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The Tale of a 20lb Great Lakes Steelhead Caught Through the Ice

The Tale of a 20lb Great Lakes Steelhead Caught Through the Ice

One year ago, on St. Valentine’s Day, avid trout anglers Kimber Schultz and Justin Kroening caught the steelhead of a lifetime while ice fishing on a Lake Michigan trib.

I contacted Kimber and Justin for an interview and started writing down this epic tale. 

Continue reading this article to get all the details about this most unique of steelhead fishing experiences.  

I don’t know where to start; catching a 20lb Great Lakes steelhead is the holy grail of steelheading, as fish of such caliber are rare!

Catching a giant like that through the ice must be even rarer. 

But catching a 20lb steelhead through the ice on St. Valentine’s Day, well, that’s something extraordinary.

Kimber simply put it this way:

“It was the best Valentine’s gift ever.”

Kimber Schultz and Justin Kroening are two very skilled anglers who’ve caught plenty of huge steelhead, brown trout, and salmon (among other species). 

But, even for those two, catching a monster steelhead like this one was something highly unusual, I guess. 

I think it’s fair to say to call this steelhead by its rightful name: the fish of a lifetime!

The Epic Catch of a 20lb Great Lakes Winter Steelhead 

Courtesy of Kimber Schultz

Kimber ice fishes for steelies and browns all winter long. That day, she and Justin were out fishing with spawn sacks on automatic fishermen. 

They had caught a decent steelhead and then, in the early afternoon, got another bite on the fisherman. 

What followed was an insane fight and landing. Kimber described it this way:

“It was an incredible fight! 20+ minutes of long runs and big head shakes. 

We knew it was big within the first few minutes, but it wasn’t until it first swam past the hole, about halfway through, that we realized we were hooked into something special. 

None of us had ever seen a steelhead that big; we honestly didn’t know if it would fit through the hole.

Once Justin got his hands on it and yanked it through the hole, we were speechless! 

The three of us stood around the fish in a circle in total awe for a full 30 minutes, admiring my catch. I never stopped shaking.” 

Courtesy of Kimber Schultz

Justin added:

“I’ll never forget the way the water moved in the hole when that fish was close.”

It must have been one epic fight, indeed!

Check out this footage of the fight they managed to film. But I must warn you; it’s not for the faint-hearted:

Realizing What They’d Caught

Courtesy of Kimber Schultz

After those intense 20+ minutes, Justin finally managed to land the fish through the ice hole.

It was now that the anglers realized what they’d caught there. 

I asked Kimber how it felt to catch such a rare giant through the ice:

“It’s one year later, and I am still in shock! I can’t believe it happened. 

At the time, the word I’d use to describe it was surreal. Time seemed to stand still. 

It’s the biggest steelhead I’ve ever heard of being caught through the ice. 

Truly a once-in-a-lifetime fish, and definitely not a super common.”

Indeed! I read through a lot of stories and reports online, but I can’t recall ever seeing one about a 20-pounder caught through the ice!

Oh, and, of course, I did ask Justin about the weight:

“We did put it on a scale. It bounced from 19.76 to 20.5, so we called it 20.”

Given the size and shape of this fish, I don’t think anyone could argue against that!

PRO TIP: Check out Justin’s guide service if you’re looking for a guided fishing tour in Wisconsin: Adventure Wisconsin

A Special Strain of Lake Michigan Steelhead

You might be wondering why this steelhead is relatively short and extremely round. 

Justin and Kimber aren’t 100% sure, but they suspect that what they’d caught that day was one of Lake Michigan’s Arlee-strain steelhead

About 20 years ago, fisheries biologists started to stock parts of the lake with Arlee steelhead to reenergize Lake Michigan’s nearshore fishing opportunities. 

As this particular strain of steelhead trout tends to stay close to the shore and doesn’t migrate far from where it has been stocked, it was a perfect fit!

Arlees are shaped a lot shorter and fatter than ordinary Great Lakes steelhead.

They are short and chunky, like a football!

That description fits Kimber’s fish perfectly, especially as they also tend to run up the lake’s many tributaries.

Onto New Fishing Aventures

Courtesy of Kimber Schultz

I had two more questions for Kimber. The first one was if she had any tips for a successful steelhead ice fishing trip:

“Put in the time. The more you do it, the better you will get! Be patient, as these fish are strong and feisty.”

Lastly, I wanted to know about her upcoming fishing plans for this winter and spring: 

“We’re doing one more day of dock fishing before we put the ice gear away and switch to kayaks.”

That was about a week ago. And, believe it or not, Kimber actually managed to catch yet another monster through the ice.

But that is a tale for another day!

I want to thank both Kimber and Justin for the nice interview I had with them and, once again, congratulate them on catching this most impressive of steelhead catches!

Tight lines!

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