Steelhead on the Fly

Cold weather didn’t delay the Spring steelhead fishery for the 2020 season, but the Coronavirus did.  Most recreational fishing and all commercial fishing (guiding) was shut down through the peak of the steelhead run, throughout the Great Lakes region, and presumably throughout the rest of the world.  I was fortunate to plan a few trips just prior to the Government mandated, forced shut down…OF THE WHOLE WORLD!!!   

I usually try to time my trips to be on the rivers before the peak of the season, to avoid crowds. This year that ended up being early March.  Even though the weather turned out to be colder than normal. A warm-up and some melt off from a week prior to my trip, was enough to bring fresh fish into the river systems.

Over the course of two long weekends and fishing in three different river systems, the Pere Marquette, the Big Manistee and the White river, all Lake Michigan tributaries, I managed to connect with fish on every outing.

For much of the fishing that I did, I was with good friend Sean McDonald, who I’ve know for 30 years.  We both spent many years in the Fly-fishing business on these rivers. Sean still does and was anticipating being booked solid for March, April and part of May, so we were doing a bit of “pre-season” scouting for his upcoming guide schedule.  Little did he know at that point that he’d be cooling his heels, and staring at a complete loss of his season and livelyhood for spring 2020. ( to book a trip with Sean, for Steelhead, trout and salmon, fly-fishing in the rivers, or salmon fishing in Lake Michigan in the summer, contact him at

As it turned our fishing was pretty good.  We floated the Pere Marquette and also ran Sean’s jet boat up the Big Manistee river, primarily swinging flies with Spey and switch rods, fishing dark lairs, old haunts and holding water that has changed little in the last 20 years.  Each new stop was like seeing an old friend.  A new log or two and maybe a slightly narrower, or wider or deeper patch of spawning gravel revealed themselves just like wrinkles and gray hairs  reveal themselves when old friends meet after too long apart.

With mostly beautiful, albeit cold weather, we had good success.  We boated and released a number of nice fresh fish and a few holdovers that had wintered in the river. Resident trout rounded out the action.  We ate good food, smoked cigars and toasted the steelhead often. IPhones and GoPros were busy gathering footage for posterity.  Fresh, virus free air was gulped by the ton.

I almost feel guilty, knowing that so many people lost their opportunity to share this experience, this tradition and harbinger of spring.  For me this is one of the most important things that I do in early spring.  It’s a bit like the movie, “Groundhog’s day”, in that I’ve been doing it this time of year, every year, for over 35 years. Trout fishing, Walleyes, morel hunting and turkey hunting will, like the last 35 years, round out springtime priorities.  Summer will have a revised list, before a new list for fall, and so on, to start all over next spring.

So glad to not have missed it.  I truly feel for all those that did.  Mark your calendar for spring 2021.  There’ll be flowing water, fish and flyrods. there will be traditions to uphold!  See you on the water.

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