As the ice jams recede and the frozen landscape once again becomes spring the world starts to come back to life. Streams and rivers begin to flow in a more familiar pattern and the fish that live there begin to venture again from their winter holds. The spring for many is an exciting time. Many different fish species seasons start to open back up for catch and keep but for some anglers the most exciting taste of spring is a fresh caught trout.
In Michigan season typically opens the last weekend in April. Please make sure to read your local regulations as there can be many specifics based on a variety of factors when it comes to trout fishing. When someone talks about trout fishing there are several different species to be aware of. Brown trout, Brook trout, Lake trout, Rainbow trout, and Steelhead.
Brown trout can be difficult to identify. Lake dwelling brown trout can often be predominantly silver in color with body spots being obscured as opposed to the river dwellers that will retain their brownish hue and identifiable spots. Brown trout provide good fishing in northern Michigan. They can be targeted with a variety of different methods including live bait, spinners, and artificial minnows. However, Brown trout are a favorite for many fly fishermen who will pursue this species during large insect hatches. Brown trout in streams tend to be more agreeable on cloudy overcast days. Some of Michigan’s best known trout streams include the Au Sable river, the Pere Marquette, and the Manistee Rivers.
The brook trout is native to Michigan’s waters and has been designated the state fish of Michigan. Brook trout have a long sleek body, they can have a variation of colors including olive, blue-gray, or black above, with a white or silvery belly. The tail fin is square and slightly forked. Brook trout also have spots surrounded by blueish halos on their sides. “Brookies” are active biters and will respond to a variety of different tackle and baits including grasshoppers, crickets, worms, wet and dry flies, spoons and spinners. They are often found under the cover of logs, rocks, or overhanging banks and in deep holes in many streams where anglers will drift their bait in along the bottom. The Black river system in the Northeastern lower peninsula has a reputation for being among the best brook trout streams in Michigan. Brook trout can be found in most major trout streams however by summer they have often migrated to the headwaters of tributaries in search of colder water. Brook trout can be found widely across the northern region of the state especially in the upper peninsular where any stream that runs clear and cold is likely to hold a population of brookies.
Lake trout can be found in all five of the great lakes and many deep cold water inland lakes of Michigan. The lake trout prefers water temperatures between 40-55 degrees Fahrenheit. The lake trout has light spots on a black or gray body which progressively get lighter moving down the side of the fish to a white belly. They are usually found at significant depths though they can be caught in relatively shallow water in the spring or in the fall when the trout are spawning. A lot of lakers are caught by trolling fisherman using flashers, spoons, and minnows most often near bottom. In the fall when lake trout spawn these fish can be caught using spawn, smelt, minnow or casting spoons as they can be found on reefs and shoals sometimes traveling upstream giving the angler the ability to cast off piers or the shore to sometimes connect. A good number of inland lakes have been stocked or have natural populations of lake trout that can offer good fishing all year round. Higgins, Elk, and Torch lakes are some of the better-known inland lake fisheries.
Rainbow trout and Steelhead
Steelhead is a name given to migratory rainbow trout that are born in rivers but spend most of their lives in the great lakes or the ocean. Steelhead give a great fight. This is one of the many reasons sportsman often pursue this popular species. They can be caught by trolling lakes, casting off piers, and surf fishing. Many anglers will target them when they are in their tributaries and rivers in the spring making shore fishing very accessible. Steelhead make great table fare that can be prepared in a variety of ways whether you prefer it smoked, grilled, or fried; another aspect that makes these trout one of Michigan’s most popular sport fish. Rainbow trout and Steelhead can be hard to identify. Genetically rainbow trout are the same species but live very different lives then their migratory counterparts. Rainbow trout stay inland as opposed to the steelhead who migrates to the great lakes or the ocean in their native habitat. The Rainbow trout is silvery and may have a pinkish stripe down their side. The fish can have pepper sized spots either on its tail or sometimes up and across the upper surface of its body. Like many trout the Rainbow can be caught using a variety of methods, live bait, lures, flies, spinners, spoons, etc. In larger lake settings they can be caught by trolling or by ice fishing in the winter. This species is most commonly associated with clear water lakes in northern Michigan, though they have been successfully stocked in many lakes in southern Michigan as well.
Some of the most fun I’ve ever had has been wading the trout streams of northern Michigan. The feeling you get putting on your waders and stepping into the stream can be surreal; as the current flows past you and you feel the rocks under your feet, the warm sun on you from the days growing longer this time of year and the world coming back into the green foliage of spring and summer seems like some sort of natural magic. So, if you’re looking for a little adventure and a great meal, I would highly recommend getting out this spring and trying your hand at trout fishing.
Stony Creek Outdoors
Source information provided by Michigan DNR, michigan,gov/dnr