They call it steelhead madness for a reason. Obsessed is not too strong a word to describe the afflicted. In fall and winter, I’ve driven five hours to a Great Lakes tributary, slept for four, was on the water at 5 A.M., and was headed home at noon. I’ve stood for hours in 33- degree water, endured all manner of stinging precipitation, seen rods snap like twigs on days when the mercury never made it out of the single digits, and still not had a single touch from a steelhead. Is the suffering really worth it for a fish? You bet.
No other freshwater species can match the strength and wildness of a fresh chromer. Steelhead are capable of blistering runs, instantaneous 180-degree turns, and cartwheels that would put a gymnast to shame. The good news is that many Great Lakes tributaries are within driving distance of major metropolitan areas, and when the bite is hot, it seems you can’t help but hook up. But reality is a harsh master. The steel heading learning curve can be steep, the seasonal conditions brutal, and the nature of the beast fickle. Don’t let your cold bones and those cannonball runs be for nothing. Here are the most critical lessons for success—some I’ve learned from years of experience in New York, and some are gleaned from a steelhead veteran in the heart of Michigan’s chrome country. They apply on any Great Lakes tributary.
You can make do with a general purpose 9-f