Portage Oudoors: Tips for winter steelheading

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As we sit amidst the middle of Ohio's celebrated steelhead season, it would appear time for an overview of how things appear currently, projections for the coming year, and some basic tips on locations, equipment, and preparation for those who may be contemplating an initial foray into this exciting sport during time off during the upcoming holiday season.

Currently, opportunities have been at their very best for those with the foresight and good fortune to have access to a smaller Lake Erie deep-v style boat with which to troll or long-cast the north shore's pre-ice-up breakwalls, harbors, and shipping lanes.Among the stand-out areas are Ashtabula, Geneva, and, of course, fabled Conneaut. When these lake bound rainbows are between their fall and spring "staging" periods outside the creeks to exit or enter make no mistake of thinking all the area steelies -- or even a majority -- are indeed involved in this transition. Fact is, a large contingent of steelhead will stay out in the lake proper; witness the increasing number of them caught by ice anglers.

A disconcerting number of conventional (non-fly anglers) fishermen inexplicably put away the boats that would be an essential asset in pursuit of these and other cold water species while smarter, more visionary anglers enjoy the most productive steelheading of the year, taking advantage of special seasonal conditions.

As I write this, hungry steelies are active and vulnerable to the trolling or casting of 2/5-to-3/4-oz. Little Cleos, K.O. Wobblers, and Stinger Scorpions spoons in an array of colors that should always include some flashy chrome. Troll at a slow to moderate-slow speed with these, always remembering to add an essential ball-bearing swivel to enhance action and prevent line twist.This method is best utilized employing 10-to-14-lb. ultra-clear mono on a reliable baitcaster attached to a lengthy, fiberglass rod.

When what remains of these feisty sportfish finally have invaded their stream haunts a much different approach is called for. These stream bound trout are now especially spooky initially.This requires a serious downsizing of gear, paired with an infinitely more stealthy approach on foot.

Fly anglers most often seem to opt for for 9-wt. fly gear and fluorocarbon leaders of light weight and low visibility, often utilized to effectively present the popular Clauser Minnow, among other sinking flies.

"Conventional" steelheaders (that is non-fly-fishing stream anglers) that utilize spinning gear on longish noodle rods, form what is still the vast majority of Ohio steelie fishermen. A very few of these will cast spoons on baitcasting gear, but once these fish invade the streams en mass, a lighter line choice is important. The light weight presentations you'll be using -- Mini-Foos or spawn sacs under floats, small inline spinners, tiny crankbaits and tiny spoons -- make long, fiberglass rods all but automatic for many.

These long, flexible rods help propel small baits and provide fighting flexibility neccessary when 4-to-8-lb. line is the preferred test line. There are few visions more comical than that of a cheapskate who thinks he's being economical by trying to successfully fish for steelhead with his bass or walleye rod.

A trap steelhead novices somewhat understandably fall into is thinking an ultra-lite rod must always be matched to an ultra-lite reel, a bad miscalculation in steelheading. That small line capacity combo may be wonderful for your favorite panfish, but a larger line capacity spool is essential for fish that regularly peel off 50-yard runs.

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Jack Kiser is the host of TV's "Buckeye Angler" and co-host of "The Hunting & Fishing Show" on radio, which airs Sunday evenings from 6-7 p.m. on WAKR-1590 AM out of Akron. You may reach him via the Facebook sites for either program.

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