It's time for Skamania Mania
“It’s on!” said my brother Jim last week after returning from a day of fishing. “And I’m headed back first thing in the morning,” he added with maniacal conviction. It’s now time for Skamania mania. He was referring to the annual summer run of steelhead trout, Skamania to be exact.
When days grow long and hot, some fishermen begin morphing into something completely different, like my brother. They evolve into what many call “Skamaniacs!” They put down their panfish and bass equipment, instead, grabbing rods a bit larger and begin migrating north. No, not to Canada, not near that far. In-shore anglers begin congregating on Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline and its smaller tributaries. In Indiana we are fortunate to have unique fishing opportunities for big water species, non-existent in most interior states.
Skamania steelhead gets its name from the hatchery in Washington that first created it. These trout tend to run in warmer waters than the normal breeds which spawn in later winter to early spring.
What sets the Skamania strains apart from their winter-run brothers, aside from running in the summer months, is their long slender bodies and famous tendency towards becoming airborne when hooked. With all due respect to the acrobatic smallmouth bass or the brute strength of bulldogging king salmon, no fish swimming in Lake Michigan or its feeder streams fights with more fury than a well-hooked Skamania steelhead.
For years, Skamania trout have been attracting a solid following of dedicated anglers and the people who diligently follow their summer spawning runs continue to swell.
The attention this particular species of fish garner is no surprise. These high flying, acrobatic steelhead trout hit like freight trains as they slash baits. As for light tackle - forget about it - unless you enjoy seeing your standard fishing tackle come apart in your hands.
Matt Burns, Russiaville, proves he's on his way to becoming a Skamaniac. Photo by author
Seven to nine foot rods are the norm as long as they have a soft action to absorb the blistering shock these fish can deliver. A reel spooled with several hundred yards of 10 pound test line is also a good bet as they are known for stripping smaller reels bare during their searing runs.
Summertime is Skamania time in northern Indiana with the months of June and July being the best. Mature fish average 10 pounds with many caught each year eclipsing the 20 pound mark.
“Since these magnificent fish enter Indiana tributaries during the summer months, we are right in the middle of this year’s migration,” said DNR Lake Michigan biologist Brian Breidert. “Indiana is home of the Skamania in Lake Michigan,” he continued. “Our hatchery staff works diligently each summer collecting adult fish to ensure our hatcheries have an ample supply of adults to produce eggs for our state’s annual stocking programs.”
Steelhead Family Tree
Lake Michigan boasts two types of steelhead - the Skamania strain and the Michigan strain. Skamania begin their spawning run in the summer rather than the fall like their Michigan cousins. Once entering the streams, they normally stay there until next spring before again moving out into the big lake. While in these small tributaries, they often reside near log jams and deeper pools.
Skamania steelheads are easy to identify and are often times called “silver torpedoes.” They are long and sleek while the Michigan strains are shorter, fatter and more football shaped. Both strains will exhibit a beautiful pink stripe along their sides as the run progresses. Skamania grow larger making them more popular. Most anglers are convinced they are the best fighters.
Some of the best places to hook one of Indiana’s premier fish include Trail Creek, Little Calumet River and the St. Joe River, close to where they empty into Lake Michigan. Hundreds, if not thousands of the fish are also taken by shore anglers from the large, public break-waters and pier located in Michigan City’s Washington Park.
Some of the best baits include nothing more than nightcrawlers, spawn clusters or shrimp placed four to eight feet under a bobber. Casting spoons or jointed Rapalas also account for many fish. “I catch Skamania on all types of different colors of artificial lures,” says George Marcum, an avid steelhead enthusiast from Michigan City, “as long as its fluorescent orange!” If you have never experienced the thrill of tying into one of these tenacious, high flying, acrobatic fish, you are missing one of anglings greatest thrills. It only takes one hook-up and you too may morph into a true “skamaniac!”