Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Steelhead Fishing With Ernie Miller

 Steelhead Fishing With Ernie Miller
Article source: the Muskegon Chronicle

“Just drop your sinker straight down,” instructed Captain Ernie Miller as we drifted the Muskegon River in pursuit of steelhead. “When you feel it touch bottom lift it a few inches and then drop it back. Doing it this way helps to minimize the chances of getting snagged on bottom debris.”

There’s an old saying about how difficult it is to teach an old dog new tricks- and in my advancing years old habits become increasingly hard to break!

It’s not that Miller’s instructions were being ignored, but my first instinct was to make a quartering downstream cast 20-25 feet behind the boat. Within seconds my spawn rig became firmly entangled in an unseen snag. Miller’s advice proved correct- lesson learned!

For the better part of three decades my advice to high school students was that we all make mistakes, it’s just that intelligent people learn from them. Simply put, your last mistake is your best teacher!

Miller’s technique for fishing steelhead on the Muskegon River is actually a subtle variation of a presentation that has been proven effective for well over a half century. For many decades legendary anglers such as George Schofield, John Sowa, and Stan Peterson used the “bounce-back” or “drop-back” method of fishing. The basic idea was that while anchored upstream from a run, you cast out and away from the boat. Then, while using the classic lift-drop technique, slowly work the spawn bag back through the holding area.

“In this section of the river (below Bridgeton) it’s best to keep the bait moving and don’t worry about fishing under the boat—steelhead will still hit it,” explained Miller as he controlled our downstream drift with an electric trolling motor. “We’ve been doing well all fall and we should get one today.”

Miller’s spawn rig is as simple as it is effective. The main line (#8 test) is run through a barrel swivel that had been pre-tied on one end with 4-6 inches of monofilament and a 1.25 oz weight attached. The main line was then tied to another barrel swivel having a

pre-tied (also 8# test) leader and spawn hook

“Just keep working the rod and keep the weight close to the bottom,” instructed Miller. “This is a pretty good run.”

Right on cue, there was the tell-tale tap of a trout taking the bait. But a sharp set of the hook resulted in little more than a lethargic head-shake… and it seemed to be just a small fish as it was being easily led to the net- we were wrong!

As the trout came closer to the boat it became obvious this steelhead was larger than what we had initially thought. On several occasions the reel screamed as it peeled line while the steelhead made a series of power surges around and under the boat. Then, while making a final and futile attempt at escape, the steelhead gave us an acrobatic display as it cleared the river’s surface by several feet!

Soon thereafter Miller slipped the net under a picture-perfect male that weighed about eight pounds- not bad at all for a brief (two hour) trip during the early afternoon.

To arrange for a guided steelhead trip on the Muskegon River or for walleye on Muskegon Lake, Captain Miller (“Last Cast Charters”) can be reached via email at at (231) 557-9582 or

It should also be noted that Last Chance Charters is committed to helping local families and this is how- when a trip is booked just mention Food For Families and Miller will donate up to half the cost of a 5-8 hour charter to the Food for Families organization.. Clients will also have the option to donate all or a portion of their catch to help local families in need.

Note from the editor:  Ernest Miller is the fishing captain of Last Cast Charters in Western Michigan and a friend of mine.  I admire his devotion to helping people in need.  Thanks Ernest!  I do not use spawn bags personally due to conservation, but respect the method of fishing others use.


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More