winter steelhead

The Dead of Winter and Fishing Tactics

The last week was one of the coldest of this winter.    We didn’t get much snow but it sure was cold!    After a couple of days indoors, I needed to get outside, if only for a little while.    I know most of you can relate to this after being indoors for a while.   I went down to the river to take some photos on a dreary day.

One of the things that I look for is falling water when it is very cold.    Often times, falling water makes really cool ice formations along the banks of our great rivers.

Another great photo opportunity is when there is lake effect snow in the area.    Often the sun will break few for a little while in the afternoon, making for a beautiful array of pastel colors in the dwindling light.

It may sound crazy but winter is one of my favorite times to photograph things underwater.  The reason for this is that the water is extremely clear at normal water level in the winter.   Additionally, most fish and insects move very slowly in the cold water, making them easy to photograph.

I sure was glad when the weather did finally break today, allowing me to hook a few steelhead.    My favorite places to fish in the dead of winter are the inside of bends and behind fallen trees.    Trout and steelhead to a lesser degree congregate in the slower water as it holds oxygen and food sources in the winter.

Last year, we were fishing quite large baitfish patterns as there was a lot of lake run browns in the Muskegon.   Each year is different, and this winter we are fishing smaller patterns in the same types of water.   These smaller patterns catch as many steelhead as last year’s larger flies.   Since the lake runs aren’t as abundant, the smaller swung flies take advantage of the stream trout that are biters.   A slight change in tactics makes for some relaxed fishing, sometimes with many bites in the course of a day.

A lot of times I look for sandy bends that have a bit of deeper, darker water between the lighter colored bottom and the swifter current.    Often times these are productive places for a variety of game fish.

As spring gets closer, there will be a period of excellent fishing in these areas as stone fly nymphs move in close to shore, and king salmon begin to hatch.   You don’t need to necessarily match these hatches below the surface, as the increase in subsurface activity makes the fish search out moving targets.

When you look at rivers every day, you see the subtle changes that occur day to day.    Soon the signs of spring will be apparent.   For now, I am happy to fish whenever the weather breaks.

Enjoy this time of the year!–Kevin Feenstra

Pic of the Day – Underwater Rainbow Trout

Streamer fishing for both Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout has been pretty productive the past week, as trout are hungry.

During the fall water is usually low and clear, you can find trout hunting the weeds for food.

Two Different Experiences

September is gateway to the fall, and it has become my favorite month to fish. After a busy summer with the smallmouth, I take some time to relax and fish. I thought I would share two experiences, which were radically different in some ways but completely the same.

Last week, I visited muskie land for a chance at a big fish. They are one of my favorite recreational species. I was fishing alone and it was extremely windy, so fishing was uber challenging in this vast, open area. After two solid mornings, several fish had followed my shiny flies to the boat, but no connection. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever catch one. After numerous casts, zilch. I texted with Jon Ray and he said “chartreuse”. I took his suggestion. Literally on the first cast, I caught the glimpse of something beneath my fly. Soon the shadow disappeared, but something told me not to rush pulling the fly out of the water. I did a figure eight with my rod tip. I had never caught a musky with a figure eight, and my expectations were low. On the beginning of the second figure eight, a wide bodied fish exploded after my fly from under the boat. Soon he was hooked! It was one of the most exciting strikes I have ever had for any species. The fish was landed–it was a good sized fish, not huge, at 36″ in length.

Upon returning home, there was some time set aside to prepare for the fall season. In addition, I was hoping to accomplish one other fishing goal, to catch a brook trout in its fall spawning colors. There are numerous small creeks with brook trout in my area–in fact there is one in my back yard–so you think that this would be an easy task. This was not the case. I went to a stretch of a local small stream that is rumored to be great for brook trout. On the first day, I had several fish rise to my hopper pattern, but was unable to connect. Suddenly, a nice trout rose to my fly as it fell out of the grass on the bank. Much to my chagrin, my glee turned to horror. Normally I love brown trout, in this case I was disappointed with the 13 inch butterball on my line. I caught one more brown trout that day. The next morning, four browns as well as two rainbows we caught, but still no brookie. Finally, while swinging a wet fly, a tug registered on the line. I was frustrated when the fish was missed. The process was repeated, and again the fish took. I missed him yet again! I surmised that this must be a brook trout, as a brown trout would never be this stupid. On the third cast, I watched this nice trout follow my wet fly and it took. After a brief struggle, an 11″ jewel was at my feet. This moment was just as thrilling as catching the musky.

