The onset of fall brings with it the beginning of steelhead fishing.

But just the beginning.

Crowds of anglers flock to the water early on, when fresh fish first start showing up and the weather is still warm and, at least sometimes, cooperative.

The action lasts a lot longer than some think, though. In the Great Lakes states in particular, steelhead fishing can remain productive through winter into spring.

Where and how to find fish changes over time, though.

In the early weeks of fall, it’s all about flow. Higher water induces fish to run into tributary streams. The more rain and the more water, the further upstream they’ll go, too.

The best fishing is often just after than rain stops. Typically, as flow rates drop, the bite picks up.

Those fish are often full of vim and vigor, so it pays to target them in faster water, like riffles and the heads of pools.

When scouting out locations, though, don’t look so much for fish as for fishy-looking locations. Silvery, fresh-run steelhead can be hard to spot early in the season. So don’t fall into the trap of overlooking spots if you can’t see fish in them.

By the time fall turns into winter steelhead will have run further up tributary streams. The crowds of anglers usually thin about a bit now, though some of the most consistent action is still to come.

Winter steelhead won’t often chase a bait, lure or fly far, though. Colder water slows their metabolism, so the key to getting strikes is many times putting a bait right in their face. Fish slowly and deep – usually as close to the bottom as possible.

Persistence has its place, too. Steelhead spooked out of an area by one angler often return to that spot relatively quickly when they’re gone. So just because the fisherman in front of you didn’t get fish in one hole doesn’t mean there aren’t steelhead there.

Take time to sleep in, too. Winter steelhead are more likely to be active mid-day than their fall counterparts, sparked by morning or afternoon sun into action.

The arrival of spring, meanwhile, offers really good opportunities to catch steelhead, too. Catch rates are, according to some surveys, as high in spring as at any time of year, in fact.

They often remain in creeks through April or even later, depending on weather and water. They’ll head back for the open water of places like Lake Erie soon, though, so follow them downstream as the season goes along.

Add it all up and, for months at a time, there’s no really bad time to look for steelhead.

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