Metal Heads

Thank you to Dan Donarski for this great guest blog post on spring fishing and the steelhead run!

Sportsmen and women living in Michigan have it made. We really do. We have it so good in fact that all too often we take what we have for granted. I know I do at times.

Take spring, for instance, and in particular, the steelhead run. Right now dozens of our rivers are filling with silvery bright lake-run rainbow trout, or, as they are more often called, steelhead. These fish, weighing in at anywhere from seven to nearly 20 pounds are simply incredible. While this is only a guess, I’d hazard to say that our state has more “named” or steelhead rivers than the west coast.

Over the past few years I have taken this spring run for granted. I’d start on the St. Joe and the Muskegon in February, move to the Pere Marquette in March. In April, when extended season rivers open, I’d find the Boardman and dozens of smaller rivers in the Upper Peninsula. Then, right in my backyard of Sault Ste. Marie, come May 15 the run would just be starting to kick in on the St. Mary’s River and would go until mid June.

When you have it so good, well, we tend to forget how special it truly is.

By a quirk of fate, enter one Leon Joubert, “Spyker” to his friends. Spyker hails from South Africa in the small northern village of Vaalwater. And, for the last five years he has scheduled his business trips to the United States to coincide with the steelhead run. To be exact, Michigan’s steelhead run.

“You know, from my very first visit, I kept hearing of these fish called steelhead. I love to angle,” he says. “I bought a few of your sporting magazines and read up on them. The next year I made sure to schedule a couple days of fishing on the Pere Marquette in between business conventions.”

Talking with him, I learned that he has fished when ice still clung to the banks of the river, in blinding snowstorms, in the rain, and this year, in some un-spring-like warmth. “This year the conditions have been the best I’ve seen. I know it is supposed to be much colder than it is but I’m not complaining. Neither is my wife, Ilse.”

After hearing his fish stories over the past few years his wife joined him for the first time in the United States. “I don’t believe his stories about a meter of snow and all that ice. Not for a minute,” she says. “But, I do believe those fish stories now. This river, the Pere Marquette is wonderful.”

“Spyker told me that I’d love fly fishing and my guide, Tom Johnson, taught me that it is quite easy. It’s really quite a beautiful sport, too.”

Over dinner I learned that Spyker ended up the day catching three steelhead and losing four others. His wife caught one, and lost two others. “They take the fly so lightly you really have to pay attention. It took me awhile to figure it out but by the end of the day I was getting the hang of it pretty well.

“What was really nice was the wilderness, the wildness of the float trip. We saw an eagle, and a group of six deer came to the river bank as we floated barely two meters away. That was quite nice.”

What about the wading I asked?

“I like that best,” said Spyker. “We don’t get to do much of that where we live, not without a lookout anyway, not with the crocs and such. The pull of the water on the waders is nice. It was serious fun watching Ilse for the first time this morning trying to get around in waders. Now I know how funny I must have looked that first time.”

Before they left the table I asked them if they planned on coming back. Ilse didn’t let her husband answer.

“Yes, we’ll both be back, I’m not letting him come over and do this by himself anymore. I want to do it again, too. We’re coming back next year and staying an extra week just to fish more of the rivers. I hear there are quite a few of them.”

Ilse is right, of course, we have dozens of steelhead rivers. And, we have an extremely long season.

If you’re interested in a fly fishing trip for steelhead and wish for the whole fishing lodge experience, two facilities come immediately to mind. The Pere Marquette Lodge in Baldwin sits on the banks of the river and offers wonderful rooms and a complete fly shop. On the banks of the Muskegon you’ll find Gray Drake Lodge and their newest addition, Trout and Eagle Lodge. All three of these are top-notch lodges and know how to treat their angling guests.

Now it’s time for me to hit the river.

Dan Donarski is an award-winning journalist/photographer and author. He specializes in the outdoors and adventure travel. When he’s not out and about he lays his head in Sault Ste. Marie.