November in Northern Michigan is a month of transition between the fading colors of fall and the white of winter. It is also one of the best months to catch steelhead on a swung fly.
Steelhead swim up the rivers in the fall to find food and feed off salmon eggs. The fish are actively seeking sustenance to gain weight to make it through winter and be healthy for spring spawning.
There are several methods one can use to catch these anadromous fish, but by far the most exciting way is on a swung fly. If you are unfamiliar with this method, then here is a basic description. You cast across the river to the opposite bank at a 45-degree angle. This allows the current to grab your line and slowly swing your fly across the river in a tantalizing way, hopefully in front of a willing steelhead. There are some great videos on the web that will give you a better understanding of what swinging a fly is all about, one I suggest is The Fall Run, by Todd Moen.
We are so lucky in Northern Michigan to have many good rivers to fish, and the Pere Marquette is among the best, with many access points and boat launches all along the river. One of the things I love about fly fishing, is that to do it well you have to devote all of your attention to it. It is very serene, as you have to clear your mind of work and all anxiety to focus on what your fly is doing.
On a late November morning I met up with a good friend to swing the “fly only” water of the PM. It had been colder earlier in the week, and there was a small covering of snow on the ground and trees. We assembled our rods, geared up, and started our float. There was much excitement and anticipation for a day of solitude on the water. As luck would have it, the very first hole we came to produced a beautiful fish. It nailed the fly as it was coming across and the fight was on. We found more fish, and lots of laughs as we made our way down the river. There were very few other anglers, and if it weren’t for the occasional house or cabin you would never know you weren’t a world away. Fly fishing requires patience and perseverance, but when you finally get a fish to grab your fly it is unforgettable.
Gear Tips: When swinging a hole or run, the speed and depth at which your fly comes across are very important factors. Because each hole you fish has different current speeds and depth, it is crucial to change your sink tip to match each spot. Sink tips come in different lengths and sinking rates. Rio Products sells iMow tips that work great and are easily interchangeable, making it simple to have the correct setup each time. It is also very important to get flies that are tied specifically for Great Lakes steelhead. My rod of choice for our local rivers is the Redington Chromer. The 11’6”, 8-weight rod is a fast-action rod that works great for casting under trees and bushes in tight cover.