Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lake Michigan Steelhead Strain Information

I, like many other curious anglers do research to figure out when their favorite fish are spawning in creeks, streams and rivers all along the great lakes. When it comes to Steelhead, anglers have the advantage of being able to fish for this glorious gem of a salmonid almost year round. Here is some information from the Wisconsin DNR on three of the most heavily stocked species of Steelhead.

Skamania : "Summer Run Steelhead" - This strain was developed at the Skamania hatchery in the state of Washington. Wisconsin originally obtained eggs from Indiana, but now takes the eggs from adults returning to Wisconsin streams. The spawning migration begins in late June and early July. The good stream fishing doesn't begin until the water temperatures start to cool, usually in mid-September. Spawning occurs from mid-December through mid-March with the peak occurring in January and February. The majority of spawning fish are four and five year olds. Four year old fish average 28" and 8 pounds, while five year old fish average 32" and 12 pounds.

This is a photograph of a Skamania strain Steelhead from Trail Creek Indiana, which I landed in late July of 2009, it was 26" long and weighed between 6 and 7 pounds:

Chambers Creek : "Winter Run Steelhead" - This strain originated at Washington's South Tacoma Hatchery. Eggs for our program were originally obtained from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The spawning migration starts in late fall and continues through winter and early spring. Some of the best stream fishing is during mid-November through December and again in March and early April. The majority of spawning adults are three and four year old fish. Three year Chambers Creek Steelhead average 25 inches and 6 pounds while four year Chambers Creek Steelhead average 29 inches and 9.5 pounds.

This photograph is of a Chambers Creek strain Steelhead from the Milwaukee Harbor, caught through the Ice in February of 2009. It was 27" long:


Ganaraska River : "Winter Run Steelhead" - This strain of Steelhead originated on the west coast and has since become naturalized in Lake Ontario. It uses the Ganaraska River on the north shore of the lake for spawning. Although referred to as a spring-run fish in Ontario, the Ganaraskas stocked in Lake Michigan also contribute to the fall and winter stream fishery. Strong pulses of these fish run up the rivers from November to December and again from late March through April. Peak spawning time extends from April to early May. This is the lasts strain of rainbow trout to leave the stream and has extended the fishing opportunities an extra 2 to 4 weeks. Returning adults average 23 inches at age 3 and 26 inches at age 4.

This photograph is of a Ganaraska strain Steelhead from Oak Creek caught in early May, it measured 25" and weighed just shy of 5 pounds:


Steelhead are native to the western United States but are a vital part of the Great Lakes fishery and have been naturalized in lake Ontario. There are other strains such as the Kamloops and Arlee steelhead which are stocked further north. The brood stocks for these three strains are currently at Kenosha and Racine, and the Racine Root River Steelhead Processing Facility processes many steelhead, brown trout, and salmon (both Coho and Chinook) each year. The weir at that facility has a glass window and it is an amazing spectacle to see so many large rainbow trout in such a small area. After they are spawned out by volunteers and members of the DNR they are released back to the water, where they continue their fight upstream, only to return to Lake Michigan when it is all over.

The glorious details of the gill plate of a spawning male steelhead.

An angler's catch of the morning laying in shallow water.

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