It’s September, which means it is time for the Steelhead in the Great Lakes to make their annual spawning runs and flood into the tributaries. Many anglers will follow the fish in hopes of hooking up with a few. Some of them will catch fish. Others will be skunked.
There are many ways to fish, but people fishing the Great Lakes tributaries for steelhead usually stick to a few tried and true methods. A lot of different things can catch chromers too, but experience says the following five baits and lures are the best.
Note: The Angler’s Notebook may receive compensation for purchases made at participating retailers linked on this site. This compensation does not affect what products are mentioned here.
Berkley PowerBait Steelhead Egg Clusters
Berkley PowerBait Trout/Steelhead Egg Clusters are a great alternative to the egg sacks people have been using in the Great Lakes tributaries for years. They are cleaner and more efficient than egg sacks, which can spoil and be hard to find. They are also more buoyant, so they drift naturally in the water.
The Firefly Jig
The Northland Firefly Jig is one of the best lures you can carry on the Great Lakes tribs. It comes in several colors. Chartreuse, pink and black are the best colors, but they can all catch fish.
The general rule is to fish subtle colors on bright days with clear water and bright colors on dreary days with stained water, but with steelhead you never know. You might drift three different colored jigs through a run without getting a hit then throw a fourth color and catch three fish in a row. A lot of the steelhead jigs marketed in America are meant more for West Coast steelhead fishing. They are usually too big for the steelhead of the Great Lakes tributaries. Northland Firefly Jigs are just the right size.
These kinds of micro jigs are normally fished on a floating drift jig but you can also drift them on a tight line or simply swim them through the water. Besides the Firefly Jigs, Worden’s Maxi Jig in smaller sizes (1/32 oz), the Lindy Little Nipper, and local variations like the Mini Foo jig also work well. It helps to tip these jigs with one or two maggots for flavor.
The Little Cleo is probably the best spoon for steelhead in the Great Lakes tributaries. Steelhead spend most of their time out in the big lakes chasing bait fish. They don’t lose the instinct to eat smaller fish when they enter the tributaries. The Little Cleo has the right weight and makeup to fish everywhere from the lake shore to the deeper creeks the steelhead run. It can also be effective for snapping groggy fish out of the doldrums and into a biting mood.
Orange and gold and blue and silver Little Cleos seem to do best for steelhead in the Great Lakes tribs, but other colors including solid gold also work well. The best sizes for the Great Lakes tributaries are 1/8 oz and 1/16 oz. Bigger spoons can be too heavy to manipulate and cause a lot of commotion. Though you might want to carry one or two big lures if you’re fishing in high water after a rain.
One of the absolute best baits or lures you can use for steelhead in the Great Lakes tributaries is the Berkley Trout Worm. Fished on a 1/64 oz jig head using a floating drift rig, this lure is insanely effective. Bubblegum and pink shad are the best colors for the Great Lakes tribs, but other colors can work too.
For whatever reason, the other worms sold by Berkley like the Fat Floating Trout Worm don’t seem to work nearly as well. The PowerBait Floating Steelhead Worm works like a charm on the West Coast, but it’s much too large for fishing most of the Great Lakes tributary streams.
Where permitted minnows can do wonders on Great Lakes run steelhead. There are some great lures on this list, but technology still hasn’t advanced to the point where we can perfectly imitate mother nature. Emerald shiners work particularly well in the Lake Erie tributaries like Elk Creek and Walnut Creek.
Most of the bait shops around the Great Lakes tributaries sell minnows. Transporting them to the water and using them when fishing in the cold weather can be a challenge, but the Bait Up Live Bait Container makes it easy. You can keep the minnows alive all day and quickly grab one without getting wet or cold when you need fresh bait.