Wall to wall sunshine, temperatures in the low to mid-twenties, summer in Ontario is just around the corner. Although I’m just as happy as everyone else to put this long drawn out winter behind us, there is a little piece of me that is about to be left empty; steelhead are dropping back and it’s not long before they are gone once again.
I’ve got some steelheading buddies that, by this time of year, are all but done chasing chrome. In their eyes the fish are tired and warn out; just not that fun to catch. Any steelhead is fun to catch. To an extent I get where they’re coming from. The fish have just finished spawning are worn out, they do lack a little something, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t any fun. Now with the spawn over they have one thing on their mind; getting back to their cold water haunts before the rivers they have taken temporary residence in become unbearably warm. The key to a successful trip is regaining their energy. It’s time for them to strap on the feed bag.
It’s a feeding frenzy and while others are hanging up the steelhead gear in favor of walleye or pike or pan fish gear, some of us are experiencing the most frantic steelhead action of the spring. Double digit days seem easy to accomplish. A month ago all these fish wanted to do was spawn, now all they want to do is eat.
For the last couple of weeks dropbacks have been the name of the game and have led to some dramatic changes in my approach. Where before I had been running some low profile stuff (small roe bags or beads; maybe a pink worm or two) trying to coax fresh fish into battle, now I’m attacking. The fish are hungry; hungry fish want protein and will crush anything they think may offer them a lot of it. Big flies are tough to beat this time of year but extra-large roe bags or big fat dew worms (yes I said dew worms) can be deadly, especially after a rain.
The best thing about attacking these drop-backs: stealth goes out the window. Even in clear water, fish will go out of their way for a satisfying meal. I’ve watched fish come out of nowhere, exposing their vulnerability, to smash a big egg sucking leach being swung in their vicinity. It’s not just flies they will ravage; spoons and spinners and crankbaits are all deadly this time of year and will drive fish bonkers.
Often these spring fish defy the laws of steelheading, throwing everything we think we know about them out the window. Spring fish are aggressive fish and there are days when they won’t shy away from anything. Some may see them as far too easy of a target; I see an incredibly resilient fish that provides some amazing spring fishing. If fought, handled and released with care, the fish are no worse for wear.
Maybe they’re not as pretty; maybe they don’t fight quite as hard, but dropbacks are still steelhead and as long as they’re in the river you’ll find me chasing them.