January Thaw Fishing Report – Midwinter Steel

The recent mild weather came as a pleasant surprise to anglers throughout the Northeast. With 50- and 60-degree temperatures forecasted, I wanted to take advantage by sneaking in some mid-winter steelheading on the Salmon River.

I’ve never made a trip to the Salmon River in January or February, less because of the fishing itself (which stays good through the coldest weather) and more because of the road conditions. The trip to Pulaski is 5-and-a-half hours from Cape Cod, and snow or ice would only extend an already punishing ride.  In the past, the nice weekends never lined up with the weekends I didn’t have a Sportsman Show to work.

I left my house at 1:45 a.m., and was lacing up my wading boots by 7:30. There were already fishermen hooking up to thrashing steelhead, and I rigged up as quickly as I could, and found a spot.

There were plenty of anglers out taking advantage of the mild weather, but the fish were plentiful and willing to bite. This was probably helped along by the rising water level from the rapidly melting snow. My first hit came about 30 minutes in. My indicator disappeared and when I set to hook, it reappeared several yards upstream, fast to a cartwheeling chromer. The fish changed direction and spit the hook. 0/1. From there, the bites came frequently. Most were lost but a few were landed. There was the standard “one that got away,” a steelhead with a tail like a 20-pound striper. The fish slowed down just long enough to make me think I had a chance.

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Scott Glazier tries to slow down a lake-bound steelhead.

The next day, I ran into my friend Scott Glazier from Tinker Tavern Lodge and Guide Service. He’d just launched his boat only to have his clients call and cancel. He invited me to fish with him for the day, and after shuttling his truck and trailer to the lower launch, we were on our way. Scott knows the river inside and out, pointing out productive holes and seams as we moved downriver. Being on the water most days gives Scott a pretty good idea of where the steelhead are hanging. The goal was finding some fresh fish in fast water. The fish I’d targeted the day before were hunkered down in deeper holes, where they’ll most likely spend the winter.

We made 5 stops and hooked fish at all of them. Each steelhead was bright and fought like the devil himself. As always, more were lost than landed, but if you can stay connected to a steelhead for a long run and a couple jumps, it’s almost as good as landing him. Almost.

 

6 on “January Thaw Fishing Report – Midwinter Steel

  1. John Haslam

    The article does not mention where the author fished ……. it wasn’t until I read the “tagged” section did it say something about New York. Is Pulaski in NY ? Would have been better to say where it is at the beginning ? Otherwise, a neat article about cold weather fishig, I did enjoy reading it.

    1. Jimmy Fee

      John,
      Pulaski is not far from Syracuse in New York. Right by the southeast corner of Lake Ontario.

  2. Ryan Collins

    Nice write up Jimmy.

    Forgive my ignorance, but I really don’t know much when it comes to Steelhead – although I’ve been hearing a lot about Steelhead recently from friends which makes me think it may be worth a try.

    Are these fish moving in from the ocean to spawn? How much longer do you think we have until the Steelhead fishing slows down to the point where it’s not really worth making the drive?

    Just curious – thanks for any intel and take care,

    Ryan

    1. Jimmy Fee

      Thanks Ryan.

      The steelhead in Lake Ontario are mostly sustained by hatcheries, though there is some natural reproduction going on as well. The fish were introduced into the Great Lakes from the rivers of the Pacific Northwest.

      The steelhead follow the salmon up the rivers in the fall, eating their eggs, and many remain in the river until spring, when the steelhead themselves spawn. The fishing stays pretty steady through the winter, improves in April as the fish spawn and regain their appetite while they work their way downstream, back to Lake Ontario. Depending on the water temp, the fishing can hold on through early May.

      1. Ryan Collins

        Thank you Jimmy for the detailed response.

        That sounds like quite the interesting fishery. Must be exciting being on the water (even if it’s just a stream) during the middle of the winter, with a chance at a really nice fish. Bit more exciting than ice fishing, at least in my opinion! lol

        Take care, thanks for the info and tight lines,

        Ryan

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