Fishing is always fun. Challenging fish make it more rewarding. This sounds like something a guide would say but the fish that you work for really are the most memorable. During the month of September, there are many challenges for the willing angler. Whatever fish you prefer to catch, get out and enjoy this great time of the year!

Kevin Feenstra’s Photos

Sculpins, the Every Day Bait Fish

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This past year was one of a kind. The steelhead fishing lasted forever, the hatches were late but amazing at times, and this spring’s flooding has had an impact on the entire fishing season in my neck of the woods. Some food sources come and go in these conditions. However, one of the most induring and ubiquitous creatures in Michigan is the sculpin, and I have been in love with these guys for a long time. Sculpins produced many fish this year as they are very effective in high water.

I have spent a lot of time looking for sculpins in our rivers. These fish love flat rocks in light to moderate current. If your river has broken concrete or bridges with a concrete base, these are sculpin hideouts. When the water is low, sculpins will come into shore. They also move into shore in the dead of winter. During the cold water months, one of the few baitfish that is easy to find is the sculpin. Sculpins themselves are predators, and if you ever decide to keep one in an aquarium they may well eat your other fish. The most common sculpin, the mottled sculpin, is pretty hardy and can stand warmer temps than other species.

When you tie flies, it is helpful to understand what sculpins look like. For most of the year, the majority of them are a tan color, like this one:

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When they are breeding, the males can take on a black color. This is also true of gobies, which look like sculpins in many ways. If you tie a black sculpin in the spring it will imitate sculpins and gobies; it will catch big fish.

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Sometimes you find sculpins that are a mottled olive color. This seems to be more common in the winter.

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If you enjoyed this post, please visit my photo web site on smugmug.

Kevin Feenstra

Baitfish Video

This is a short video from this spring and summer about the baitfish on the Muskegon River. It was almost as much fun chasing small fish as it was big! Thanks Jon for letting me post…

The Baitfish Video of the Muskegon River from Kevin Feenstra on Vimeo.

New Go Pro Studios

With an off day today from the river, did my usual run around, and then caught up on emails, and household chores.  One of the emails I had in that long scroll of inbox was from GoPro, with a link to the new studio download.  The new studio is a definite upgrade.

  • NEW GoPro Edit Templates make it easy to create GoPro-style videos
  • NEW Trim, edit and mix video clips
  • NEW Add titles, music, audio tracks and more
  • NEW Fisheye adjustment control
  • NEW Adjust video playback speed for fast or slow motion
  • NEW Export video still frames at full resolution

So I took the new software for a quick spin.  The GoPro Studio is by no means as good as FinalCut but for just looking and doing a quick edit of some GoPro footage it does some really cool stuff.

I really liked the fact that I could export still images from video.  Below is an example, as we continue to play around with the Muskie footage we shot this past month.  Also another great feature is playing with the fisheye adjustment.  Haven’t tried that but plan on it.  Anyway check out the download if you self edit.  Link is above.

B&W Fly Underwater

Working on a project had the camera out yesterday, did a little taping here is a snippet.  Might take a few minutes to load, as I’m still figuring out the WP format for hosted videos.

Video was shot with the New GoPro3 Black 

B&W Fly

Underwater Steelhead – Pic of the Day

Erik Rambo shot a video of a cool release shot of a steelhead swimming away along the sand in the lower river.  This video was shot this week in the high sun so we had good light and low clear water provides for a perfect effect. Took the video and converted it to a jpeg and found this shot that is hard to get with just a camera.  Thank you Erik.