This weeks' turn of cool weather, rain and lower temperatures at night can bring an early run of steelhead to area rivers like the Clinton and Huron, along with smaller creeks that empty into Lake Erie.
Fall steelhead run the rivers to feed on baitfish, salmon eggs and invertebrates dislodged by spawning salmon. Far removed from the reproductive drive that causes them to move upstream and spawn, these fall-run fish are in seek-and-destroy mode. A streamer run through holding water is likely to get hit hard if feeding steelhead are present. These strikes are not a light tap, or your line stopping or "hanging" in the current, but a solid throbbing smash that sets your line hissing through the water and adrenaline coursing through your veins.
Fly selection for these aggressive fish needn't be an exact science. My go-to flies are big clouser minnows in chartreuse and white, bunny leeches in purple or black, egg-sucking leeches and pink marabou streamers that imitate the pink worm.
The pink worm has been a go-to steelhead lure in the Pacific Northwest for many years. It's now developing a minor following on Michigan rivers, having started with drift and centerpin fishers. I first tried this rig, nothing more than a small pink worm on a heavy jig drifted under a bobber in the early 2000s. While I didn't use pink worms often, the success I had with them made me wonder how a fly could be tied to imitate it.
The quickest and easiest ties to emulate a pink worm are simple bunny leeches with a few wraps of marabou, schlappen or artic fox at the head. A pattern like the Grapefruit Head incorporates all of these winning attributes, in addition to being easy to tie in every color in the rainbow. A tubefly leech pattern with roots in Michigan steelheading, the Grapefruit Head draws its name from the color of the head wraps, fluorescent green and hot pink. (Special thanks to Alyssa and Neil of the Anadromy Blog, written from the banks of the Hoh River in Oregon, for details on this pattern and many other intruder and squid type patterns).
To tie the Grapefruit Head, you will need the following:
Beadhead, conehead or monster cone - I prefer the monster or turbo cone for the way it adds some extra life to the fly's collar. Be sure that your bead or cone fits whatever diameter tubing you are using.
Bunny strip - regular or magnum, NOT crosscut. Popular colors are black, pink, olive.
Collar material - marabou, arctic fox, finnish raccoon, ice dub. If you choose loose fur or dubbing, you'll need to tie it in with a dubbing loop.
Krystal flash or flashabou - black or electric blue.
The how-to steps for the Grapefruit Head can be found in the attached slideshow. Enjoy tying - tight lines!