steelhead. We tried a few drifts with a float fished by a center pin rod, but that only yielded a carp. The highlight of the day was a hot steelhead that actually jumped in the boat. I’ve been fishing for salmon and steelhead for a long time, and I have to say—this was the first time that a steelhead has literally jumped in the boat. I’ve had salmon ram the boat, and steelhead leap and hit the side of the boat, but this chrome buck turned and ran straight at the boat, launching itself a few feet from the boat, landing squarely inside the boat. Absolutely a first, and absolutely no net needed! It also so happened that I was trying to do some filming and caught the entire thing on camera. Check it out!

Best Job in the World!

“Being a fishing guide must be the best job in the world”. I’ve heard this countless times from dozens of customers fishing with both Traverse City Bass Guide Service  and my other guide service, Manistee River Salmon Guide Service. Best job in the world? Surprisingly, yes it is! It’s a lot of work, worry and stress, but I find it completely rewarding. I can’t imagine doing anything else, considering that I get to go fishing for a living. Yes, it’s a job like any other, but it’s also a tremendous privilege to not only meet new people on a daily basis, share a boat with them, but also to be outside, doing something that I love to do. Whether I’m fishing Grand Traverse Bays for big smallmouth in waters that resemble the Caribbean, or fishing for king salmon  on the Big Manistee River, the scenery is absolutely stunning, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I have been extremely fortunate to be a very busy guide, with guide trips almost every day of the season. And when I’m feeling run down, tired and don’t think that I have the energy to keep going? I just realize that I get to go fishing as part of the best job in the world!