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5 Awesome Destinations for Fall Steelhead Fishing

Get out on the water before waters ice over.

By Trent Jonas

5 Awesome Destinations for Fall Steelhead Fishing

When the leaves start to turn, in many parts of the United States, particularly the Great Lakes region, steelhead start to run—as do steelhead anglers who rush to catch them. Although steelhead runs may last well into winter, in many places the rivers may ice over, which makes fall a superb time for chasing a silvery trophy. Here are a few awesome destinations for fall steelhead fishing.

Pere Marquette River, MI

The premier steelhead river in Michigan—and quite possibly in the Midwest—is the Pere Marquette on Michigan’s lower peninsula. Flowing out of the Huron-Manistee National Forest to its mouth at Ludington, on Lake Michigan, the Pere Marquette consistently delivers monster steelhead to trout-thirsty anglers when the fall run out of the lake begins. 

Go on your own, or if you prefer, use a local guide to get you to the river’s prime stretches. Outfitters North is a good bet for a guide service, with decades of experience fishing the Pere Marquette. The Pere Marquette River Lodge, also in Baldwin, has got your hookup for both gear and fishing-friendly lodging.

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Niagara River, NY

In New York, the Niagara River, which connects Lake Erie with Lake Ontario is a steelhead angler’s dream. In autumn, the lower Niagara, below the famous falls, is the place to go. The fall run hits its peak in November and then lasts throughout the winter, producing a steady stream of steelies throughout the colder months. 

Unlike many steelhead streams, the Niagara is neither small nor particularly easy to navigate, so both wading and fishing from the shoreline are likely to be unproductive (and possibly dangerous). Your best bet is to head out in a boat with a guide like 1st Choice Charters. If you need gear or simply some advice about where to find the fish, hit up Creek Road Bait and Tackle in Lewiston.

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McKenzie River, OR

When it comes to steelhead, there really is no fishery that can compare with those in the Pacific Northwest. And for fall ocean-run steelhead, the McKenzie River, in Oregon, is the place where avid anglers flock when the weather starts to turn. 

For gear or local knowledge about the river’s most productive stretches, stop into the Caddis Fly Shop in Eugene. If you want the added insurance of a guide—or need someone with a drift boat—get in touch with Jim Martin at McKenzie Guide Service

Elk Creek, Lake City, PA

Elk Creek is the largest tributary of Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. It’s also one of the most popular with steelhead anglers—and for good reason. During the fall, steelhead flock upstream from the lake, but typically don’t get much beyond the U.S. Route 5 bridge in Lake City until the weather gets colder. This is why the lower reaches of the creek, between Route 5 and the mouth, is known as “Steelhead Alley.” 

For a fishing report and stories about the steelies that slipped away, check in with the Elk Creek Sports Store in Lake City. Fly anglers will find a robust selection on their way to Elk Creek at Neshannock Creek Fly Shop in Volant. If you’re looking for a guide to help you avoid the crowds and land a trophy, get in touch with Erie Steelhead Outfitters.

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Brule River, WI

Wisconsin’s Bois Brule River, generally known as the “Brule” River, is a gorgeous waterway. For much of its length, the rushing stream is flanked by Brule River State Forest and the Brule River Forest State Natural Area. Although locals know it for its scenery, the Brule is renowned among anglers for its fall steelhead run. Brule steelhead are lake run rainbows that spend most of their time in the frigid waters of Lake Superior and, come fall, make their way upriver to spawn. 

The river is open to steelhead anglers until mid-November each year, so don’t wait too long to head for northwestern Wisconsin. For intel on what the fish are hitting and where the best stretches are, hit up Tight Lines Fly Shop in De Pere, Wisconsin. If you prefer to go with a guide, Superior Fly Angler out of Superior, Wisconsin, will put you on the trout.

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Due to the escalation of the coronavirus outbreak, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for more information.

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