It's probably a good thing the Indiana State Stream Tournament on Saturday was limited to weighing a single fish.
Seems that is about the best the best steelhead anglers can do on the local tributaries these days. Twenty-two entries fished the 30th annual event with barely more than a handful of trout weighed in.
Brian Krueger of Michigan City persevered through difficult conditions and landed a nine-pound, four-ounce steelhead to claim the first place medal.
"Its the only fish I caught," Krueger said. "I knew where some fish were holding on the Little Cal, so I hit that figuring everybody else would be working over the best spots on Trail."
The maneuver paid off with a thick-bodied winter-run steelie.
"It came on a 10-millimeter pink bead," Krueger added. "There weren't any chinook this year (for salmon egg bait) so I've been using more beads."
More on that interesting technique in a moment.
Mary Ryba of Michigan City took second place with a long and lean eight-pound, nine-ounce Skamania.
"Trail Creek, it was the only steelhead I hooked all day," Ryba said. "I tried everthing, never saw another fish."
Ryba's winner came on a pink jig.
"I had a box with probably 30 jigs I've tied myself, but something made me put on this VooDoo jig I picked up at Chief's (tackle shop) the other day," Ryba recalled. "First drift, it was fish on."
Todd Hatfield of Union Pier, Mich., this summer's Skamania Mania champion, placed third with a eight-pound, four-ounce winter run. Last year's State Stream champ, Tony Talarico of South Chicago Heights, Ill., finished sixth with a 5-15 steelie.
Underscoring the downward trend in the size of steelhead this season, Talarico's 2014 winner weighed 13-8. Krueger finished second last year with a 11-7.
And the return of winter-run steelhead, which use to provide outstanding stream fishing during November and December, has been poor, similar to the sporadic Skamania run this summer. A depressed forage base in Lake Michigan is the No. 1 suspect for the latent steelhead catches.
Still, there is hope, with rain in the weekend forecast, the steelhead situation will improve. On the other hand, if a rush of winter-runs does not show soon it's going to be a long winter of trying on the local streams.
Use to be spawn sacks, spawn and more spawn sacks were the only stream fishing baits used by local anglers in the cold weather months. As per the tournament results, plastic beads and jigs are accounting for more and more fish around here.
"Its pretty simple rigging, similar to how most guys drift bait," Krueger said. "A fluorocarbon leader is key, I was using 10-pound, and a (sensitive) Raven float weighted with shot and the bead pegged (on the line) about three inches above a No. 6 hook."
The bead above the hook may be unfamiliar to some, but it sure looks more realistic to the trout, compared to a imitation with a big ol' hook attached. When a steelhead engulfs the bead as it drifts past, the hook catches the outside of the mouth or goes down the hatch with the bead.
Jigs are another steelhead-catching alternative which, at times, trump getting messy with bait.
"Its a different look, another presentation," Ryba said. "I think they (jigs) trigger aggression in cold water fish without too much to turn them off.
"Basically, its just drifting fishing."
A big plus for beads and jigs is they come in a huge selection of natural or attractor colors.
The Northwest Indiana Steelheaders, organizers of the State Stream Contest, are a great group to learn more about stream and shore fishing tactics. Monthly meetings, and completer contest results, are listed at www.nwisteelheaders.org.
April in December: Midge hatches swarming, insect dimples on the surface and the occasion fish swirl sure made it seem like the other side of winter at an area pond on Wednesday. Four fat crappie in eight casts at sunset made it feel even better.
Indeed, windless 50-something temperatures are a bonus this time of year.
A few bluegills bit, too, in the hour or so I cast tandem jigs tipped with a waxworm, but the crappie flurry was the highlight. Goes to show there are fish to be caught if mild conditions hold for a few more days.
Perch were going great at Burns Ditch for the past week whenever wind conditions allowed anglers to get out. Reportedly, 45 to 50 feet of water was best, from the mouth of the Little Cal to the northwest corner of the Port of Indiana.
Lake trout were still being trolled up around the submerged breakwall paralleling the north wall of the Port. Saw a few whitefish in the perch catches, too.
Hunting notes: North Zone Canada geese season reopens on Saturday and continues through Jan. 24 while ducks close Sunday before reopening Dec. 19-27. Pheasant and quail close for the season on Sunday.