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Steelhead on Ice        by Garett Svir

Garett with an awesome steelhead through the ice.  

Just because its winter and many of your favorite steelhead streams are iced over doesnít mean you canít scratch that steelhead itch. Many streams that have winter over fall steelhead have a viable population to target thru the ice. In my group of friends steelhead season never comes soon enough or last long enough. A few years ago we found a solution. A way to fish tip ups over our favorite steelhead holding water all winter long.

The tactics are much like people use in the river mouths in the spring and fall. We employ a small egg sinker, allowed to slide freely on the main line. We then attach a small bead to stop the sinker. Finally a high quality barrel swivel. We then add 6-12Ē of fluorocarbon leader and a #6 hook. For bait we use 6-7 fresh salmon eggs, and a small marshmallow for buoyancy. We tie this with pink mesh spawn sack material and wrap the end with thread. This rig is then dropped to the bottom allowing the egg sinker to rest on bottom and bait to float up.

You may have to leave the center pin and fly rod at home though because in the winter the tip up is king. Tip up selection consists of many options from traditional and windless models to devices like slammers (where legal). On Lake Michigan tributaries these slammer devices are used with great popularity. The device consists of a rod and reel in a holder attached to a board. Another board is attached with a cabinet hinge so it can fall. A nail is placed into the second board to hold the rod tip. Springs are attached to pull the board inward as the rod forces it outward. A trigger to release the rod tip once a fish hits is added. Iíve seen everything from split rings to bobbers used.


The bait is dropped to the bottom. The rod tip is then hooked into a nail on the end of the second board. The drag is loosened. When a fish hits, the device ďslamsĒ shut releasing the rod tip and setting the hook for you. The benefit of this rig is that is decreases your percentage of dropped baits. Finicky steelhead will often run with a bait for awhile on a traditional tip-up and drop it before you get to the flag. Another tactic is to just let out some line and let you bait wash downstream, once your bait is 20í downstream close the bail and hold on. Iíve also seen anglers employ a slip bobber on the bottom rig. Simply drop your egg sinker to the bottom, reel in slightly to pull line taunt and set your slip bobber. The reason to use tip ups or floats is simple. Most of the water were fishing is 3-7 ft deep and steelhead spook easily. The best plan is to get baits set, and watch from a safe distance away to not spook your shallow water prey.


We all wish we could catch fish like this during our winter months!


Contrary to popular belief the best spots are current seams and not deep holes. The fish in deep holes seem to be resting and not feeding. Iíve caught my biggest winter steelhead in heavy current areas, often in only 4 ft of water. Let the other guys fish the deep stuff and strike off to find new areas. I like to be constantly trying new areas and fresh ice. One a crowd develops steelhead will vacate the area and you should too. 

Donít let the winter doldrums get you down! Get out and get a jump start to your steelhead season. Youíll be glad you did.


Editorís Note: Garett Svir and his partner Kim are dedicated anglers fishing from Minnesota to Alaska. They are unique in the fact that they want to share their mutual love for fishing along with their first class photographs. You owe it to yourself to check out their blog at  I wasnít disappointed and I plan to visit often so I can keep up with their angling adventures!





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