Anglers around the Great Lakes had an early start to steelhead fishing season this spring following a warmer-than-normal winter, and recent warming conditions have brought the season into full swing.
Steelhead are one of the top sport fish in the country that can grow up to 30 inches long and weigh over 10 pounds depending on their age and which of the Great Lakes they live in.
Although most steelhead don't grow quite this large, they are still a challenge to reel in once hooked, making them an exciting catch for anglers who travel to tributaries around the Great Lakes to fish.
The spring months are the most active time for steelhead in Minnesota as the fish swim from the waters of Lake Superior into the lake's tributaries to spawn.
Usually, Minnesota steelhead don't make their way upstream until April or May when water temperatures in the rivers rise to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the fish made their way upstream earlier in this year due to the milder winter.
"This year, we started in March," Davin Brandt, director of Minnesota Steelheader, said. "We had such a light winter that the rivers opened up a bit and we had a push of fish." Minnesota Steelheader is a nonprofit group of volunteers dedicated to preserving the state's steelhead fisheries and educating the community.
"The warm weather in March really improved the fishing," Brandt added.
In Duluth, Minnesota, for example, which is located right along the shore of Lake Superior, temperatures in March averaged more than 5 degrees above normal. The warmer air allowed the water temperatures in Lake Superior's tributaries to rise to favorable levels for the fish earlier than normal.
However, a flip in the weather pattern sent colder air across the region during the first half of April. This caused water temperature in rivers to drop, which sent steelhead swimming downstream back into Lake Superior.
According to Brandt, steelhead fishing in Minnesota slowed down for about two weeks during the first half of April, but the fish have begun to swim back upstream.
"Right now it's in full swing. It's just getting to the point where we're seeing serious numbers [of fish]," Brandt said.
This spike in steelhead fish will drive anglers to the rivers over the next few weeks, especially with the upcoming weather.
According to AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey, the weather in northeastern Minnesota looks to be warmer and drier than normal in the next two weeks, which is favorable for fishermen that will be out in the weather for several hours at a time.
The best time for steelhead fishing is different in other parts of the Great Lakes, such as the tributaries of Lake Erie.
"We'll get people fishing all through the winter time," James Markham, senior aquatic biologist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said.
"The bulk of our fishing activity is October, November and half of December," Markham explained. "It tends to slow down in the winter time but will turn up again in March and April and top out in May."
This year brought the earliest start to the spring run on Lake Erie in years thanks to the mild winter.
According to Markham, the creeks were frozen during early spring over the past two years due to the bitterly cold winter weather. When the creeks are frozen, the fish stay in the lake.
Steelhead fishing conditions should remain fair for anglers for the next few weeks until the steelhead are finished spawning.
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